Friday, February 05, 2021

If Mike Yurcich passes his latest test as Penn State OC, his next one will be running his own shop


When Mike Yurcich was slated for a half-hour video conference on Tuesday afternoon, the first crack reporters would have at him at Penn State, I deferred to Bob Flounders. I was just as interested in seeing the new offensive coordinator’s countenance and demeanor and delivery as I was asking about the schematic and offensive philosophical stuff that BoFlo has a better handle on anyway.

In a case like this, I’m like Chauncey Gardner: I like to watch.

Show me a coordinator with confidence and alacrity in his manner and I’ll show you a man who can communicate and sell his plan to a team. I’ll also show you a guy who can run his own shop.

Anyway, I’ll never be mistaken for Greg Cosell when it comes to disseminating the intricacies of a man-vs-zone coverage, modes of attack with 11 personnel vs. 12 personnel, or how Quarterback A makes this or that read better than Quarterback B.

What I was more interested in about the new Penn State OC was his communication skills. And if there’s one seminal takeaway from Yurcich’s brief opening conference, it was this:

Boy, is this guy gonna be a hot ticket as a potential head coach – if he succeeds at PSU.

Give him one big season with the Penn State offense and his agent will need a full week to sift through the offers.

Why? He’s got the gift. It’s a certain comfort in his own skin that you either have or you don’t. Yurcich has it.

During his Tuesday session, he didn’t just effortlessly glide from one point to another, he seemed to genuinely enjoy talking football – even to reporters. That’s a jagged pill for a lot of coaches because they’re quite a bit more sophisticated than we are and tire of attempting to connect with a more elementary level of understanding.

But look at it this way. That’s the trait a lot of great teachers have – primary school all the way up to doctoral-level professors: They enjoy sharing knowledge. They not only don’t view it as a chore, but they love to converse about their passion.

On the college football globe, that means two things: 1. They make friends and allies in the business. 2. They learn from all sorts of different sources.

Both of which lead to that other thing – interviews for head coaching jobs.

Now, I’m not going to distill being a head coach down to winning press conferences. We all know, not only is there a lot more to it than that, but that successful head coaches come in all shapes, sizes, verbal volumes and proclivities. It’s a spectrum ranging from Paul Chryst at one end to P.J. Fleck at the other. They had a showdown for the 2019 Big Ten West title, remember? And the reserved man of few words beat the verbose sloganeer.

I’m just talking about projection and ease of self. Yurcich breezed through his 29 minutes with a minimum of fabricated BS but also a secure handle on what he would talk about, what he wouldn’t because it would be bad form as the new guy, and an ebullience that explained it all – while making a point to use the names of reporters he’d never met.

I know this might seem like trivial stuff to some of you, but trust me, it’s not. Yeah, being an OC is all about putting points on the board. But it’s these personal skills which often make that happen at the college level, even more than in the pros. At some point, the geeky technician types like Chip Kelly hit a ceiling (as Kelly is now at UCLA) if they can’t inspire.

College football is about sales. You first must persuade high school kids and their parents that your school is the right one for them to develop a professional résumé. You must communicate the plan of attack to a wide variety of developing intellects. You must motivate and encourage a disparate array of emotional makeups during a volatile point in their lives. You need to light a fire under your assistants so that they’re not just willing but eager to work crazy hours recruiting and game-planning. You have to oil up big donors and greet their families with style at fundraising functions.

And then, you must have a firm handle on all the schematic stuff that allows quick in-game adaptation to whatever punches the defense throws, and quickly and succinctly explain adjustments to the integral players, especially the quarterback.

Mike Yurcich made his name as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. Oklahoma State athletics

All of that is about personality and belief. If you believe in yourself, your players will believe in you. If they believe in you, they’ll believe in your plan. And then, if the plan works, it all reinforces itself.

Yurcich has that thing. I don’t know exactly how to describe it other than the fact successful head coaches very often have it and lifetime coordinators who never get a shot at the top job often don’t. The Nick Siranni cases are the exception.

So, as I suspected when James Franklin unexpectedly fired Kirk Ciarrocca and hired Yurcich four weeks ago, it looks very much to me as if this will be an OC rental not a purchase. At least, Franklin probably hopes so.

Given success either in 2021 or then certainly in 2022, Yurcich will be too attractive a candidate for Penn State to fight off his suitors. If the right offer for the right job comes along, he’ll be out the door.

And Franklin knew that when he hired him. A productive PSU offense will mean cracking open the Rolodex all over again. At this point, I’d guess that’s a deal for which most of the Nittany Nation will sign on.

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