Penn State, Franklin couldn't afford to pass on high-octane OC Mike Yurcich
Mike Yurcich, apparently, proved too good to pass up.
Meet your new offensive coordinator, Penn State fans, as I reclaim the brain space needed to remember that there are 2 Rs and 2 Cs in Ciarrocca. Yep, after one shortened season directing Penn State’s attack, Kirk Ciarrocca has been unceremoniously dumped by James Franklin.
It’s a jarringly sudden move by Franklin heading into his eighth season at the helm of the Nittany Lions’ program. It indicates urgency, if not outright desperation. Franklin might be feeling some heat under his seat.
Welcome Coach Yurcich (@Coach_Yurcich)!
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) January 8, 2021
Why Yurcich, why now
James Franklin sells himself as a meticulous planner and organizer. As much as he preaches family atmosphere and wants to serve as a father figure to his players, he got the Penn State gig for his CEO skills. I’m sure he keeps close tabs on the market. He probably has lists — certainly in his head, but probably on paper as well — ranking assistant coaches he’d like to hire.
Yurcich, I imagine, slotted near the top of his OC list. And why not? The 45-year-old with Pennsylvania ties returns to the Keystone State after one-year stops at Ohio State and Texas, two of the most storied programs in college football history. It’s been quite the meteoric rise for a guy who was coordinating Shippensburg’s offense less than a decade ago.
Yurcich became available when Texas fired head coach Tom Herman and replaced him with Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian. The carousel is spinning, and Yurcich is jumping off in a different location for the third year in a row. In 2019, he left Oklahoma State after 6 seasons to become Ryan Day’s first hire at Ohio State. He served as the Buckeyes’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. That was the only season since 2005 that Yurcich didn’t carry the title of offensive coordinator — which I guess explains the move to Texas after only one year in Columbus.
It’s a tough business
Ciarrocca is gone because Yurcich hit the market.
As we’ve witnessed with Penn State finally getting active in the transfer portal this winter, the program will seek upgrades wherever and whenever possible. Franklin’s approach seems to be evolving.
Is there anything more to it? Maybe Ciarrocca wasn’t a good fit. Maybe there were personality conflicts. Who knows?
Most likely, Franklin simply sees the chance to return the offense to the dynamic, explosive machine it was under Joe Moorhead in 2016 and 2017.
If there are hurt feelings, that’s part of the game.
“This was a difficult decision, but [we] felt it was best for our program to make a change,” Franklin said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to have Mike join our staff. He is an impressive offensive mind and talented play caller who has set records everywhere he has been as an offensive coordinator.
“I look forward to seeing what he can do with all of the offensive weapons we have here at Penn State. I have followed Mike’s career for a long time, dating back to his time in the PSAC at Shippensburg and Edinboro. We look forward to bringing Mike and his family back to Pennsylvania.”
Yurcich reciprocated, saying: “Having spent 11 years in the state of Pennsylvania as a player and coach, I understand the significance of this duty and will represent properly and with humble pride.”
What to expect?
Texas racked up 41.8 points and 473.8 yards per game this past season under Yurcich, second only to Oklahoma in the Big 12 in both regards. And yes, Sam Ehlinger was a dual-threat QB. In 10 games, he threw for 2,566 yards and 26 TDs with only 5 INTs — while also leading the Longhorns in rushing attempts, netting 377 yards and scoring a team-high 8 rushing TDs.
According to PSU’s media release: In his career as an FBS offensive coordinator, Yurcich’s offenses have averaged 6.49 yards per play, which ranks first among OC’s since 2013, and 14.03 yards per completion, which is first among Power Five OC’s in that timeframe. Since 2013, Yurcich’s offenses have scored 50 or more points 26 times and 40 or more points 51 times (50 percent of games coached), both of which are tops among FBS offensive coordinators since 2013. His teams average 61.5 touchdowns per year.
As an assistant, James Franklin earned his chops on the offensive side of the ball. He wants to go big or go home. Of his previous OCs, Joe Moorhead was the prototype. Remember how much fun Penn State was to watch when McSorley, Barkley, Gesicki, Stevens, Hamilton, et al., were spreading the field and chucking the ball all over?
It can be that way again. It wasn’t going to happen under Ricky Rahne or Ciarrocca, but it might under Yurcich. He may be able to recreate the buzz. The task is twofold for the new OC: Design the scheme, and help attract the stud players to run it.
Franklin is betting on Yurcich. Based on his resume, it seems like a good gamble.