Potential Candidates For Penn State Football’s Next Offensive Coordinator
With Penn State football’s recent firing of Mike Yurcich at the offensive coordinator position, James Franklin is now on the prowl for his sixth play-caller entering his 11th year at the helm.
Despite the Nittany Lions ranking No. 15 nationally in scoring offense and residing at No. 5 in total offense among all Big Ten units, Yurcich’s attack posted just 27 combined points against Ohio State and Michigan over the squad’s last four showings.
While Yurcich was initially pegged as a “talented play-caller who has set records everywhere he has been” by Franklin upon his arrival in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions tallied explosive gains in less than 9% of all snaps throughout the campaign’s first 11 weeks.
Although Ja’Juan Seider and Ty Howle will collectively amass play-calling duties to round out the final two regular-season bouts and the bowl matchup, Franklin will almost certainly look externally to poach a splash hire in an effort to salvage the Nittany Lions’ recent slew of underwhelming setbacks.
From rekindling relationships on the pre-existing coaching tree to taking the Manny Diaz hiring approach on the offensive end of the gridiron, let’s take a look at several potential candidates to replace Yurcich as Franklin’s newest lead assistant.
Joe Moorhead | Head Coach, Akron
When Franklin hired Joe Moorhead to overhaul John Donovan’s previously installed pro-style attack entering the 2016 campaign, the Pittsburgh native integrated a scheme tailor-made to the Nittany Lions roster strengths.
Moorhead’s no-huddle, base 11 personnel output predicated on establishing the run first suited former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Saquon Barkley’s playstyle, while opening the outside for one-on-one matchups with talented pass catchers.
Through two years of manning the Nittany Lions’ offense in 2016 and 2017, Moorhead seemingly cracked the code for maintaining balance through explosivity. In his first year holding play-calling responsibilities, Moorhead’s crew finished second among all FBS teams in equivalent points per play with 1.47.
Moreover, before Moorhead’s hiring, Penn State ranked 100th in scoring and 105th in total offense under John Donovan to close out the prior go-around. A year later, the former Fordham head coach’s tutelage helped shatter school records in total offense, passing yards, and points scored.
Ultimately, Moorhead left his role within Franklin’s staff to fulfill his desire to become a Power Five head coach at Mississippi State. After a tumultuous stint with the Bulldogs, a brief stop in Oregon, and a return to the head coaching ranks as Akron’s current operational leader, the Pennsylvania native could return to familiar territory as the Nittany Lions’ long-term offensive solution.
Sean Lewis | Offensive Coordinator, Colorado
Similar to the initial hire of Moorhead over seven years ago, Sean Lewis could provide the offense with a narrower leadership view after leading Kent State as the program’s head coach from 2018 to 2022.
The former Wisconsin tight end won 24 matchups and a bowl game over five seasons with the Golden Flashes through gauntlet-like non-conference slates. In 2018, however, Lewis and his bunch traveled to Beaver Stadium for Lewis’ first bout with a ranked opponent.
“There [were] some moments when we did some good things, but not nearly enough against the caliber and quality opponent we just played here,” Lewis said postgame. “Coach Franklin and his staff do a fabulous job, and the kids play tremendously hard.”
Franklin was very complimentary of Lewis’ operation, too, and for good reason. During the offseason, Colorado head coach Deion Sanders poached the MAC head coach for the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator role ahead of his first go-around in Boulder.
Recently, Sanders demoted Lewis’ sole control over play-calling duties in favor of former NFL mind Pat Shurmur. The history between Franklin and Lewis, his Big Ten roots, and the desire to start fresh could all ultimately pull the 37-year-old rising star back east for an intriguing revamp opportunity.
Joe Brady | Quarterbacks Coach, Buffalo Bills
In 2019, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow pieced together arguably the most complete campaign by a quarterback in college football history, capped off a Heisman Trophy distinction and a national championship ring.
Throughout the Tigers’ perfect 15-game stretch, no mentor aided the former Ohio State gunslinger’s success more than passing game coordinator and co-play caller Joe Brady.
Brady received a master’s degree from Penn State while serving as a graduate assistant for Joe Moorhead’s offense in 2016 and 2017. Moorhead’s advisership helped Brady score a role as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints for the next two years before ascending in the coaching ranks in Baton Rouge.
After taking home the Broyles Award as college football’s most valuable assistant coach in 2019, the William & Mary graduate initially signed a three-year contract extension to remain on Ed Oregeron’s staff.
However, when former Penn State linebacker Matt Rhule took over for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, Brady jumped ship to become the NFL’s youngest offensive coordinator and play caller.
Rhule’s failed two-year experiment marked by a dismal 11-27 clip ended Brady’s short two-year stint in Carolina, but the up-and-coming offensive mind remained in the league as the quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills.
The 34-year-old’s Happy Valley roots could bring the proven college commodity’s services back to Pennsylvania for a revamp effort of Franklin’s attack. However, given Brady’s allegiance to the NFL, the pull could be harder than expected.
Kliff Kingsbury | Quarterbacks Coach, USC
If Penn State’s defensive coordinator hire of Manny Diaz had an offensive equivalent, it would be current USC quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury.
From 2013 to 2019, Kingsbury headed Texas Tech’s potent air-raid attack in relief of pioneer Mike Leach, while aiding Patrick Mahomes’ development into a first-round NFL talent.
In three years at Texas Tech, Mahomes compiled 11,252 yards through the air behind an average depth of competition of nine yards — about 50% higher than the Nittany Lions’ current passing outlook.
Additionally, Kingsbury led the Arizona Cardinals as the unit’s head coach for four years, with his stint ending in 2022 after compiling a 28-38-1 overall record.
However, the development of high-performing quarterback prospects among the likes of Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Mahomes could be intriguing for Franklin’s ultimate goals for Drew Allar with at least one more year granted at the collegiate level.
The born-and-bred Texas product hasn’t warranted a coaching stop east of Houston since his post-playing career began in 2008, so luring the current Southern California resident to Happy Valley could be a tall order.
But, if Franklin and athletic director Pat Kraft are looking to make a splash hire with a blank check in hand, there isn’t a sexier option than Kingsbury on the prospective market.
Kirk Campbell | Quarterbacks Coach, Michigan
If the Nittany Lions are looking for a younger option with regional and institutional ties, similar to Joe Brady, current Michigan quarterbacks coach Kirk Campbell could be a cost-effective, slam-dunk hire to revamp the offensive reigns.
The Pittsburgh product played wide receiver at Mercyhurst from 2004 to 2007 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for West Virginia Wesleyan in 2009. Following two other lowly pit stops across the Mountaineer State and Ohio, Franklin lured Campbell to Penn State as an offensive assistant from 2017 to 2019 under offensive minds including Moorhead and Ricky Rahne.
After spending six years at Penn State in three different roles, including offensive coordinator, Rahne jumped ship ahead of the 2020 season to take over Old Dominion’s struggling program in the Sun Belt.
Consequently, Rahne poached Campbell from Penn State to become his offensive coordinator for the Monarchs, where he thrived for two years before making the leap to Ann Arbor.
Before taking over play-calling duties at Old Dominion, the lowly group ranked last in its former league, Conference USA’s, total offense category by posting just 16 points per outing behind 274 yards per matchup.
In a quick, two-year turnaround, Campbell spearheaded a run-first system, helping the Monarchs score 28 points per game, ranking seventh of 14 conference components.
If Campbell’s guidance is able to help Michigan gunslinger JJ McCarthy secure the program’s first Heisman Trophy award since defensive back Charles Woodson took home the honor in 1997, the hire could help Franklin regain recruiting prominence in Western Pennsylvania and across the Midwest.
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About the Author
The second-highest attended game in Beaver Stadium history was a rollercoaster of emotions.
Beaver Stadium was a tough place to be Saturday when Penn State football fell 24-15 to Michigan, and history so gracefully repeated itself.
Eleven Nittany Lions finished the day 3-0.