Heading into 2020, Penn State thought it had finally secured its home run hire at offensive coordinator.
Former Minnesota offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca was hand-picked by James Franklin to take the reins from Ricky Rahne, who spent just two years in Happy Valley before his departure to Old Dominion.
The hype surrounding the 55-year-old Ciarrocca came after he led perhaps the best offensive unit in Golden Gopher history, turning quarterback Tanner Morgan into a legitimate threat under center in 2019.
It would then of course be expected that Ciarrocca would do the same with Penn State redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford and an offense filled with weapons at the skill positions.
But after an offseason that featured a global pandemic as well as his star running back being diagnosed with a career ending medical condition, it was set to be an uphill challenge from the start.
So, after an 0-5 start and a season that would come up well short of expectations, Franklin and the program decided to go in a different direction once more.
Out of what seemed like nowhere, the program announced the hiring of former Texas offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich on Friday.
As a result, Ciarrocca was let go just a year after coming to the Nittany Lions, making him the casualty of the program’s first losing season since 2004.
While the decision comes as a bit of a surprise considering the conditions that Ciarrocca had to coach under in a year like 2020, it is well known that Franklin has never been shy to make an offensive coaching change.
This is something that his quarterback could probably explain best, as Clifford will be on to his fourth offensive coordinator in his fifth year in the program.
That is not a recipe for the success of any college quarterback.
And while it is fair to blame Ciarrocca for not adjusting to his new personnel or just mismanaging his playcalling, it seems odd that he didn’t get the second chance — which was afforded to Rahne just two years prior.
But Yurcich could very well have been someone who Franklin felt he couldn’t pass up on right now, considering the quarterbacks he has developed in recent years includes Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State, Justin Fields at Ohio State and most recently Sam Ehlinger at Texas.
Penn State’s offensive group will have to go through yet another offseason of learning a new playbook, which is an interesting factor given the times the world and college football are currently in.
If the spring and summer months are anything similar to last offseason, the Nittany Lions will be in for another big challenge as they attempt to learn a third system in as many years without having normal in-person contact with its coaches.
Clifford even talked about how difficult that is in his media day availability prior to the start of the 2020 season.
“I think that details are extremely important because of how much time we missed. We missed spring ball, we missed a lot of summer reps during quarantine,” Clifford said. “Communication is a huge factor.”
So, while it is still unknown what the offseason landscape will look like, Clifford will have another challenge ahead of him as he approaches what is likely to be his final collegiate season.
But given what Yurcich has been able to accomplish in the sport over the past decade, time will be the only thing that will tell what to make of this hire — given that he spends more than one season with Franklin and the staff.
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Penn State made an unexpected coaching move Friday.