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 2020 season and beyond.
No. 20: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
No. 19: Larry Fedora, Baylor
No. 18: Justin Hamilton, Virginia Tech
No. 17: Sean Gleeson, Rutgers
No. 16: Adam Fuller, Florida State
No. 15: Matt Lubick, Nebraska
No. 14: Mike Bobo, South Carolina
No. 13: Rhett Lashlee, Miami
No. 12: Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce, Arizona State
No. 11: David Ballou and Matt Rhea, Alabama
No. 10: Scott Cochran, Georgia
No. 9: DJ Durkin, Ole Miss
No. 8: Joe Moorhead, Oregon
No. 7: Todd Orlando, USC
No. 6: Chris Ash, Texas
No. 5: Chad Morris, Auburn
No. 4: Bo Pelini, LSU
No. 3: Kerry Coombs, Ohio State
Who: Kirk Ciarrocca, Penn State
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Minnesota offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2017-19)
Why he’s important: You know what they say — if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em.
While Kirk Ciarrocca didn’t get hired as Penn State’s offensive coordinator on the strength of that 31-26 victory over the Nittany Lions alone, that 460-yard performance (against a defense that allowed 346 per game) certainly didn’t hurt.
“We wanted to get a proven play-caller, a guy who’s got a history of calling plays but also somebody that our systems were similar, there would be some carryover,” James Franklin said after the Cotton Bowl. “It’s a fine line — you go out and hire someone who’s successful doing what they do, and then you also say, ‘Look, Penn State’s returning a bunch of starters.’ Someone that would be willing to come in and say, ‘Okay, what can we keep the same from a verbiage, terminology standpoint. What are the things that I have conviction about, that I need to do to be comfortable? What’s the blend?'”
The hiring is the latest of big moves for the Lewisberry, Pa., native, who was Western Michigan’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and Delaware’s running backs coach in 2012.
“The system that we’ve developed fits, it has answers, and we know what the answers are,” Ciarrocca said in February. “We know how to move our pieces as the defense moves their pieces. The core philosophies of what I believe in have been with me for a long time. The actual plays have evolved with time and the different players I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
Ciarrocca will have the pleasure of working with the most talented roster he’s ever had in 2020:
–Quarterback Sean Clifford returns for his junior season after throwing for 2,654 yards on 8.3 per attempt, rushing for 402 yards and accounting for 28 total touchdowns.
— Running back Journey Brown is also back for his junior season, having rushed for 890 yards and 12 touchdowns on 6.90 a pop. Among all returning college football rushers, only Travis Etienne averaged more yards on an equal or greater number of carries as Brown’s 129.
— Running back Noah Cain also returns after a freshman season in which he splashed with 443 yards and eight scores on 5.27 a carry.
— Penn State does lose KJ Hamler and his 904 receiving yards, but Pat Freiermuth is an All-America candidate at his tight end position.
It’s undeniable that Penn State has been a top-10 program over the past four seasons. The Nittany Lions are 42-11 over that span with a Big Ten title, two New Year’s Six wins and three top-10 finishes.
It’s also undeniable that Penn State has not been a top-4 program since 2016, at least not yet. No program has accomplished more over the Playoff era without actually reaching the Playoff.
With the entire backfield returning, plus a loaded defense (linebacker Micah Parsons may be the first defensive player selected in next year’s draft) and a favorable schedule that sees Ohio State come to Beaver Stadium, Penn State may never have a better opportunity to compete for a national title in the James Franklin era than it does this fall.
Glad you’re here, Coach Ciarrocca. Now get to work.