Egg Bowl loser should fire its head coach, the winner should too

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 12: Head coach Joe Moorhead of the Mississippi State Bulldogs leads his team onto the field prior to the start of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 12: Head coach Joe Moorhead of the Mississippi State Bulldogs leads his team onto the field prior to the start of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

The Egg Bowl can either save or sink a coach’s career in the state of Mississippi. This year, unless Mississippi State and Ole Miss are content with only competing against each other, nobody’s job should be saved by this rivalry game.

In 2019, college football in the state of Mississippi is a case study in misery and futility. In 2014 and 2015, that was far from the case. Then, the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels captivated the attention of the country with monumental upsets and phenomenal offenses. Now, both teams are struggling to find any sort of relevancy in their own conference.

Mississippi State is currently stumbling around, seemingly lost in the wilderness. The Bulldogs are reeling from their recent 10-point loss to a Tennessee Volunteers team that has been nuked by incompetent leadership for the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss is working to navigate the impact of NCAA sanctions. The Rebels have shown some potential in 2019, challenging California and Mizzou, but have also looked pitiful, struggling against Southeastern Louisiana, Arkansas, and Memphis.

Both teams are trying to win with relatively inexperienced coaches that seem incapable of carrying their respective programs forward. Joe Moorhead was unable to get more than 8 wins in 2018 with what was arguably the best defense in the country. Matt Luke hasn’t won more than six games in a season and it seems unlikely this changes in 2019. Both the Bulldogs and the Rebels are regressing from where they were when their previous coaches were present.

How did these two teams get here?

In a way, both programs are victims of their own success, but in completely different manners.

The Rebels sent Hugh Freeze packing because of a scandal of his own doing, but the NCAA hammered Ole Miss for several violations that occurred during his time in Oxford. Mississippi State, after failing to ever break through its ceiling and beat Alabama, lost Dan Mullen to the greener pastures of Gainesville, Florida.

The Bulldogs were good, but could never attain true greatness. Ole Miss got busted for becoming very, very good by means that the NCAA wasn’t exactly fond of. A scandal undid everything that was going well for Ole Miss. Another school led by Mississippi State alumnus Scott Stricklin poached the greatest coach in Mississippi State’s history.

And so, both schools were then left searching for replacements of two of the most successful coaches that the state of Mississippi has ever seen.

The two made completely different hires to replace successful coaches

The Rebels turned to Luke to lead their program moving forward. Luke was given the job after going 6-6 in 2017 as Ole Miss’ interim coach. His biggest win was beating Mullen and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and that loss is ultimately what Mullen left Starkville on.

The Rebels decided to forgo a search and simply stick with the guy that was able to beat their rival once their rival’s starting quarterback got injured. It may not have been the best hire at the time, but the Ole Miss decision-makers seemingly wanted to have an Ole Miss guy leading things. That’s what they got.

Mississippi State took a different approach. Instead of turning to anyone with ties to its university, the Bulldogs looked outside and tried to find someone who fit the mold that Mullen initially did when he was hired. MSU turned to someone who was a slightly unconventional, innovative offensive coordinator at a school that was having plenty of success, just like the Bulldogs did when they hired Mullen.

And that’s how State ended up with Moorhead, a man who was Penn State’s offensive coordinator and had been part of plenty of successful coaching staffs everywhere he was previously. It was a progressive, forward-thinking sort of hire. It was the right hire for Mississippi State at the time.

Neither hire is working

Ole Miss is stuck in this purgatory of being just good enough to remain competitive against better opponents but also bad enough to continuously play down to inferior foes. Winning 5 or 6 games a season and struggling to get there probably isn’t what most Ole Miss fans want. And that sort of mediocrity isn’t going to woo many recruits into choosing the University of Mississippi over other schools.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, seems to actively be regressing from where Mullen left the program. The Bulldogs have the talent and were trending up in the SEC West. But now, after losing to Tennessee, State is liable to losing ground in recruiting in the ever-competitive Southeastern Conference. And if you can’t recruit better players than your SEC companions, you’ll have a hard time beating them.

Remaining stagnant and losing ground isn’t what either of these programs needs. At relatively small schools with fewer resources than most of their fellow SEC schools, Mississippi State and Ole Miss should be looking for every possible way available to innovate, both on and off the field. It’s necessary for survival at these sorts of programs.

It’s something that Mullen and Freeze did really well. It’s something that Moorhead and Luke seemingly aren’t able to do right now.

Unless things turn around quickly for either program, it’s time for these two teams to simply move on from their current coaches. Unless Mississippi State finds a way to upset a team like LSU and Ole Miss goes and knocks down Auburn, these programs should look for new leaders.

The Egg Bowl can end a coach’s career or save it, depending on how often they win it. It’s a severely underrated rivalry that is full of bitter feelings, bad blood, and wild antics. This season, it shouldn’t matter who comes out on top of the matchup. If Mississippi State and Ole Miss are content with simply competing against each other, then they should keep Moorhead and Luke. If the two teams want to challenge the SEC West once more, it’s time to move on.

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