Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, April 1, 2016
With progress comes change. At least that?s what James Franklin hopes as he begins this third season at the helm of Penn State.
Franklin radically altered his staff after last season. He fired offensive coordinator John Donovan and shockingly saw defensive coordinator Bob Shoop leave for Tennessee. And offensive line coach Herb Hand also departed, bolting for Auburn.
To fill the offensive coordinator job, Franklin turned to Joe Moorhead, who was head coach at Fordham and has deep ties in the East. Fordham ranked 19th in the FCS in offense and ninth in scoring in 2015, reaching the playoffs for a third straight season before losing to Chattanooga in the first round. Moorhead, 42, is a Pittsburgh native who has coordinated offenses at Georgetown, Akron and UConn while going 38-13 in four years at Fordham, Moorhead?s alma mater.
The Nittany Lions? attack needs help, ranking 106th in the FBS in total and rushing offense and 126th on third downs in 2015. The arrival of former Minnesota OC and line coach Matt Limegrover to coach the line also should bolster the PSU offense and put more brain power on the job.
I caught up with the affable Moorhead during spring drills as he looks to put his stamp on the Nittany Lion offense.
Q: How are spring drills progressing?
A: We have about 85 percent of the offense installed. I have been pleased with our progress so far. I think our assistants have done an excellent job providing the kids with information in meetings and bringing it to the field and executing it. There are things we need to clean up. But in terms of laying the base foundation and the kids understanding it, it has been pretty good.
Q: How would you describe your offense?
A: I would say it is an up-tempo, no-huddle, which is the best way to succinctly describe it.
Q: Who have been some of your big influences?
A: Going back to when I played at Fordham, my head coach was Nick Quartaro who had worked under Bill Snyder at Kansas State, a one-back-oriented team with a lot of check-with-mes at the line of scrimmage. He brought that to Fordham and was my position coach there. He is at Rutgers now in player development. From a pass-game system and quarterback teaching foundation, I?d say Walt Harris at Pitt when I was with him as a G.A. for two years. And I also spent a year on defense under Larry Coyer who has coordinated in the NFL. And J.D. Brookhart at Akron was Walt Harris? offensive coordinator.
Q: How did Randy Edsall shape you?
A: I stay in touch. His big influences on me was his attention to detail and that culture can really help a program in terms of we recruited kids who were athletic, tough, disciplined, had a great work ethic and cared more about team success than individual success. We maybe didn?t get the highly recruited kids, but we were able to form them into a very successful team because they did the little things off the field and had great intangibles.
Q: How did Fordham shape you?
A: As a player there and to get the chance to be the head coach, there aren?t many chances to be a college head coach and then to do it at your alma mater is special. Fordham has the Jesuit tradition and tremendous education and focus on developing the whole person. I had great relationships as a player there and that carried on to my time as a head coach. I spent a tremendous eight years there.
Q: How will having been a head coach make you a better assistant?
A: Prior to being a head coach, I spent a lot of time as an assistant. There are things that go along with being a head coach that are very rewarding. Taking a step back into a coordinator?s role will allow me to be a more effective assistant. Having spent four years as a head coach and having gone through some of the things Coach Franklin has gone through in terms of program organization and getting the program built back up. When he?s looking for certain things or needs some information, I can give him that perspective of having sat in the head coach?s chair before.
Q: Were you recruited by Penn State?
A: (laughing) No.
Q: What are some of your Penn State football memories growing up in the Keystone State?
A: The big thing you remember, when Penn State took the field in the 1980s and early 1990s, there was going to be a tough, physical hard-nose style of play. They were winning a ton of games and getting it done on both sides of the ball. The Pitt-Penn State rivalry is something you remember. The Penn State-Miami game (after the 1986 season). Those are some of the memories. How big, physical, strong and tough Penn State always was.
Q: Did you know Franklin before you took this job?
A: We knew of each other, but I wouldn?t say we were close. But we had crossed paths a few times as professionals.
Q: What did you think when Franklin called?
A: It was very humbling and I was very excited. I grew up in Penn Hills, two hours from here. My wife is from Latrobe, about an hour-and-a-half away. I had had some head coaching opportunities at the FBS level while at Fordham and turned down one. I told my kids at Fordham, where I was very invested and built it into a perennial Top 25 team that had been in the playoffs and ranked 42 straight weeks that if I had the opportunity to leave, they wouldn?t like it but would understand it. When this opportunity came up, personally, professionally, financially, it checked all the boxes.
Q: How is the quarterback position shaping up?
A: I think a decision will be made when have to make one. Right now, it is more about getting these guys introduced to the offense. Both kids (Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens) possess the skill set that is necessary to run the system. They can make all the throws and are accurate and can make the progressions in the pass game. On top of that, they are athletic kids who can make plays with their feet by design or when the play breaks down. They both are a great fit for what we want to do offensively.
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