This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
Who: Bob Shoop, Mississippi State
Title: Defensive coordinator/safeties coach
Previous stop: Tennessee defensive coordinator (2016-17)
Why he’s important: Joe Moorhead is a Pittsburgh native, educated at an elite Northeastern private school school (Fordham), who made his name coaching at the FCS level (Fordham again) and rocketed to stardom while working as a coordinator for James Franklin. For the most important hire he’ll ever make in his coaching life, Moorhead turned to another native of the Pittsburgh area, educated at an elite Northeastern private school (Yale), who made his name coaching at the FCS level (William & Mary) and rocketed to stardom while working as a coordinator for James Franklin.
Shoop is seven years older than Moorhead but, other than that, Mississippi State’s new head coach and defensive coordinator are basically this meme.
Shoop was named the FCS Coordinator of the Year at William & Mary in 2009 and landed with Franklin at Vanderbilt in 2011, where he took a defense that was 80th nationally the year prior to his arrival to 14th. Once Franklin got the Penn State job and took the gang with him to State College in 2014, Shoop boosted the Nittany Lions’ defense from 42nd to third.
He then left Penn State on less-than-friendly terms and arrived at Tennessee, where… that string of success at Bill & Mary, Vandy and Penn State did not follow him to Knoxville. The Vols, 39th nationally in 2015, were 78th and 87th in two seasons under Shoop. Perhaps the Butch Jones era was beyond saving by that point. That’s certainly what Moorhead believes.
“Listen, don’t worry about those last two years (at Tennessee),” Shoop recalled Moorhead telling him, via the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “I got this situation at Mississippi State. I know the job you did at Vanderbilt. I know the job you did at Penn State. Sit tight. It’s going to work out.”
Nevertheless, Shoop takes over the Mississippi State defense at an interesting time. Change has been the only constant for the current Bulldogs defenders, as he will be Hail State’s fifth coordinator in as many seasons — following Geoff Collins (2014), Manny Diaz (2015), Peter Sirmon (2016) and Todd Grantham (2017).
Despite that constant turnover, Mississippi State’s defense has been mostly good, not great. The Bulldogs finished in the 40’s nationally twice and won at least nine games in four of those five seasons.
Mississippi State returns 17 of its 22 two-deep members, including eight starters and its entire defensive line, led by former 5-star recruit and First Team All-SEC defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons.
Expect Shoop to lean on that defensive line to cover up deficiencies in a thin linebacking corps. “There’s a bunch of guys up front where we can run eight, nine or 10 guys up front,” Shoop said this spring. “We have as much depth up front as any place I have ever been, and I don’t feel like there is a significant drop-off between those guys.”
“What is non-negotiable is we are going to be in your face. I truly believe in that,” Shoop said. “The phrase we’ve adopted on the defensive side of the ball is hunt: HTB, hunt the ball. We want to hunt the ball in everything we’re doing.”
Moorhead’s bona fides on the offensive side of the ball are well-known, and Nick Fitzgerald is a true talent at quarterback (provided he recovers from a gruesome ankle injury suffered in an Egg Bowl loss to Ole Miss.)
The SEC West, already the toughest division in college football, became even more challenging in the off-season with the additions of Jimbo Fisher and Chad Morris, but if Shoop can replicate his instant success at Vanderbilt and Penn State, there is real potential for another nine- or 10-win season in Starkville.