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Penn State Football: Moorhead Role Simple, But Outcome No Small Thing

by on July 13, 2016 10:10 AM

From the other end of a long white hallway in the Lasch Football Building you can hear Joe Moorhead laughing on the phone as he talks to a reporter. What they're discussing is unclear, but the conversation, according to Penn State's media liaison, has gone longer than scheduled.

If that fact bothered Moorhead you wouldn't know it. By the time he hangs up, the door to his office is already slowly swinging open as yet another reporter shuffles in, at least the third of the day and likely not the last. Moorhead stands to introduce himself, a firm handshake and a smile nearly automated but no less genuine. 

Moorhead is, willingly or not, taking a day off of his vacation [albeit a vacation in State College] to do interviews. Perhaps sensing that the season is creeping near he looks out his office window at the practice fields a few times, remarking on the rain which sometimes make Happy Valley more like the Seattle of the east.

"You weren't kidding about the rain," he says with a laugh before settling back to the task at hand.

In truth the task at hand is answering the same questions that have been asked a hundred times before. He has yet to call a single play, there is nothing to criticize. As told so many times before, Moorhead's offense will be uptempo, but not at the expense of being functional and effective. His quarterbacks will run, but Penn State isn't about to become the second coming of Texas A&M. His hire was praised by nearly everyone whose opinion is worth mentioning, but hype doesn't win games.

"I love being a head coach," Moorhead said as he leaned back in his chair. "But it's like you said, you're dealing with admissions and people across campus, and fundraising and all the other difference facets of running a program as well as calling the offense and for two of the four years coaching a position group. So it does allow you to be very myopic in your approach and those things, it's not your grass to mow anymore."

And that's something Moorhead seems to be enjoying. In an upward climbing profession there's a tendency to look at title rather than opportunity. Moorhead has gone from the comforts and seclusion of Fordham to the bright lights and big stage of Penn State and Power Five football. If anything it's a chance to put a career's worth of work to the test. A lifetime worth of schemes up against some of the game's best defenses.

So it makes sense why Moorhead would take the job. Aside from being closer to his family and closer to a western PA he can call home, it's a chance to take the next step. And to a certain extent Penn State isn't a complete unknown to him. Moorhead has visited Happy Valley twice as an assistant coach and as a graduate assistant at Pitt.

"In '06 I had the offensive coordinator title but I wasn't calling the plays until 2007," Moorhead said of Penn State's 34-16 win over Akron with a smile. "But I do remember it rained that day, I remember that it was close at least into the second, I remember that like Penn State teams were doing at that time they wore you down physically and Coach [Tom] Bradley was calling a great game on the defensive side of the ball and we eventually succumb to Beaver Stadium and the mighty Nittany Lions."

In truth though, it's delegation that makes Moorhead an interesting figure, perhaps the most interesting, at Penn State.

A lot of words have been written about James Franklin and broad comparisons to Bill O'Brien. Largely because there are so few benchmarks to measure Franklin against and nothing about even the latest years of the Paterno era are incredibly different than anything going on in the rest of college football.

But of all the words that have been written, it's likely that their differing management styles are the most frequently discussed. Where O'Brien would have coached the team all on his own, Franklin -while often not given the schematic credit he is due- is focused on steering the ship at large while surrounding himself with people who are good at their jobs.

So really, fixing Penn State football, oversimplified, is to fix Penn State's offense.

And that comes down to Joe Moorhead, not James Franklin.

Fair or not that's what the delegation style results in. An assistant coach who could very well be the determining factor in a head coach's success or failures. Penn State's defense will be as good as it always is, even under a new defensive coordinator in Brent Pry. Penn State's special teams will improve simply because the players on that unit have.

It all comes down to the offense. It all comes down to Joe Moorhead.

Predictably the savior narrative isn't something Moorhead is willing to buy into.

"I don't view myself as anything other than another coach on the staff that's helping the team try and achieve it's ultimate goal," Moorhead said. "Coach was very clear with that during the interview process that he wanted somebody to come in and as he said be the head coach of the offense. Coach Shoop had done a great job of that with the defense and now he has passed that on to Coach Pry and he's responsible for that side of the ball and he wanted somebody to successfully implement and operate the offense."

Technically he isn't wrong, Penn State won't win if the defense is bad and that's not Moorhead's problem. Penn State won't win if field goals go wide right, and that's not Moorhead's responsibility.

But there is little doubt that nearly everyone is looking to Moorhead to turn the ship around. An interesting place to be in as a head coach turned rising star turned coordinator. If Moorhead's offense works then the Franklin era might be on to something, if it doesn't, the future is an unknown.

So no pressure.

But running his hand through his hair and leaning back in his chair as the rain beat down on the window behind him, Moorhead summed up his predicament in just six words.

'All I'm looking to do is like they say; know your role do your job."

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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