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Why Joe Moorhead is leaving a $1 million job to try to turn around Akron football

Photo of University of Akron President Garry Miller, Joe Moorhead and UA athletic director Charles Guthrie
The University of Akron
Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is returning to Akron, where he was an assistant from 2004-2008.

The University of Akron is pinning its turnaround on a familiar face.

Joe Moorhead was an assistant from 2004-2008, including serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2006-2008.

Moorhead has an extensive coaching career, beginning with four seasons as the head coach at Fordham, compiling a 38-13 record from 2012-15. He then was offensive coordinator at Penn State before landing a head coaching job at Mississippi State in 2017. He was fired after his second season and a 14-12 record overall.

Then, Moorhead landed a job as offensive coordinator for powerhouse University of Oregon in 2020, with an annual salary of $1.1 million.

"So when I first heard he was mentioned as a candidate for the Akron job, I was like, '[Oregon is] a million-dollar job. What's going on here? Akron can't pay that money,'" Pluto said.

But Moorhead took the Akron job. Crain's Cleveland reports he got a five-year, $2.5 million contract, which is a $425,000 base salary.

"I think it says something good about Moorhead that he isn't just looking for the biggest paycheck possible. But now he's got a lot of work to do at that program."
Terry Pluto

Why take a pay cut?
"People don't understand that these coaches that you've never heard of are making millions upon millions of dollars, and all of the money that schools like Mississippi State will pay a guy when they fire him to go away," Pluto said.

Moorhead got a $7 million buyout when he was fired at Mississippi State at the end of the 2019 season.

Meanwhile, Tom Arth, who the Zips fired last month, will be paid $600,000 for the two years left on his deal.

Why come to Akron?
The Zips have just three wins in the past three seasons and have fired their past five coaches.

"In the back of [Moorhead's] mind, he really wants one more chance to be a head coach. And, he's from Pittsburgh. And like a lot of people who have tried to take this job and tried make it work, you look at the nice stadium, you look at all the good football players from Northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania and you keep asking, 'Why can't it happen here?'" Pluto said.

A good hire
Pluto believes Moorhead is a good fit for the Zips.

"I never thought Akron could get a candidate like this to come in, and I think it says something good about Moorhead that he isn't just looking for the biggest paycheck possible. But now he's got a lot of work to do at that program," Pluto said.

Meanwhile, there's added pressure as all eyes are on Kent State University's football team, which plays in a bowl game Dec. 21.

"That's what we need to do is get Kent and Akron rising at the same time and give us something to see locally," Pluto said.

Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. After serving as WKSU's Morning Edition host for a dozen years, she moved to afternoons in March of 2022 to become the local host of All Things Considered. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio's sports scene called The View From Pluto. She also hosts and produces Shuffle, a podcast focusing on Northeast Ohio’s music scene.