‘Football Guy’ Kirk Ciarrocca Proving To Be Great Fit For Penn State
James Franklin loves football guys, and Kirk Ciarrocca is no exception.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Kirk and spending time with him. He’s a football guy. I love surrounding myself with players and staff that love football,” Franklin said. “I’m not a guy that necessarily loves people that love playing golf. I want their life to revolve around their family and our program.”
Franklin is certainly excited about the new offensive coordinator and what he’ll bring to Penn State football, and it’s easy to see why. The former Minnesota offensive coordinator helped the Golden Gophers average 34.08 points and 432 yards per game in 2019, including 31 points and 460 total yards against the Nittany Lions.
Even more important than those numbers? He’s a football guy.
“He’s in here early and until late. He’s talking football, he’s thinking football, he’s eating football, he’s sleeping football,” Franklin said. “[Kirk]’s at a point in his career that there’s a lot of confidence that comes with his experience. All the things that I knew about him and good friends have told me about him have come true.”
While Franklin went on about Ciarrocca’s passion for football, the offensive coordinator confirmed his true love for the game during his press conference Wednesday. He also mentioned what Franklin likely meant by “football guy.”
“[Franklin] probably means that I love to watch the film, I love to interact with the guys, I just love the game,” Ciarrocca said. “I think it’s a compliment.”
It’s clear that Franklin meant the phrase as a compliment, as Ciarrocca’s resume speaks for itself. He managed high-powered offenses under PJ Fleck at Western Michigan and Minnesota, and the Nittany Lions are certainly ready for an infusion on that side of the ball.
After Joe Moorhead left his offensive coordinator post in Happy Valley for the head coaching position at Mississippi State in 2017, Penn State’s offense lost a bit of its explosiveness and speed. Ciarrocca plans on bringing that big-play ability back for the Nittany Lions, much like he did in Minneapolis.
“Explosive plays are important. When looking at statistics, I’ve always believed that the turnover margin and explosive plays are really important,” Ciarrocca said. “One of the key things that I do isn’t necessarily an exact play that I call at the exact time, but figuring out who we’re trying to allow opportunities to in changing the game.”
Ciarrocca wants to have a clear handle on who his playmakers are throughout the season. While there’s young talent at running back and wide receiver, he’ll need to have a strong relationship with redshirt junior signal-caller Sean Clifford.
Clifford had a solid first season as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback last year. The Cincinnati native threw for 23 scores and 2,654 yards, along with five touchdowns on the ground. Those aren’t bad marks for a young quarterback in his first year starting, but Clifford’s improvement will hinge on his relationship with his new play-caller.
“My relationship with Sean is continuing to grow everyday. I don’t think we’ve had any problem connecting,” Ciarrocca said. “He’s improved in every area, but I think the biggest growth he’s made is in his [pre-snap thinking]. Sean’s got an unbelievable work ethic, so he’s just gonna continue to grow and I’m excited to see where he can go.”
Ciarrocca hasn’t had much issue working with quarterbacks in the past. Just take Minnesota gunslinger Tanner Morgan for example, who threw for 30 touchdowns and 3,253 yards in 2019.
Look no further than Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry for insight on his new co-worker there. Ciarrocca’s quarterback managed 339 yards and three scores through the air against Pry’s unit last November.
“First after hanging my head in the hallway for the embarrassment of the butt-whooping he put on us — after I got past that it’s been really good,” Pry said. “He’s a great guy and a super ball coach with a high football IQ. He’s been a great addition to the staff, and he only makes us better.”
There’s no doubt Penn State’s new offensive coordinators has managed to develop close relationships with plenty of players and staff. Ciarrocca will bring plenty of positives to the Nittany Lions’ offense and coaching staff as a whole, but the most important factor in all of this? His sleep schedule.
“I’m definitely a morning guy,” Ciarrocca said. “[Franklin] and I talked about that in the interview process. I said, ‘Are you a night owl or an early riser?’ We both said ‘early-morning guy,’ which is perfect.”
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