Thursday, August 12, 2021

The 15 most important assistant coaching hires of 2021 -- No. 7: Mike Yurcich, Penn State


No offensive coordinator has been more consistently productive over the past eight seasons than Mike Yurcich. Now he's returned to his adoptive home state to lead a revival in Happy Valley.



2 HOURS AGO (August 12, 2021)

Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2021 season and beyond.

Who: Mike Yurcich

Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach 

Previous stop: Texas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2020)

Why he's important: Do you think Yurcich ever allowed himself to dream? An Ohio native who finished his career at California U. of Pennsylvania, Mike Yurcich found himself coordinating Division II Shippensburg's offense, making $52,000 a year. To now be calling plays at Beaver Stadium, 95 miles north of Ship U, making seven figures a year... do you think he allowed his mind to go there?

"Having spent 11 years in the state of Pennsylvania as a player and coach, I understand the significance of this duty and will represent properly and with humble pride," Yurcich said upon his hiring.

How much does James Franklin like Mike Yurcich? Shortly after the latter was hired in January, an industry source told FootballScoop that Franklin and the Penn State staff still like Kirk Ciarocca, the man Franklin plucked away from Minnesota, then dismissed after just one season. In a world where Texas scores a few more points against TCU, Oklahoma and/or Iowa State and Tom Herman is retained, Ciarocca is still Penn State's coordinator in 2021. But they didn't, and so Franklin moved on a coordinator he's long admired. 

Ruthless as the move was, it was also smart. 

As a quarterbacks whisperer, he developed Mason Rudolph into a third-round pick at Oklahoma State. Justin Fields threw 41 touchdowns against just three interceptions in his one season at Ohio State. At Texas he inherited a fourth-year starter and a head coach who varied the imprint of his fingerprints on the offense depending on the day -- not exactly ideal conditions for a new coordinator -- the Longhorns' scoring grew by a full touchdown per game and Sam Ehlinger posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. In fact, over the past two seasons, Yurcich's quarterbacks have thrown eight picks against 80 touchdowns. 

And as a coordinator, Yurcich is arguably the most accomplished in FBS since he landed the Oklahoma State job in 2013.

Yurcich's offenses have averaged 6.49 yards a play and 14 per completion, the most in FBS over the past eight seasons according to Penn State. His offenses hit 40 points as often as they don't. 

The change, Franklin said, will be minimal for everyone who wore blue and white last season -- except the end result. The terminology will remain the same, and the goal will be "to get back to our identity and who we've been." 

"Back to spreading the field, making people defend 53 1/3, creating explosive plays, trying to put as many defenders in conflict as possible," Franklin said last week. "That's who we've wanted to be the entire time we've been here. Getting as many guys involved, as many guys in space as possible." 

Arguably no team was bitten by covid opt-outs harder than Penn State, and so arguably no team is better positioned for a bounce back than these Nittany Lions. Opening with a 1-point overtime loss to Indiana and Ohio State, before they knew it the calendar read November and they were 0-2. 0-2 became 0-5 before they rebounded with four straight wins. 

But quarterback Sean Clifford -- seven touchdowns and no picks in those four wins -- returns, and 4-star running back Noah Cain is back after opting out last season. John Lovett transferred in after starting all five games he played at Baylor last season. Twelve different players caught passes last season, and 10 of them are back, as are three offensive line starters.

"And I feel like Coach Yurcich is definitely bringing out a new player," Clifford said recently of his new offensive coordinator, the fourth of his career. "He's definitely pushing me to a new level and he's making me a better version of Sean Clifford, who I feel the team's happy to see, and I'm happy to see myself."

Ohio State is the runaway pick to win the Big Ten -- to be honest, they're my pick too -- but much of the perceived gap between the Buckeyes and the rest of the conference was created thanks to titles in 2017 and '18. Ohio State's margin of victory over Penn State in those seasons: one point. 

The gap between those programs in those years was thisclose. What a better way to close that gap by getting back to the formula that won you the 2016 Big Ten title, and who better to do it with than the long-time Pennyslvanian who's put up more yards and points over these past eight years than anyone else in FBS?

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