AKRON, Ohio — What was expected for much of this past week became official Saturday, as Akron hired Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as its 29th head football coach.
The school is choosing to bring back a former Zips assistant to take over a struggling program. Moorhead was head coach at Mississippi State for two seasons and FCS Fordham for four prior to that. He has been directing the Ducks' offense the last two years.
Akron is 3-29 over the last three seasons. New athletic director Charles Guthrie fired coach Tom Arth nine games into this year and news of the school's interest in Moorhead leaked more than a week ago.
Guthrie released the following statement:
"Joe is an incredible mentor to student-athletes on and off the field and we are so proud to welcome him back to The University of Akron as the leader of our football program. Zips Nation get ready! Joe's dynamic approach is sure to bring energy back to InfoCision Stadium but, at the heart of it, I know he will work relentlessly with his staff and our student-athletes to bring the joy of winning football back to Akron. He is passionate and focused on our collective goal to win MAC Championships. I can't wait to introduce him to our student-athletes, University community, fans and the greater City of Akron."
A Pittsburgh native, Moorhead was an assistant at UA under J.D. Brookhart from 2004-08, helping the team win its only MAC championship to date before eventually becoming OC. Following a stint at UConn, he was tapped to lead his alma mater at Fordham, where he led the Rams to a 38-13 record and three FCS playoff appearances.
Moorhead then moved on to Penn State before being hired at Mississippi State in 2018 to replace head coach Dan Mullen, who had left to take the same job at Florida. In his first year, the Bulldogs finished 8-5 and 25th in the Associated Press poll, but all of those victories were subsequently vacated after 10 players were suspended for academic fraud.
Though Moorhead was not implicated in the scandal, fans and administrators began to grow restless following a disappointing 5-6 start to the 2019 season. He appeared to save his job with a 21-20 win in the annual "Egg Bowl" rivalry with Ole Miss (infamously declaring, "You'll have to drag my Yankee a-- out of here" after the game), but an injury to starting quarterback Garrett Shrader during a team fight coupled with a Music City Bowl loss to Louisville led to his dismissal, giving him an unofficial record of 14-12 after just two years (6-12 official). With the vacated games counted, he is one of just two coaches since 1956 to leave MSU with a winning record, the other being Mullen.
At Oregon, Moorhead's helped the Ducks to a 14-6 record and a Pac-12 title over the last two years. The team is 10-3 in 2021 and scored an upset win over Ohio State back in Week 2, but lost three games down the stretch to Stanford and to Utah twice, and the offense is a somewhat mediocre fifth in the conference.
Since that lone conference championship in 2005, Akron has enjoyed just one winning season, and also endured a 21-game losing streak from 2018-20. Worse still, the Zips have lost three straight to archrival Kent State, which played for the MAC title on Sunday.
Moorhead is the first former UA assistant to be hired as head coach since Jim Dennison, whose 80 wins are the most in program history. He will be formally introduced at a press conference Thursday at 10 a.m.
On Saturday, the new coach said:
"I am humbled and honored to be selected as the next Head Football Coach at The University of Akron. I would like to thank President [Gary L.] Miller and Charles Guthrie for their incredible professionalism through the process. My family and I are very excited for this opportunity. We can't wait to get back to a region of the country we consider home. Our plan for the future is simple: we'll roll up our sleeves and get to work, diligently building a program of which the school, the City of Akron, and the State of Ohio can be proud. Go Zips!"