Penn State’s Offensive Coordinator Carousel Comes Full-Circle: Mike Yurcich vs. Kirk Ciarrocca

Story posted October 21, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Zach Donaldson

It’s White Out weekend, where past meets present under the beaming lights of Beaver Stadium.

Minnesota travels south to take on No. 16 Penn State, and for the first time, former Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca returns to Happy Valley in his second stint with the Golden Gophers.

Ciarrocca was hired as Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2020 after Ricky Rahne was fired, and former Texas offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Franklin’s initial target, stayed in the Lone Star State.

Ciarrocca caught Franklin’s eye following Penn State’s loss to Minnesota in 2019 where the Golden Gophers exploded on offense for 460 yards – Penn State had 518 but Minnesota picked off Sean Clifford three times. But being hired during the COVID-19-impacted season, Ciarrocca wasn’t given enough of an offseason to adequately implement his offense.

“Let’s say this: it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to,” Ciarrocca said regarding his brief time with Penn State. “So that's disappointing, and there are a lot of reasons for that.”

Still, Ciarrocca had arguably the most success out of any of Penn State’s offensive coordinators post-2018 when Clifford took over under center. But he was canned anyways in favor of Penn State current offensive coordinator, Yurcich.

It’s fair to wonder whether Franklin and Yurcich are going through the same kind of growing pains that he and Ciarrocca went through, causing them to part ways.

Yurcich and the offense got off to a sizzling hot start this season but have fizzled out significantly in October.

It’s clear that there’s still some congestion when it comes to the play calling.

“[James Franklin] is in every offensive meeting, even if he gets pulled from them quite a bit with his head coaching duties,” Yurcich said. “But he gives great input for each game plan and it’s the same as it was last year.”

Franklin’s expertise lies on the offensive side of the ball, and his resume will back that up. In addition to his head coach gig at Vanderbilt, it’s fairly extensive.

He’s spent time elsewhere as an offensive coordinator, as well as a quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends coach. Most notably in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 2005 (wide receivers coach), and most recently Maryland and Kansas State (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach). He was also a two-year starter for East Stroudsburg, his alma mater, and set the single-season record for passing yards and touchdown passes as a senior.

So, one can assume that Franklin has crafted a certain offensive philosophy he likes to abide by and has had some trouble finding a play-caller that he fully aligns with.

Yurcich is the fifth offensive coordinator of Franklin’s nine-year tenure, which means he’s swapped play callers for over half of his years as the head coach; John Donovan, Joe Moorhead, Ricky Rahne, Kirk Ciarrocca and now Yurcich.

This is the first year Clifford gets to work with the same play-caller in back-to-back seasons. He and Yurcich got off to another strong start last year, but their success was derailed by Clifford’s injury against Iowa. It’s been up-and-down to start this season, to say the least.

“Sean has had some great moments throughout the year,” Yurcich said. “I think quarterback sometimes is a microcosm of everything else that goes on around the quarterback… He’s made, obviously, some plays that he’d like to have back. But I think what you’re going to see is continual improvement because he works his butt off.”

If Penn State wants to remain ranked and competitive, Clifford along with Franklin and Yurcich have to work on improving and getting back on the same page ahead of Penn State’s clash with Minnesota.

The Nittany Lions struggled with time of possession in last week’s loss to Michigan and need to improve in that category this week against the Golden Gophers, who are ranked fifth in the nation when it comes to holding on to the football.

“They’re a very good third down defense, so third down has been a big stress point for us this week. We have to improve in that area,” Yurcich said. “But what helps with third downs is being efficient on first and second down. We have to make sure we do a good job early in the drive and with our early first-down calls, staying ahead of the sticks and staying on schedule so that we can stay on the field and keep our defense off the field.”

Yurcich will certainly have the crowd on his side to help with that. Ciarrocca? Well, he’ll be experiencing the White Out atmosphere for the first time and likely, it’ll make his job as trying as possible.

Zach Donaldson is a fifth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email