Penn State’s new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca talks to Nittany Lions wide receiver KJ Hamler.

Franklin, Penn State Hits Home Run With Offensive Coordinator

By Eric G. Stark

Lions hires Kirk Ciarrocca from Minnesota’s high-powered offense.

Word started to spread late Thursday morning that Penn State had its new offensive coordinator, and it was a surprise hire.

Not a surprise in the sense of crazy, outside the box thinking or someone who has not but been a coordinator before, but a surprise in the sense that the Nittany Lions they were able to acquire someone this talented and with such a proven track record.

It is a surprise that Penn State Coach James Franklin could pry Kirk Ciarrocca away from Minnesota.

According to the Pioneer Press, Franklin has tabbed Ciarrocca to lead Nittany Lions’ offense.

Besides hiring LSU passing game coordinator and former PSU graduate assistant Joe Brady, Ciarrocca was likely the next highest profile candidate, but I didn’t think either were realistic hires.

Ohio State’s passing game coordinator, Mike Yurcich, who had great success running the offense at Oklahoma State and Shippensburg University, was also a long shot (couldn’t see the Buckeyes allowing Penn State to hire one their coaches).

In Ciarrocca’s case, the Golden Gopher’s are an up-and-coming team that beat Penn State this season. There is also the loyalty factor. He has also worked with Minnesota coach PJ Fleck for seven seasons, dating back to 2013 when Fleck hired Ciarrocca as his offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Western Michigan.

I highly doubted Penn State could hire an existing coordinator from a rival Big Ten School, be it Yurcich from OSU or Ciarrocca from Minnesota.

I thought the hire would be someone like former PSU coordinator Joe Moorehead, an innovative coach at a lower division college program like Fordham, where Moorehead was the head coach of the school’s impressive offense.

Someone like James Perry, the head coach at Brown, reminded me of the Moorehead hire. Perry called the plays for an offense ranked 15th in total offense in the FCS this year, putting up 454.5 yards a game. He was also a graduate assistant at Maryland when Franklin coached there, so the two have a connection.

Or possibly a young, up-and-coming coach like Brennnan Marion, the William & Mary OC and QB coach who just finished his first season with the Tribe. He previously coached at Howard, where his uptempo offenses ranked in the top 15 in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

High Demand

Ciarrocca was sought after, as evidenced by the headline on Hook ‘Em – a Texas Longhorns website that read: “Texas Football: Lonhorns OC target Kirk Ciarrocca hired away by Penn State.”

The Longhorns’ frustration is warranted, as Minnesota’s offense averged 34.5 points per game this season. The Golden Gophers were also in the top 10 nationally in drive efficiency and fewest three-and-outs; the latest category should make Penn State fans happy, this year’s team had far too many three-and-out series.

I’m thinking former 5-Star receiver Justin Shorter, who already entered the transfer portal is already gone. I’m not sure he’s even any good. He’s done almost nothing in two years. But if he does come back, new OC has track record of big production from WRs.

At Western Michigan, the 2016 team went 13-0 before losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. The offense scored 33 passing touchdowns and 36 rushing, respectively. The passing and rushing game each averaged at least 228 yards.

That 2016 Western Michigan offense had four receivers with 25 or more receptions for at least 275 yards. Ciarrocca has a history of developing receivers, like Corey Davis, who had 97 catches for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns at Western Michigan.
Minnesota’s offense was record-setting this season with has two stud receivers in Rashod Bateman (57 receptions, 1,170 yards, 11 TDS) and Tyler Johnson (74 catches, 1,114 yards, 11 TDs). The two have hauled-in 22 of Golden Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan’s 28 TD passes.

I believe this quote from Penn State defensive cordinator Brent Pry talking about why he wants to stay at PSU says a lot about what he thought of the former offensive play caller, Ricky Rahne. Those plays at the end of the Minnesota game were bad play calls (a fade to Hamler).

I think Franklin is loyal, but he encouraged and was eager to help Rahne find another job. Franklin was very supportive and helpful to Old Dominion in its hire of Rahne as its new head coach.

Here is Pry’s quote:

“I don’t like unfinished business. I really believe that we can win a national championship here at Penn State. I want to see that through,” Pry said. “When you look back at this season, we’re a play or two away. I’d like to see if we manage the end of that game and get in the end zone against Minnesota, are we in the playoffs right now at 11-1? So I think we’re that close, and that’s exciting.”

A Pennsylvania native from Lewisbury and a Juniata University graduate, Ciarrocca is well-aware of Penn State’s history and strong fan base.

Kirk Ciarrocca

His RPO offensive concepts are is similar to what Penn State currently runs, which is a plus in Franklin’s mind.

“We wanted to get a proven play-caller, a guy who has a history of calling the plays, but also somebody that our systems were similar,” Franklin said during the Cotton Bowl press conference Thursday Dec. 26.

The Lions’ coach wanted someone with humility to keep some of the same verbiage that Penn State already has, because the Lions have a lot of returning offensive players.

With Ciarrocca, Franklin found his man.