Nittany Lions have much to consider when looking for new offensive coordinator

By Derek Levarse - [email protected]
Tight ends coach Ricky Rahne, who previously called plays for Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, could be in the mix to replace Joe Moorhead. - Abby Drey | AP file photo, Centre Daily Times

It’s not exactly a little black book. To hear James Franklin tell it, it’s much more detailed than that.

Since taking over at Penn State in 2014, Franklin has talked about the list he and his administrative staff keep of candidates for every position to stay prepared when the time comes to make a hire.

“It’s probably 30 deep and it’s ranked,” Franklin told 247Sports this summer. “My guys know I’m loyal. It’s not that I’m trying to replace you, don’t worry about that, but if you do leave, I’m gonna have a plan. For each one of my guys, I’ve got a pretty good ideal of who I’m gonna hire right now.”

As it so happens, Franklin has another important hire to make as the Nittany Lions try to take the next step and win that one extra game to reach the College Football Playoff.

Penn State has yet to reveal its plans for replacing offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who was named head coach at Mississippi State on Wednesday. Recent history, however, suggests that tight ends coach Ricky Rahne could be the one calling plays in the Lions’ bowl game, with the destination and opponent announced on Sunday afternoon.

When Franklin fired John Donovan the morning after the 2015 regular season finale, he took a few weeks before deciding on Moorhead, who accompanied the team to the TaxSlayer Bowl but left the actual coaching to Rahne.

Moorhead was also the team’s quarterbacks coach, though Rahne previously held that title when Donovan was offensive coordinator.

“He’s a real smart guy,” Franklin said of Rahne during preseason camp. “Played quarterback at Cornell, got into coaching, was a GA for me at Kansas State, and I’ve been fortunate that we’ve been together ever since.

“I think he’s a future coordinator. He’s been fiercely loyal, he’s a relentless recruiter, he gets it. He’s a team guy.”

As tight ends coach the past two seasons, Rahne helped Mike Gesicki overcome struggles to become a finalist for the Mackey Award as the nation’s best at the position this fall, breaking multiple school records along the way.

Though Rahne is a Colorado native, his wife, Jennifer, and her family hail from Pittsburgh.

“To me, this is the greatest place in the word because my wife is happy — and when my wife is happy, I’m happy,” Rahne said in the preseason. “Not to mention as a football coach I’m able to win games, win championships, and recruit really good kids.”

Still, it would be a bit of a surprise if Rahne — or any current assistant — were to be immediately promoted to the coordinator job, as Franklin did on defense with Brent Pry when Bob Shoop left for the same job at Tennessee in early 2016.

Penn State is likely to have plenty of interest in the job following Moorhead’s success and advancement, along with the Lions’ ascension as a program.

Two names from outside the program have circulated in the early going.

Andrew Breiner was Moorhead’s protege at Fordham who became the Rams head coach when Moorhead left for Happy Valley.

Breiner brings the plus of running an identical scheme, which has already proven to be successful at Penn State. He’s also a Pennsylvania native who went to college down the road at Lock Haven. On the downside, he is only 32 and the Rams struggled to a 4-7 record this fall with star running back Chase Edmonds missing much of the season due to injury.

The other name is Billy Napier, the still-in-limbo offensive coordinator at Arizona State, whom Franklin recently began following on Twitter. Napier has experience running spread offenses at Clemson and Arizona State and his situation is very much in flux after the Sun Devils fired coach Todd Graham on Sunday.

Napier was the youngest coordinator in the country when he took that role under Dabo Swinney, and the Tigers offense didn’t truly take off until Chad Morris — now the SMU coach and candidate for bigger jobs — replaced Napier. He also doesn’t have direct ties to Pennsylvania or the region, something that could factor in.

Moorhead is originally from Pittsburgh and had coached throughout the Northeast. And it’s important to note that his name wasn’t initially on the radar two years ago when the position was open.

In other words, there’s still research to be done.

“There’s got to be the fit,” Franklin said. “It’s something that we’ve been fortunate and done a pretty good job at. It’s not like we’re picking out of a hat. We’ve got a system to how we do it.”

More honors for Barkley

The finalists for the Heisman Trophy won’t be announced until Monday. But there are plenty of other accolades for Saquon Barkley to pick up in the meantime.

On Wednesday, the Penn State running back was named one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award along with Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, Stanford running back Bryce Love and last year’s winner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Barkley also was named a finalist for the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football, given to the Big Ten’s top player as voted on by the conference’s 14 coaches. Barkley, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor are in the running. Barkley and Barrett split the award last year.

That wasn’t all. Barkley was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection as the conference revealed its picks on offense.

Gesicki was Penn State’s only other first-team pick, getting the nod from the media. Coaches had him on their second team behind Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli.

Quarterback Trace McSorley was the second-team pick from both groups, behind Barrett. Wideout DaeSean Hamilton made the coaches’ second team and the media’s third team.

Despite missing nearly all of November with an injury, tackle Ryan Bates impressed enough to be a third-team selection by both coaches and media. Receiver Juwan Johnson was an honorable mention pick on both teams.

Big Ten awards season wraps up Thursday with the reveal of every individual trophy.

Tight ends coach Ricky Rahne, who previously called plays for Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, could be in the mix to replace Joe Moorhead. ends coach Ricky Rahne, who previously called plays for Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, could be in the mix to replace Joe Moorhead. Abby Drey | AP file photo, Centre Daily Times

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse