New Penn State coordinator Mike Yurcich has helped oversee some of the nation’s top offenses in recent years at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.
                                 Sue Ogrocki | AP file photo

New Penn State coordinator Mike Yurcich has helped oversee some of the nation’s top offenses in recent years at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.

Sue Ogrocki | AP file photo

Franklin makes call

to replace Ciarrocca

with Mike Yurcich

A 4-5 season, regardless of any outside factors, was never going to sit well with James Franklin.

Changes were bound to be coming for the Nittany Lions. But no one was expecting the move the Penn State coach made on Friday morning.

Franklin abruptly fired offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca after just nine games with the program, immediately replacing him with former Texas offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

“First, I would like to thank Kirk for his contributions to our program last year,” Franklin said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision, but felt it was best for our program to make a change. We wish him and his family all the best in their future endeavors.

“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.”

Yurcich, who will also serve as quarterbacks coach, will be Franklin’s fifth offensive coordinator in eight seasons at the helm of the Lions. Two of them — Joe Moorhead (2016-17) and Ricky Rahne (2018-19) — left for head coaching jobs. John Donovan (2014-15) and Ciarrocca (2020) were fired.

But Ciarrocca’s situation was unique among that group, and the timing of Friday’s switch indicates it was more about Franklin’s admiration of Yurcich than disapproval of Ciarrocca.

A veteran and respected play-caller, Ciarrocca was lured away from Big Ten rival Minnesota one year and two weeks ago to replace Rahne after he left to become head coach at Old Dominion.

Though Ciarrocca wasn’t brought in to overhaul the no-huddle, all-shotgun system Moorhead installed, he never got a chance for a normal transition because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all of spring practice.

Incumbent quarterback Sean Clifford didn’t get to work in person with Ciarrocca until the end of the summer and struggled badly with turnovers and consistency when the 2020 season finally did start at the end of October.

Ciarrocca also lost starting running back Journey Brown in the preseason and No. 2 man Noah Cain suffered a season-ending injury on the first drive of the year.

But despite a historic 0-5 start, Ciarrocca’s offense actually finished third in the Big Ten in scoring (29.8 points per game) and second in total yards (430.3), behind only champion Ohio State.

“The ride from the outhouse to the penthouse is very short in this profession. … I’ve been in both places,” Ciarrocca said during his lone in-season media availability in early December. “I’m very confident in my ability to build a successful, top-flight offense.”

And it may well have come at Penn State with something resembling a normal offseason in 2021.

But another unexpected decision some 1,500 miles away in Texas changed Penn State’s plans.

Yurcich, 45, had long been on Franklin’s radar thanks to his tremendous success in Pennsylvania as a play-caller at Division II Shippensburg, which plays in the same league as Franklin’s alma mater of East Stroudsburg.

He got his big shot when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy unearthed him to run the Cowboys offense, where he set program records from 2013-18. A rising star in the profession, he joined Ryan Day’s initial staff at Ohio State as quarterbacks coach in 2019 before getting big money to become Texas’ offensive coordinator in 2020.

Texas had announced at the end of this season that it would be retaining head coach Tom Herman before reversing course last week and replacing him with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Yurcich was suddenly without a job on the new Longhorns staff, and Franklin didn’t waste time to get his man.

“I have followed Mike’s career for a long time, dating back to his time in the PSAC at Shippensburg and Edinboro,” Franklin said. “We look forward to bringing Mike and his family back to Pennsylvania.”