Written by Faith Lifer
If you live around Starkville, you may know by now, the Mississippi State football team has a new head coach this year.
In fact, you might even know that coach’s name. Yes, most Bulldog fans already know about Joe Moorhead and how he mobilized a record-setting offense at Penn
State before he came to coach in Starkville. Yet, even though Moorhead came to Starkville to coach the Bulldogs, he brought his own team with him.
When Moorhead came to Starkville, by his side was his wife Jen Moorhead, his 17-year-old daughter Kyra, his 15-year-old son Mason and his 11-year-old son Donovan: Moorhead’s home team— the team that has stood by his side throughout all of the coaching jobs. But before there was a “Team Moorhead,” there was Jen and Joe in a bar in Pittsburgh.
Jen recalls meeting Joe for the first time at the bar. “He was tall,” Jen said. “He was very tall.” Jen also remembers Joe’s distinctive style, which has remained a signature look. “He wears long-sleeved shirts underneath short-sleeved shirts,” Jen Moorhead said. “And he had a long-sleeved shirt on with a green polo shirt.”
Jen had just graduated from Edinboro University with an education degree to teach French, and Joe was still aspiring to play professional football. Yet, Joe’s career as a quarterback came to an end when he got cut from the Milwaukee Mustangs arena camp, so he decided to pursue a career as a sportswriter.
“He got a job writing for a paper in Ohio, near Youngstown, Ohio,” Jen said. But the Moorheads weren’t in Youngstown for long.
“We were only there for a summer,” Jen said. “And then we got the call from Pitt.”
The University of Pittsburgh asked Joe to coach football as a graduate assistant, so Joe packed his bags to head back to Pennsylvania. “He literally went the next day to their camp, and that’s when it all started,” Jen said of Joe’s coaching career.
Jen and Joe were planning their Novem- ber wedding when Joe was offered the coaching position at Pittsburgh. November is during football season. “We planned our wedding before he started in this whole profession,” Jen said. “And we kind of already had everything planned…our parents were paying for it.”
The deposits had been made, and the plans were set. The two were married on Nov. 6, 1999, in Greensburg, PA. “Then, the next day, we opened presents and he went to work,” Jen laughed. “So we had no honeymoon.”
As Joe progressed in his coaching career, his family also grew. When Joe coached a George- town University, Kyra and Mason were both born and while Joe coached for the University of Akron, Donovan was born.
Since Ohio, the Moorheads have lived in Connecticut, Greenwich Village, NY, State College, PA, and now, Starkville, MS. A dog named Minnie and a cat named Molly have also joined the Moorheads in Starkville.
The Moorhead’s move to Starkville was their first time moving to the South. Town & Gown sat down with Joe’s family to talk about the move.
“I feel like this has been the easiest transition,” Jen said. “I have a good group of friends right now,” Kyra agreed. “I think it’s just easier when everyone already knows who you are going into it.”
But Kyra wasn’t used to the attention she received from Bulldog fans when Joe became the coach. “I opened my phone the next morning, and like 600 people had followed me on Instagram,” Kyra laughed.
Along with the attention, other aspects of the South require adaptation. “I think it’s different,” Kyra said. “Like, riding down the road with the windows down and every- one singing country music. That, like, baffles me.”
Kyra’s friends are trying to teach her more country songs, though, and she said she is learning. “They’re trying to educate me,” Kyra said of her friends. “It’s getting there.”
Donovan also thinks the South is different. For example, Donovan has taken note of the change in geography. “There’s more lakes here,” Donovan said, which sent Kyra and Jen into a fit of laughter.
“What the heck?” Kyra said as she laughed, but Donovan’s lake comment reminded her of another notable difference.
“The humidity,” Kyra exclaimed. “I hate the humidity!” “Yeah,” Jen agreed. “The humidity. And we heard it hasn’t even been that bad yet.”
“My hair does not appreciate it,” Kyra added. Mason agreed that the South is hotter and more humid. “Yeah, how hot it is,” Mason chimed in.
Despite the humidity, Kyra said she enjoys the warmer weather the South has to offer. “I like how it’s warm here all the time,” Kyra said. “That makes me happy because I hate the cold.”
Kyra said she is also still adjusting to people’s accents. “Sometimes I just don’t know what anyone is saying,” Kyra said. “It’s actually really funny.”
The Moorheads also miss Italian food, which is their favorite kind of food. “The only food we miss is Italian,” Jen said. “Good Italian food.”
Donovan misses breadsticks, as he could be heard quietly adding “breadsticks” in the background.
Jen said she misses pizza more than anything. “Oh, I miss Italian so much,” Kyra agreed. “We’re just used to it.” “We used to live outside New York City, and there was a Little Italy in the Bronx,” Jen explained. “And my mother-in-law is Italian, so she makes a pretty good red sauce.”
Even though the Moorheads haven’t found a solution to their Italian cravings, they have enjoyed the southern cuisine.
Aside from Kyra, the Moorhead family enjoys southern barbecue.“The barbecue’s really good,” Mason said. “The food’s good down here.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” Kyra explained. “Minus Chick- l-A,” Mason added. “Minus Chick- l-A,” Kyra agreed. “I eat Chick- l-A.”
“I wouldn’t say she’s a vegetarian,” Jen said. Kyra laughed. “I’m a selective vegetarian,” Kyra amended. “She’s a picky eater,” Jen concluded. “That’s more like it.”
Even though Kyra doesn’t eat the barbecue, she does like southern mac ’n cheese and City Bagel Cafe. “She lives on the asiago cheese bagels from City Bagel,” Jen said of Kyra.
Donovan also likes the burgers Starkville has to offer. “There’s good burgers,” Donovan said. “Bulldog Burger is the best.”
Overall, though, Jen doesn’t think Starkville is that different from anywhere else the Moorheads have lived, especially considering State College, PA. “I think they’re both actually pretty similar,” Jen said. “They’re small towns that built around the university.” “I just think people are nicer here,” Kyra said.
Kyra and Mason attend Starkville High School, and Donovan attends Armstrong Middle School. After school, Mason and Donovan have football practice. Unsurprisingly, football takes up a good portion of the Moorhead family’s time.
Mason is on the offensive line for the Starkville Yellow Jackets, and Donovan, like his dad, is a quarterback. Both Mason and Donovan have played football for the majority of their lives.
Kyra plays golf for the Yellow Jackets, but she also enjoys football, especially watching it. “I’m all for it,” Kyra said. “We love football. ”Football is more than a hobby for Kyra, though. She hopes to incorporate football into her future by becoming a sports agent.
“She figured she knows a lot about it,” Jen joked. “More than the average person,” Kyra agreed. Kyra is currently interning at the recruiting department at MSU.
Outside of football, though, the Moorhead family seems to enjoy doing anything where they are spending time together— whether that be watching Big Brother together, going out to eat or spending time at home.
The Moorheads also have annual family traditions. Every year, the family goes to Kennywood Amusement Park and a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. “No matter where we’ve lived, we do those two things every summer,” Jen said.
The importance of family was evident in the Moorheads’ lives throughout the conversation. Their highlight of the family is possibly why they have enjoyed the South so far. Jen and Kyra especially appreciate the southern hospitality of Starkville. “I think everyone’s super friendly and nice,” Jen said. “Everyone goes out of their way to genuinely make us feel welcome,” Kyra reflected. “That made a really big difference when we got here and still continues to.”