Life Without Moorhead: Ideal Candidates For Penn State’s Vacant Offensive Coordinator Position
Parting is such sweet, sweet sorrow. This is the day we knew would come — we just didn’t want it to arrive. Joe Moorhead has all but put ink to paper to become the next head coach at Mississippi State, where he returns a boatload of talent and will surely vie for a shot at the SEC West crown.
With Moorhead and his revolutionary, up-tempo offensive system gone with him, the Nittany Lions will be on the hunt to find a new offensive coordinator.
This is a very logical in-house choice that could ensure a seamless transition. Gattis, who followed James Franklin to Penn State from Vanderbilt, has worked with Penn State’s receivers since arriving in Happy Valley, and knows the system Franklin wants to run, as well as what worked well with Moorhead’s offense.
More importantly, Gattis already has a close relationship with his players, and is part of the fabric that form’s Penn State’s current coaching situation. Though it might not seem as important on the outside, keeping the hire in-house might be beneficial from an interpersonal standpoint. Plus, it’d be a logical step up for Gattis, who’s proven his worth in the coaching ranks by producing one of the Big Ten’s best crop of wide receivers.
There’s a chance he, or Ricky Rahne, will be handed the keys for the bowl game if Moorhead departs for Starkville before that, which could be a fantastic audition to help Gattis’ (or Rahne’s) respective case.
Here’s where things get interesting. Penn State has money to spend, and this is no stepping stone program. The Nittany Lions could swing for the fences with a high-profile coach looking for work, and McElwain fits the bill. Before completely revamping Colorado State’s program and unfortunately bottoming out in year three after a previous two successful years at Florida, McElwain helped guide Alabama to a 12-0 regular season record before running into the buzzsaw that was the Tim Tebow-led Gators in the SEC Championship Game.
Though it’s easy to point to his failures at Florida, McElwain has had a great deal of success when given the right quarterback. He had one in Will Grier in Gainesville, but a PED suspension that led to a transfer never saw that marriage materialize. In the following years, McElwain simply couldn’t find a suitable replacement at the helm, and it ultimately cost him his job. But, McElwain led Colorado State to a 10-2 record in his final year there with Garrett Grayson under center. Grayson went on to be picked up by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
McElwain would have a trustworthy quarterback in Trace McSorley, and plenty of returning talent like wide receiver Juwan Johnson. It sounds odd, but it could be a match made in heaven.
Sure, the Big 12 gets a bad rap for being an air raid-heavy offensive conference that plays little to no defense, but if you watched Oklahoma State play at all this year, you can see how the man calling the shots — offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich — helped put orchestrate an offense that averaged 578.9 yards per game. The pieces in place helped; quarterback Mason Rudolph and top receiver James Washington became arguably the nation’s best quarterback-receiver duo.
But, Penn State has plenty of pieces of its own in place, and with a fresh crop of talent coming in, Yurcich to Penn State could make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, he likely would not employ a fullback — something that might anger a few fans — but with Saquon Barkley likely out of the picture, the offensive workload will shift more onto McSorley’s shoulders. McSorley may not be Mason Rudolph, but he can sling it better than most quarterbacks in the nation. Something tells me Yurcich could work wonders in Happy Valley.
It’s ok if you’ve never heard Breiner’s name before, but get used to hearing it — and for good reason. Breiner was Joe Moorhead’s offensive coordinator at Fordham, and helped form the system that eventually helped Moorhead land the Penn State job. He knows it better than anybody, and employed it after Moorhead left to keep Fordham atop the nation’s highest ranks regarding passing yardage and total offense.
Breiner is a Lock Haven graduate, and grew up roughly 90 minutes from State College. Don’t call it destiny, but Breiner could very well fill Moorhead’s shoes again — only this time, on a much bigger stage.
Helfrich was to Chip Kelly at Oregon what Breiner was to Moorhead at Fordham — only the former led his program to the National Championship game. Helfrich took over for Kelly in Eugene after the latter bolted for the NFL in 2013. Among Helfrich’s accolades while manning the helm was reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff and nearly winning the entire thing before eventually losing to Ohio State in the National Championship.
Helfrich employed a similar system to Moorhead at Oregon, and it was a system that’d work very well at Penn State. His system calls for athletes, and Penn State has plenty of them. I imagine Helfrich walking down the hallway at the Lasch Building, bumping into Miles Sanders, and accidentally calling him LaMichael. He could work wonders with the handful of explosive options the Nittany Lions boast at running back — even without Barkley.
I’d imagine Helfrich is looking for an avenue back into the coaching ranks, and the Penn State job would be the perfect option.