Akron, Ohio – For years, the University of Akron has funneled resources into its football program, including a $61.6 million stadium it’s still struggling to fill. But with the appointment of head coach Joe Morehead, the school hopes to turn things around quickly.
Morehead Football Journey
Football has taken root in Morehead’s entire entity ever since he’s been wearing a diaper, really. Growing up in Pittsburgh, football was a way of life. Moorhead’s father, the youngest of three children, trained at St. Bartholomew’s School during his elementary years.
Moorhead played quarterback at Fordham University in New York before stints with the Munich Cowboys in Europe and a game with the Milwaukee Mustang football team.
“Start playing in fifth grade, go all the way through college and a bit of rink, and when they cut you off from rink, you know it’s time to move on with your life’s work,” Moorhead laughed.
After his days of playing, Morehead decided to find a way to keep football progressing in his life.
“Once the opportunity to play was over, I thought the next logical progression would be to practice,” he said.
Moorhead began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, moving up the ranks to quarterback and quarterback coach at Georgetown University in 2000-2001 before taking a job as offensive coordinator in 2003.
After Georgetown, Morehead made his debut at the University of Akron. From 2004 to 2008, Moorhead was a member of the Zips coaching staff and served as the offensive coordinator and quarterback for Team Akron from 2006 to 2008. His five years in Akron have made him more home than any other destination outside of Pittsburgh.
“We had a fantastic staff, a group of great players, and we were able to win the only conference championship in the school’s history,” Moorhead said. “One of my children was born here, so we have a lot of great memories from our time in Akron.”
Morehead left Akron and took on the offensive coordinator for the University of Connecticut before finally getting his dream role as head coach at his alma mater, Fordham. Morehead spent three years there before moving on to offensive coordinator at Penn State, head coach of Mississippi State and offensive coordinator at Oregon, his last stop before returning to Akron.
proven track record
Akron’s hiring of Morehead was major news. While in Division I, Akron’s football program has struggled hard over the past few years, winning just five of 25 games over the past three seasons and watching coaches Terry Bowden and Tom Arth take the ax in that time.
Akron’s last success was in 2015 when he led Bowden Zips to win the famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2015 after hitting 8-5, then lost in the Boca Raton Bowl in 2017 after going 7-7.
Since then, the team has been starving for wins – something Moorhead feels confident he will be able to change. Not only because that’s what any new head coach would say, but because he has the experience to back it up.
During his tenure, Moorehead was a connecting player for five conference championship-winning programs, including Oregon in 2020, Penn State in 2016, Fordham in 2014, Connecticut in 2010, and Akron in 2005. That track record, and more Particularly his time at Fordham makes him sure he is the right man for the job at Akron.
“Being a part of five different conference championships in five different schools either as coordinator or head coach and knowing the ingredients needed to succeed and how to rebuild or maintain a high level of performance, I think the situation at Fordham was probably the most similar to the one we’re in charge of here. ‘ Moorhead said.
In his first year at Fordham, the Rams were coming off a 1-10 season and were desperate for a winning season. Under Morehead, the team went 6-5 in its first year with the program and continued on winning ways, going 12-2, 11-3 and 9-3 while making the playoffs three years in a row.
The Moorhead’s Rams not only increased their win, they ranked in the top 25 and beat high-ranking competition including Matt Rhule’s Temple University team, as well as the Army.
centered around culture
Now that he’s back with Akron, Morehead has a plan to change the football program. He said it starts with one important thing before they can even worry about winning – the culture.
“I think it all starts with establishing your culture and making sure kids understand the principles or pillars of success — discipline, accountability, work ethic, attention to detail, selflessness — you need to establish all of these things before talking about any X or any O.”
Morehead had his own learning in terms of understanding how to influence football culture. An argument in a practice allegedly left the Mississippi State quarterback with an eye injury that knocked him out of the team’s game in 2019. This took into account Moorhead’s firing from his Mississippi State position but also gave him an opportunity to grow from it.
Fast forward to this day and a few weeks into his new term in Akron, Moorhead is already busy building the right culture for the payoff.
Morehead recently had a meeting with his Zips players to establish philosophy and expectations with him at the helm, he ordered the men’s pizza and watched a National Championship game while they all had a chance to bond. He’s also made sure to bring in staff who are familiar with him and are confident he can help him influence the players in a positive way – having worked with all but one of his coaches in the past.
“Recruiting the staff, making sure you form real relationships with your players because they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and then every other waking moment is spent recruiting, I think we’ve done a good job so far,” Moorhead said. “I am incredibly confident that we will win here, and how quickly and to what degree a large part will depend on our ability to assimilate the cultural things that will allow us to be successful.”
Morehead’s return to Akron isn’t just about going back to the town he used to work in — it’s going back to an area he calls home, an area that loves football as much as he loves it.
“There is a difference between where you live and home, and in my 24-25 years I have lived in a bunch of different places and found a way to enjoy it and not necessarily find a way to make it a great experience,” Moorhead said, but it is different from home. “The people we are closest to and love the most are now. Within two hours of driving.
“There were a bunch of other opportunities with more zeros, but for me you can’t say why we made this decision and that’s down to the family.”
Morehead’s enthusiasm for being around his family may be matched as much by his enthusiasm for turning Akron into a soccer school.
“I think this is one of the many reasons why I turned down other opportunities to quote unquoted from the great schools and to make use of this function is the fabric of this region and this community,” Moorhead said. A tremendous amount of knowledge of the Canton/Akron area and Cleveland, and there is a lot of pride in the cities, but also a lot of pride in football.”
However, this pride in football was not reflected in the fans in the matches. The InfoCision Stadium has a capacity of 30,000, but last season, the highest home game saw attendance with just 48% of seats. The highest attendance game in the history of the new stadium was on opening night in 2009 when 27,881 fans were at the match.
Morehead hopes to change that, not only by introducing a product that players want to see on the field but also working with the community to once again generate passion for Zips. He plans to talk about his vision for the show as much as possible and the things the team needs from the fans’ point of view as well.
“When I took over Fordham, it was a 7,000 seat stadium, we could play, and there were only 1,500 people in the stands,” Moorhead recalls. “We went and started winning a lot of games, and I think we sold every game at home for three years and really had to put in extra stands, and we were selling 10,000 tickets for a 7,000 seat stadium.”
Morehead understands his responsibility to put a good product on the field and believes that if they start there, the fans will come.
“The area is just waiting for a spark, and I, our crew and our players, we have to find a way to light the fuse,” he said. “This is a region that loves winners, so we have to win, we have to win matches.”
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed
Related: The University of Akron has appointed Joe Moorhead as its new football coach
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