STARKVILLE — Before Joe Moorhead could comfort himself, he had to console his daughter.
Most everyone wearing maroon and white who walked off the field at Neyland Stadium last Saturday had their heads down. They looked dejected after Mississippi State's 20-10 loss to Tennessee.
Perhaps the most downtrodden Bulldog of them all was Moorhead's 18-year-old daughter, Kyra. She wiped tears from her eyes as freshman cornerback Jarrian Jones wrapped his arm around her neck in support.
"She understands football and what Mississippi State means to her and what it means to me," Moorhead said.
The coach caught up to them. The group walked toward the tunnel in unison when they heard a shout that made Kyra's tears flow faster.
"You hear a few fans as she's walking out of the stadium telling her that her dad sucks," Moorhead said. "And they were right. On this day, I did suck. But that's part of it. The support you get from your family means everything."
Moorhead doesn't have much support from Mississippi State fans at the moment. He knows that, which is probably why he spent the first seven minutes of his press conference speaking unprompted about where his football program stands through 19 games under his leadership.
Mississippi State is 3-3 this season after going 8-5 a year ago with arguably the best defense in the nation. Moorhead said coaching against "the best of the best" in the SEC has been a learning experience for him – one that has been as challenging as any he's faced in his life.
As losses mount for Moorhead and company, the sting of defeat intensifies. Moorhead said suffering brutal blows like the one taken in Knoxville last week hurts deeply because of how invested he's been in trying to make Mississippi State a top-tier place in college football.
"Nothing means more to me than bringing a consistently successful, championship-level program to Mississippi State," Moorhead said. "Every waking moment not spent with my family is utilized in an effort to make it happen."
Moorhead's dedication to his Dawgs isn't in question, but his ability to lead them to wins on Saturdays is. He admitted that his team was out-coached and outplayed by a Tennessee group that previously had not beaten a Power 5 team this season. Even after Moorhead's side was coming off a bye week, the Volunteers grabbed an early lead and maintained it during the entire day one week after losing to Georgia by 29 points.
Moorhead was hired because of his history as an offensive mastermind at just about every stop in his coaching career, from Georgetown in the early 2000s to Penn State just a few years ago. His reputation in that regard has taken a huge hit at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs had the second-to-worst passing offense in the SEC last season. This year, they have the worst. The Dogs only throw for 184.2 yards per game. Only two teams in the conference have a worse total offense than MSU: Vanderbilt, who has not won a league game so far, and Tennessee, who just beat the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State's defense has also regressed this year, as was to be expected. A combination of a offense trying to find its identity and a young defense trying to make up for a load of lost talent has not worked in Moorhead's favor in year two.
MSU is one of just three teams in the SEC that averages fewer offensive yards per play (5.83) than it gives up defensively (6.20). State has yet to play the two best offenses in the SEC as well. LSU has the league's best unit on that side of the ball. Alabama trails closely behind. Both teams put up well over 500 yards per game.
All things considered, Moorhead hasn't given up on his goals. He said he still has support from his family "rocking the maroon and white" in western Pennsylvania, and he's thankful for the encouragement he's gotten from folks much closer to home in Starkville.
Moorhead received a direct message on Twitter from Strange Brew Coffeehouse, a local coffee shop less than a mile away from Mississippi State's campus. The account sent him "an interesting GIF of support."
"They're the best," he said.
Ex-Bulldogs, people on campus and current recruits who are committed to play at Mississippi State have all reached out to Moorhead in the past three days, he said. They're betting on him to have success at MSU.
Moorhead is betting on himself, too.
"I'm certainly not a Bible thumper by any means, but I am a man of God," he said. "And I do believe I was led to this path at Mississippi State over other opportunities to achieve great things. I remain steadfast in my belief that we are going to do it."
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: College football: Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead gets emotional