Before he became Mississippi State’s head coach, and before he turned Penn State into a juggernaught behind Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley as offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead built something from nothing in the Bronx.
Moorhead inherited a Fordham program that went 1-10 the year before he arrived, and instantly turned the team around, going 6-5 in his maiden campaign in 2012. He only continued building from there, leading the Rams to the FCS playoffs three straight years (2013-15), a period in which they had the best single season in school history (12-2 in 2013) and captured their first Patriot League title ever (2014).
Yet despite all the success Moorhead enjoyed at the FCS level, he never crossed paths with Chris Klieman on the field.
Instead, their initial encounter was at an awards banquet in Philadelphia, honoring the best players in the FCS at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
“Chase Edmonds, our tailback at Fordham, won the Jerry Rice Award for National Freshman of the Year,” Moorhead told reporters Monday. “I had a chance to meet (Chris) and talk to him and, as good of a football coach as he is, he is an unbelievable person. He is a great guy. I look forward to seeing him again.”
Klieman, now in his first season as Kansas State’s head coach, echoed that sentiment during his own weekly press conference Tuesday.
“(I’m) looking forward to seeing him to pick his brain a little bit, because he’s been doing this a little longer than I have at the Power 5 level,” Klieman said. “(He’s) a tremendous coach, tremendous person and I’m excited to see him again.”
Moorhead pointed out he took a different route from the FCS to a Power-5 head coaching job than Klieman. Moorhead spent two seasons (2016 and 2017) spearheading the Nittany Lions’ high-flying offensive attack before Mississippi State tabbed him as Dan Mullen’s successor. Klieman, on the other hand, stayed at the FCS level longer. In five seasons as North Dakota State’s head coach, he won four national titles before he was hired to replace Bill Snyder at K-State in December.
The results, Moorhead said, are hard to argue with.
“He was a seven-time national champion, four times as a head coach, which is tied for the most as a head coach in FCS history with Jim Tressel,” Moorhead said. “He has the third-highest winning percentage among all active NCAA head football coaches and has won 23 straight games, so that is pretty impressive.”
Moorhead finally will match wits with Klieman on Saturday, as K-State goes on the road for the first time this season, taking on Mississippi State at 11 a.m. in a nationally televised contest on ESPN.
Klieman can’t wait.
“(I have) a tremendous amount of respect for what Coach (Moorhead) has done, and (he’s) done it the right way,” Klieman said. “He elevated that program at Fordham, had a great opportunity at Penn State and made the most of that. Obviously, he has the job at Mississippi State, and he’s doing a great job. I have so much respect for him.”