Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Where Mike Vrabel's winning percentage ranks in Titans franchise history


Mike Moraitis 

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has seen a fair amount of success since taking over the job in 2018, posting an overall regular-season record of 29-19 over three seasons.

That amounts to a .604 winning percentage, which is the best mark in Titans history specifically, and the fourth-best mark in total when you factor in the franchise’s years in Houston as the Oilers.

Only Oilers coaches Bum Phillip (.611), Lou Rymkus (.611) and Pop Ivy (.607) had better winning percentages. If the Titans can win 11 games or more in 2021, Vrabel would surpass all three.

As far as total wins are concerned, Vrabel has his work cut out for him if he wants to get to the top of the list, as Jeff Fisher leads the way with 142, 126 of which came after the team moved to Tennessee, and 110 of those wins came after the franchise was re-named to the Titans.

Vrabel has taken Tennessee to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and the team has never finished worse than 9-7 under him.

In 2019, the Titans made an improbable run to the AFC Championship Game and in 2020 notched their first double-digit win season and AFC South title since 2008, although they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

While Vrabel no doubt has this franchise moving in the right direction, he’ll ultimately be judged by if he can bring a Super Bowl to Nashville. The good news is that the Titans are as close as they’ve been in years, but there’s some work to do this offseason if Tennessee truly wants to get over the hump.

Nate Ebner's book "Finish Strong" 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Point After: 10 random thoughts on the Patriots


Friday, January 15    |    Follow Globe Sports Twitter

By Christopher Price, Globe Staff

Ten random Patriots’ thoughts to occupy you during divisional playoff weekend:

With the benefit of a week or so to review, we'll kick things off with three year-end awards:

1. MVP had three possibilities: Rex BurkheadJoe Thuney, and Jakobi Meyers, but I have to go with Thuney. Playing multiple spots along the offensive line, leading the offense in total snaps, all while continuing to execute at an incredibly high level means he gets the award by the slimmest of margins over Burkhead and Meyers. The offense slowed to a crawl after Burkhead went down in the loss to Houston, and while his absence wasn’t the only reason for the struggles down the stretch, it wasn’t coincidental. And Meyers was the most dependable receiver on the team, and also provided the best highlight of the year with his touchdown pass to Cam Newton . (At the very least, Meyers should be the default winner of Most Improved.)

2. Rookie of the Year goes to defensive back Kyle Dugger, just barely ahead of Michael Onwenu. The defensive back out of Lenoir-Rhyne had an excellent first season, handling many of the same responsibilities Patrick Chung did the last few years, and managing to surpass most expectations. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2021, given that there’s some positional redundancy there with Dugger and Chung. (Not to mention veteran Adrian Phillips.) But it’s a good problem to have if you're New England.

3. Dugger just edged Onwenu for team ROY honors, but Onwenu was so good, we need to acknowledge his first year in the NFL, so I’ll say he was the Surprise of the Year. Onwenu went from sixth-round pick to starting left guard in the first month of his professional career — without benefit of a regular offseason. There were some rough patches, but he certainly didn’t look overwhelmed as he was shuffled from left guard to right guard to right tackle and jumbo tight end. The versatility and durability (he played 92 percent of the offensive snaps this year, second-most on the team) he displayed as a rookie will certainly enter into the conversation when the Patriots discuss the value of re-signing Thuney and/or Shaq Mason.

4. Newton-to-Washington makes sense on a few levels: WFT needs some stability at quarterback, Newton knows Ron Rivera, and Washington has the financial flexibility needed to offer him an incentive-laden deal, the sort of contract that makes the most sense for Newton at this stage of his career. It’s a win for all sides, including the Patriots, who will likely part ways with the signal-caller after one relatively underwhelming year.

5. As for the Patriots, the best course of action is to draft a quarterback and add a veteran, either in trade or as a free agent. One way or another, you’ve got to go big; either take a quarterback in the first 30 overall picks, or make a splash with either a trade or in free agency. One of the things that was reinforced this year was that an elite quarterback can paper over a lot of deficiencies. It’s different teams and different circumstances, but it’s not a coincidence that six of the eight quarterbacks who are still playing this postseason were taken in the first round, and four of them were drafted in the top 10. Bottom line? They’ve got to take a big swing this offseason. 

6. Matthew Slater’s future remains in doubt, as the veteran sounded like he might leave the door open to retirement this offseason. The departure of Slater would not only leave a serious void on special teams, but New England would also have to find a way out of a leadership void it hasn’t seen since Tedy Bruschi retired following the 2008 season. Slater is not only one of the best in the recent history of the game at what he does — he’s tied with John Hannah for the second most Pro Bowl berths in franchise history — but he’s become the moral compass of the locker room. The 35-year-old is not only respected across Gillette Stadium, but one of the most respected individuals in the league. A longtime voice in the NFLPA, Slater could continue to serve in a similar role moving forward, as well as (potentially) becoming a coach. If he chooses to retire as a player, he’ll go out as someone who has a gold jacket in his future. 

7. For what it’s worth, if Slater does retire, it would leave Julian Edelman and Chung as the two senior members of the roster. Slater is the last player left on the roster from the 2008 season, while Chung and Edelman are the last two players remaining on the roster from the 2009 draft. (The oldest player on the roster is 36-year-old kicker Nick Folk.) One of the great stories in recent Patriots’ history was the fact that Edelman and Slater were housemates for a stretch shortly after Edelman was drafted.  

8. I know there’s all sorts of retirement paperwork to consider, but given the state of linebacking play in New England this past season, do you think that Belichick even thought about the prospect — for a fleeting second — of asking 34-year-old Jerod Mayo if he could still give him a few snaps? I know that the possibility is remote at best, but Belichick has always been one to look for talent in the unlikeliest of places, and the Patriots could have used some help at the position. I’m not suggesting Mayo would have been capable of jumping right in and going wire-to-wire every week, but him moving from the sidelines to shoulder pads would have made an interesting year all the more remarkable. 

9. Speaking of Mayo, I think he has the potential to make a very good head coach down the line. I always saw him as the sort to rescue football at his alma mater, Tennessee, but 
an interview with the Eagles is an excellent place to start. And if he leaves, and the Patriots need someone to step in, I wonder if they’d entertain the idea of bringing back Matt Patricia to fill his role. After all, Josh McDaniels did it.

10. After the Jets announced Thursday they had hired Robert Saleh to become their new head coach, it was time to update the list of AFC East head coaches since 2000:

Bills: Wade Phillip, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell (interim), Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone, Rex Ryan, Anthony Lynn (interim), Sean McDermott.

Jets: Al Groh, Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, Adam Gase, Robert Saleh.

Dolphins: Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates (interim), Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles (interim), Joe Philbin, Dan Campbell (interim), Adam Gase, Brian Flores.

Patriots: Belichick.

Mahomes, Wilson, Brady, Hail Mary Top NFLPA x Opendorse Influencer Hot List


DateThursday, January 14, 2021 at 12:18PM

By Barry Janoff

January 14, 2021: Patrick Mahomes II, Russell Wilson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Tom Brady top a list of the “Most Overall Total Engagements” on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, according to the just-released NFL Players Assn. special edition ”Influencer Hot List” powered by its social media activation partner, Opendorse.

However, the “Most Consistently Active” players (with a minimum of 100,000 followers) were Will Compton, Tarik Cohen and Tyrann Mathieu.

Leading the “Most Engaging Twitter Posts” were Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow’s message to fans after season ending injury, Tom Brady congratulating LeBron James on winning the NBA championship (“Not bad for a washed-up old guy”), Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray celebrating his game winning Hail Mary pass to DeAndre Hopkins and another posted by Hopkins celebrating the Hail Mary pass from Murray.

Information includes data measuring consistent engagement, growth rate and overall activity across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook June 1, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021, according to the NFLPA.

The special edition of the Influencer Hot List from the NFLPA and its social media activation partner Opendorse “evaluates the social media activity of NFL players and ranks the most influential player voices for brands as well as this season’s most engaging Twitter and Instagram posts,” according to the NFLPA.

“Through this annual list, the NFLPA provides its partners with valuable insights into how the power of social media activity can influence marketing campaigns.”

According to the NFLPA, “Social media provides a place for the whole roster to have unique voices and build personal brands that can make all players as marketable as the game’s most popular names.”

Top Ten Overall Total Engagements
(reflects total engagements on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook)

1. Patrick Mahomes II QB Kansas City Chiefs
2. Russell Wilson QB Seattle Seahawks
3. Odell Beckham Jr. WR Cleveland Browns
4. Tom Brady QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster WR Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Cam Newton QB New England Patriots
7. JJ Watt DE Houston Texand
8. Juliann Edelman WR New England Patriots
9. Lamar Jackson QB Baltimore Ravens
10. Jamal Adams SS Seattle Seahawks

Top Ten Growth Rate
(reflects players with rapidly growing followers: percentage of new followers, minimum 100K total)

1. Chase Claypool, WR,Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Robert Tonyan Jr. TE Green Bay Packers
3. Justin Herbert QB Los Angeles Chargers
4. Younghoe Koo,K,Atlanta Falcons
5. Brandon Aiyuk WR San Francisco 49ers
6. Justin Jefferson WR Minnesota Vikings
7. Darren Waller TE Las Vegas Raiders
8. Diontae Johnson WR Pittsburgh Steelers
9. Taylor Rapp SS Los Angeles Rams
10. AJ Dillon RB Green Bay Packers

Most Consistently Active (minimum 100,000 followers)

NFLPA: "Consistent activity is a leading indicator for marketability on social. It keeps players engaged with their audience, while providing marketers with actionable, predictable data with which to build effective campaigns. We rank the most active players who also met audience (top 50%) and engagement (+0.5%) thresholds."

1. Will Compton LB Tennessee Titans
2. Tarik Cohen RB Chicago Bears
3. Tyrann Mathieu DB Kansas City Chiefs
4. Trent Brown OT Las Vegas Raiders
5. Marlon Humphrey CB Baltimore Ravens
6. Kenny Vaccaro DB Tennessee Titans
7. Quandre Diggs CB Seattle Seahawks
8. Darius Slay CB Philadelphia Eagles
9. Cam Jordan DE New Orleans Saints
10. Tre Boston FS Carolina Panthers

Top 5 Most Engaging Twitter Posts
1. Joe Burrow message to fans after season ending injury
2. Tom Brady congratulates LeBron James on NBA championship
3. Kyler Murray celebrating his game winning Hail Mary pass to DeAndre Hopkins
4. DeAndre Hopkins sharing video of his game winning Hail Mary catch
5. Joe Burrow celebrates first win of the season

Top 5 Most Engaging Instagram Posts
1. Patrick Mahomes reveals ultrasound of new baby girl
2. Patrick Mahomes shares family Christmas photo
3. Odell Beckham Jr. at home injured but optimistic
4. Saquon Barkley leaving field injured with a positive message
5. Odell Beckham Jr. engaging fans on future

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

How Mike Yurcich’s journey from small-college grunt to millionaire began as a G.A. under Gerry DiNardo


Updated Jan 12, 10:57 AM; Posted Jan 12, 5:05 AM

New Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, shown here in 2012 as OC at Shippensburg University.

Sometime during 29-year-old Mike Yurcich’s second year as a graduate assistant on Gerry DiNardo’s Indiana Hoosiers football staff, the two were talking about the young coach’s future. Specifically, DiNardo believed he had one in a business that often eats its young.

The former Notre Dame All-America lineman, longtime major-college coach and now television analyst recalled the moment during a Monday phone conversation from his Florida home:

“The part I remember most is, he was one of the best I ever had. So, I can remember having this conversation with him, basically telling him how good I thought he was. And that I didn’t think he had any ceiling.

“He was very appreciative. And I was very sincere in what I said; I didn’t say that to a lot of guys.”

By this time in a young G.A.’s tenure, the veteran head coach could tell if a twentysomething had what it took to stick in an occupation that demands 70-hour weeks as a matter of course, that requires unconditional love with no guarantee it will be requited:

“Now, we worked a lot. So maybe this was me damaging the coaching profession. In fact, I used to say to a lot of young guys: ‘When you’re done working for us, you’re really gonna know if you wanna be a coach.’ I’d say 50 percent of my [G.A.s] said they didn’t want to be a coach. Because of the way we worked. You gave up a lot.”

Grad assistants were paid little to nothing depending on their status as volunteers or minimal employees. And the chores were unending. Maybe driving DiNardo on recruiting trips while he worked in the backseat. Breaking down video – not of the upcoming opponent but that of the following week. Meeting with the scout team and going over the script of plays, maybe taking the scout team out to the field and walking them through it before practice. Making certain the scout team was lined up correctly and was motivated during practice. And if they were assigned to a particular position coach, they were at that assistant’s beck and call.

Maybe, if they earned cred over time by connecting with players and mastering the playbook and schemes, they could do a little teaching during practices, too:

“The better they were, the more I let them coach.”

And Mike Yurcich was one of those guys. He proved he could be a grinder. Which is no tap-in for a kid who was used to an NAIA job at St. Francis (IN) College. DiNardo was impressed:


“Our hours weren’t crazy [by major-college standards]. I was in at 5, the staff was in at 7. We stayed until 10 most nights and one night, if you wanted, you could recruit from home.

“I mean, I was crazier before I got to Indiana. I would say my routine was what 95 percent of Midwestern coaches did.”


And DiNardo quickly noticed how Yurcich seamlessly blended in with the rest of the staff:

“I thought he was really smart, I thought he really knew the game and I thought he was very mature. If you were sitting in our staff room and you didn’t know anybody in our staff, just observing body language, who was taking notes, who was paying attention, you wouldn’t know that Mike was a G.A.”


So, in that one-on-one moment, DiNardo gave his young charge that rare personal endorsement. And Yurcich then responded in a way DiNardo didn’t fully expect:

“He kinda looked at me and said: ‘Y’know, I don’t want this life.’”


DiNardo was a bit surprised:

“I just think he had never been exposed to it. He did a great job at it. He never complained. I just think he was looking at it from 10,000 feet. He was single and I think he looked at the rest of his life and asked himself: Is this what I wanna do? Do I wanna be working seven days a week?”


Some irony would follow that statement.

DiNardo was fired after that 2004 season and all the Indiana coaches were cut free. That was his last gig. At 52, after 30 seasons of coaching that spanned seven teams and stretched from Maine to Colorado, it was he who took stock and decided to quit the profession. He bought DeAngelo’s Italian restaurant in Bloomington with wife Terri. Simultaneously, he became a college football analyst with ESPN, then a studio analyst in 2007 for the fledgling Big Ten Network.


Eight years passed. DiNardo lost track of Yurcich. Then one day, he heard that Mike Gundy had just hired his old G.A. who was then an offensive coordinator at Division-II Shippensburg – the one who said he didn’t want the nonstop grind of being a major-college coach – to be his offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

So, the head coach who had embraced the Mad Men major college football rat race got out. And the young assistant who initially said he couldn’t embrace it ended up doing exactly that.


DiNardo could not resist needling his old protégé:

“I remember I was driving from Chicago where we lived down to Bloomington and I called him up and said, ‘What’s up with this?’ Obviously, he had changed. We got a big laugh out of it.”


Of course, what really had changed in the interim were a few seismic shifts in college football revenue dispersal that reshaped the landscape. Being a Power Five football coach is roughly five to 10 times more lucrative now than it was in 2004. Ignited partly by the BTN for which DiNardo still works, partly by skyrocketing broadcast rights fees delivered by ESPN, FOX and CBS, a bidding war for coaches has sent salaries into the stratosphere, especially in the P5 conferences.

DiNardo, now 68, got off the train a bit soon to cash in; Yurcich, 45, boarded at just the right time to hit the honeypot.


DiNardo is far from bitter but still just as amazed as anyone else:

“I made $65,000 when I was at Colorado [1982-90 as an assistant under Bill McCartney]. When I got to Indiana [in 2002], I had a $1 million-dollar budget for 10 [assistant coaches].”


And last season, Yurcich signed for $1.7 million by himself as Texas’ offensive coordinator (busted down to $1.5M by a UT athletic-department COVID-austerity pay cut). His salary at Penn State has not been announced and likely won’t be until the university’s annual list of its top 25 highest-paid employees is released, probably in April. Yurcich most definitely will be on it.

As I wrote in Saturday’s story on Yurcich’s hiring at Penn State, head coach James Franklin surely knows that Yurcich will be in the market for suitable head coach openings himself in the near future – by December if his offense performs well in the 2021 season.


Some coordinators prefer to concentrate on their side of the ball and aren’t necessarily interested in dealing with the CEO responsibilities of a head coach, no matter the steep salary upgrade. Lately, they are more the exception than the rule. Yurcich’s predecessor Kirk Ciarrocca is such a case.

Yurcich himself is not. He is known to be on track for and seeking a college head coaching job soon and was endorsed as a candidate by his old boss Gundy. Yurcich’s agent is Neil Cornrich (they share Cleveland as a hometown) whose prime-ticket clients include several high-powered head coaches – the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, the Tennessee Titans’ Mike Vrabel, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Illinois’ Bret Bielema.

It’s all a long way from 18 years ago when DiNardo happened to get a heads-up from a staff remember – he can’t remember who – about that 27-year-old assistant in the opposite corner of Indiana at a tiny college in Fort Wayne. DiNardo then suggested what a fateful moment that was:

“You’d get literally hundreds of all these crazy letters: ‘I’ll do anything to be a G.A. I’ll sleep on the couch.’”

A few years before, a G.A. at Cal-Lutheran named Dave Aranda proved that wasn’t just a metaphor. He had visited Louisiana State to learn the acumen of Lou Tepper, then DiNardo’s defensive coordinator when he was the LSU head coach (1995-99). Aranda was too embarrassed to tell anyone he didn’t have money for a hotel, so he surreptitiously slept in the LSU offices.

Aranda only told DiNardo the story a couple of years ago. By then, he himself was the LSU DC, pulling down $2.5 million – the highest-paid coordinator in college football. Last year, Baylor hired him away to replace Matt Rhule as its head coach for an estimated $4.5 million annually. (Baylor is a private university and does not commonly release salary figures.)

Yurcich is one step away from following in every one of Aranda’s footsteps.

DiNardo and I had been talking earlier in our conversation about this monumental TV revenue infusion of the past decade that has not only sent salaries skyward but made coaches hypermobile and focused on the monetary prize at the end of their rainbow, some as much or more as their love of the game. He returned to that point:

“I would say, generally, these are very highly motivated young people who really want to get into coaching. The way the thing has changed now is, there is no question in my mind that, these days, someone like Mike Yurcich becomes a G.A. fully expecting that he is gonna be a millionaire. He will leave his children generational wealth.

“Now, some people will think that, and aren’t gonna make it. The only thing you wonder about is, if they weren’t making that money, would they still wanna do it?”

Clearly, Yurcich wanted to coach or he wouldn’t have spent a combined 15 years slumming at not only St. Francis and as an Indiana G.A. but later as a coordinator at Edinboro (under Tepper) and Shippensburg of the unseen Division II PSAC.

So, now he’s near the top. And yes, he’s clearly adapted to “this life” of the major-college grinder. Mike Yurcich learned it, but he also earned it – the hard way.



1/12/2021 11:00:00 AM


PITTSBURGH—Pitt defensive coordinator Randy Bates has been named the Football Bowl Subdivision Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), the organization announced today.
Bates, who recently completed his third season at Pitt, was chosen from a national pool of 26 candidates distinguished by their performance on the field and in their communities.

This past season, Bates orchestrated a defensive unit that led the country in total sacks (46) and tackles for loss (a school-record 111). The Panthers also boasted lofty national rankings in rushing defense (third, 93.5 yards/game), passes intercepted (ninth, 14 INTs), turnovers gained (13th, 20 total) and total defense (20th, 339.5 yards/game).
The unit's exceptional play was a continuation from 2019, when Pitt ranked first in sacks per game (3.92), 12th in rushing defense (108.5 yards/game) and 15th in total defense (312.9 yards/game).
A 35-year member of the AFCA, Bates currently serves on the organization's FBS Assistant Coaches Committee. He is a retired Naval Lieutenant who visits the local Veterans Affairs Hospital and buys more than 100 tickets annually to Pitt football games so area veterans can attend.
"This is a tremendously humbling honor that I gratefully accept on behalf of Coach (Pat) Narduzzi, my fellow assistants and, most importantly, the outstanding young men who proudly wear that Pitt helmet each fall Saturday," Bates said. "It really is a program award and I'm thrilled to share it with our entire Pitt football family." 
"Randy Bates represents the very best of the coaching profession," Narduzzi said. "He's a teacher first and foremost. I love that Randy is so passionate and committed to the people he works with, especially our players. He's a great leader for not only our student-athletes, but also our staff. Randy is very deserving of this award."
The Assistant Coach of the Year award was first presented in 1997 and was created to honor assistant coaches who excel in community service, commitment to the student-athlete, on-field coaching success and AFCA professional organization involvement. 
The criteria for the award is not limited to on-field coaching ability or the success of the team and the players whom these assistant coaches work with. Service to the community through charitable work and other volunteer activities, participation in AFCA activities and events, participation in other professional organizations and impact on student-athletes are all taken into account in the selection process.
Winners of the Assistant Coach of the Year Award will receive a plaque to commemorate their recognition. Bates was honored today during the 2021 virtual AFCA Convention.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Patriots Unfiltered's 2020 Lighthouse Awards


Jan 11, 2021 at 10:36 AM

Paul Perillo Writer


There was nothing normal about the 2020 season for the Patriots. COVID protocols threw everyone for a loop, New England included, and for the first time since 2008 the team failed to win the AFC East title and earn a postseason berth. But despite the disappointment of those two facts, there was plenty to look back on and remember about the 2020 season, so here's a look back at everything that was memorable through our annual Lighthouse Awards.



Rex Burkhead


The versatile back was the team's best player before he was lost to a torn ACL in a November loss in Houston. An already limited offense really struggled without him.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Mike Yurcich’s unusual path to Penn State, from Shippensburg through the Big 12


By Audrey Snyder Jan 10, 2021


At a hotel in Hagerstown, Maryland, as the three-hour interview shifted from installing an offense at Division II Shippensburg to whether or not Mike Yurcich would be willing to uproot his family and move to Stillwater, Oklahoma, the prospective offensive coordinator stayed calm. He had every reason not to be.

“That was a strange deal and (Mike) Gundy was digging pretty deep,” Shippensburg head coach Mark Maciejewski recalled between laughs. “… That was a unique situation back then, let me tell you.”

This wasn’t just any job interview. Yurcich went from calling plays at Shippensburg to sitting down with Gundy, who had rerouted an Oklahoma State recruiting trip to meet Yurcich in that Hagerstown hotel. In the days leading up to the interview, it finally clicked why Oklahoma State had requested film from Shippensburg. Gundy believed in the numbers he researched that offseason as he looked for teams that played fast on offense and had the yards and points to show for it. He was tired of losing coordinators to head coaching jobs, thus making a Division II candidate intriguing, even if unorthodox.

Gundy narrowed his list of candidates down to four or five, mostly from the Power 5 level, but he kept coming back to Yurcich.

“There are a lot of really good football coaches scattered across the country in high school, junior college, lower level college ball, and without connections, they don’t ever get a start, so you really don’t know about them,” Gundy said. “… I collected video tape on all the candidates and went through and liked what (Yurcich) did better than the other guys.”

If this didn’t work, Gundy would take the blame. Even if it did, many wondered just how good Yurcich would be anyway. The divide between Division II and the Big 12 made such a hire difficult to understand. Some of the same coaches on Gundy’s staff who wanted the job would now have to work under the man who was making $52,000 at Shippensburg the previous year.

“That was his biggest adjustment because the other guys had been there,” Gundy said. “There were a couple other guys that had been there that wanted the coordinator job, but I didn’t think they were ready and I had not been fond of hiring guys to be the coordinator that had not been quarterback coaches. It was a little bit of a risk on my part.”

Yurcich proved Gundy right. In his six years at Oklahoma State, the offense averaged 38 points and 478 yards per game, finishing in the top 20 nationally in scoring in five of six years and winning 10 games four times. Yurcich recruited and signed quarterback Mason Rudolph, a four-star recruit from South Carolina who threw for more than 13,000 yards in his career and became a third-round draft pick.

In an industry that’s notorious for grunt work, attending conventions and making necessary connections, Yurcich’s path to the Power 5 remains unique. It’s a success story that continues to be told as his coaching career has taken off after spending six seasons with Gundy, then one at Ohio State and one at Texas.

Now, as Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, Yurcich continues to build his résumé.

“Mike’s a grinder,” Maciejewski said. “He was a good recruiter when he was here and worked very hard at X’s and O’s. And there weren’t too many people that beat me in the office, and Mike was usually in there at the same time.”

All of those 6:30 a.m. drives into the office at Shippensburg, all of the traits that once made him a surprise hire at Oklahoma State, now have him on a path toward becoming an FBS head coach. The 45-year-old Yurcich might be ready for such a gig right now, Gundy believes. He’s interviewed for head coaching jobs before.

“He’s gonna be ready at any time to be a head coach,” Gundy said.

Should Yurcich one day land a head coaching gig, it’s going to be because of that offense he’s tinkered with and evolved since Shippensburg finished the 2012 season No. 1 in total offense (529.92 yards per game) and No. 2 in passing offense in Division II (387.69).

Now, Yurcich needs to make that system work at Penn State.

In the meeting rooms at Oklahoma State, every offseason was spent fine-tuning the offense.

Yurcich learned Oklahoma State’s system and terminology when he arrived, but he and Gundy were in agreement that there needed to be some changes.

They installed a verbiage system in which one word could get the entire offense on the same page in a hurry. The quarterback would shout it, and the offense could line up and rip off any play — not just a base play — and continue to push the tempo.

“By the end of that first year, we had like 35 of those plays, and that became what our offense was the next three or four years until Mike left,” Gundy said. “Of course, we still do it here now, but that’s the one thing we started at Oklahoma State when he was there as the coordinator that was different than what everybody else in the country was doing. That’s kind of his legacy and I’m sure he took a lot of that with him to Ohio State — I know he did because I watched them play. … I know at Texas I saw it, and I know that’s who Mike is and that’s what he wants to do.”

The verbiage helped Oklahoma State continue to be a prolific offense, and Yurcich had done something similar at Shippensburg too. While it wasn’t grabbing headlines and showing up on national television broadcasts, the beauty of that Shippensburg offense and the tempo it used still isn’t lost on Yurcich’s former quarterback, Zach Zulli. Zulli won the Harlon Hill Trophy under Yurcich in 2012, an honor awarded to the top player in Division II.

Almost a decade later, Zulli still remembers running up to the line, shouting “money” and watching as the rest of the offense morphed into action.

“His whole offense was based on animals,” Zulli said. “Let’s say we were running a power play, think of a powerful animal. Or, let’s say we’re running a fast play, a speed play, think of a fast animal. That’s how everything was coded and it made everything so much easier because you put the diagram with that play and then with that animal and we all connected and jelled. …

“The guy could teach a freaking ant.”

The way in which Yurcich presented the offense made it easy for Zulli to digest. Yes, the quarterback had five reads on every play, but every play was designed based on coverages, Zulli said. With Penn State now on its fifth offensive coordinator since 2014 and Yurcich being the fourth coordinator quarterback Sean Clifford will have played under, implementing a new system and new terminology will be an offseason-long transition. It took Zulli a summer of prep until he started to feel at ease with it.

“I was triggered in that way to be like a robot,” Zulli said. “If I saw that coverage, I go left. If I saw this coverage, I go right. And I would go through smaller increments of the play. And because our offense ran so fast, the defenses weren’t even set half the time. … I spread it around to every single person because that’s what the offense was supposed to be. I promise it was not me. It was not me at all. It was the way he coached me. It was the way that he coached the team and the way that he led the team.”

Yurcich’s attention to detail meant sometimes it took the Shippensburg offense an hour in the film room to get through six plays, Zulli said. No play on the practice field was complete unless all 11 players executed it properly. They’d run it over and over again.

“It was easy once he taught you it,” Zulli said. “It was like saying your ABCs. It was really that easy. If the defense was in this coverage, I would throw here. If the defense was in that coverage, I had a 1-2 read here. If the defense was sitting back, you had your checkdown. If there was a blitz, you threw to the blitz. Like, it was so simple because of the way he explained it.”

Yurcich’s ability to connect with his players made him a father-like figure to Zulli. He wouldn’t say a word to his quarterback at breakfast on game days or during pregame. He entered a “silent assassin kind of mode,” as Zulli recalled.

“Oh, he got a little fiery, just so you know,” Zulli said. “… He made our team so freaking good that there was no issues. Everyone loved playing for him. I’m not gonna lie, I almost cried when he told me he got the Oklahoma State job.”

As time marched on and Yurcich solidified himself as a bright offensive mind, he never forgot the quarterback who brought his offense to life and paved the way for him to eventually bring Rudolph to Stillwater, go to Columbus to coach Justin Fields and go to Austin to coach Sam Ehlinger.

“He called me a couple years later, and was like, ‘Listen, I got here because of you,’” Zulli said. “He said that to me probably about five or six times, and I take that to heart.”

When Gundy gave Yurcich a ringing endorsement to Penn State coach James Franklin last winter, he did so in part because of what came up in hours two and three of that initial interview with Yurcich in Hagerstown several years ago.

Beyond the scheme and the bright mind, the concepts and the ability to teach them, Gundy wanted someone who was going to be loyal to him and his program. It’s that same trait Franklin has mentioned countless times over the years, even describing himself on a few occasions as perhaps “loyal to a fault.”

Yurcich’s answers to Gundy that day held true over time as they grew together and built an offense together. They still stay in contact as Yurcich continues his coaching journey.

“I told (Franklin), Mike is a great teacher, he’s highly intelligent, he’s a hard worker and he’s extremely loyal,” Gundy said. “There’s your four keys to being a good coach, and he’s got all of them.”

(Photo: Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

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