Penn State Football’s New Coordinators Easing Into Roles
Penn State football looks much different than it did last month. In the span of a few short weeks, former offensive and defensive coordinators Mike Yurcich and Manny Diaz left the program, promptly replaced by Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and former Indiana head coach Tom Allen.
Yurcich and Diaz both left their mark on the program, for better or worse. Yurcich, a journeyman offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, lured Drew Allar across the Ohio state line and into Happy Valley. His play-calling seemed to increasingly irritate James Franklin as the season went on, and he was ultimately dismissed after a dismal offensive showing in a 24-15 loss against Michigan.
Diaz thrived, as his aggressiveness and frequency to successfully blitz made his defense arguably the best in the nation this season. He turned players such as Ji’Ayir Brown and Joey Porter Jr. into draft picks, and the same is about to happen to Chop Robinson and Curtis Jacobs. He was a home-run hire and was great while he stayed and ultimately took Duke’s head coaching job earlier this month.
Now, as their respective replacements begin to take over, Franklin is slowly immersing Kotelnicki and Allen into the program. He’s familiar with the process, having recently done the same with Yurcich in 2021 and Diaz in 2022.
“I think the value of having these guys here not in coaching roles, I think is going to allow the transition to go smooth,” Franklin said. “We did this when we hired Manny. Brent Pry left to go be the head coach at Virginia Tech, and Anthony Poindexter was in a position to call the defense and be the defensive coordinator in the interim and did a phenomenal job.”
In the meantime, running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and tight ends coach Ty Howle have been co-offensive coordinators, and Poindexter will again be the defensive coordinator in the Peach Bowl. The offense has already seen success under the duo, especially in the run game, which could be worth observing for Kotelnicki.
When Kotelnicki has been around the team, he’s brought an energetic personality that the players feed off of.
“He just brings the energy and that just builds with the players,” Nick Singleton said. “When you see your coach hype like that, you want to get hype, too.”
Kotelnicki has mostly observed the team from a distance as he acclimates himself to the program, including on Wednesday’s media practice viewing period at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, Kaytron Allen mentioned he has “popped up” in meetings, but the two haven’t talked much.
Meanwhile, Allen has already made the rounds and talked to some of his players, and even spoke with departing safety Keaton Ellis, who will cap off a five-year Penn State career on Saturday.
“He’s a great dude. I was able to speak with him a couple of times,” Ellis said. “I’m obviously not going to play for him, but I’m excited for what he can do for our defense and the guys that he will be coaching.”
Penn State has several players who will be in the mix for more playing time in place of Ellis and Kalen King, who will likely declare for the 2024 NFL Draft. This includes Zion Tracy, King Mack, and Elliot Washington, who were all highly-rated players in the Class of 2023. They’ll learn from Allen, who immediately improved Indiana’s defense upon taking over in 2016.
“He’s a great presence. He’s really a true leader. When he speaks you listen, so I’m really excited about what he’s going to do here,” added Ellis.
While none of the players have gotten too familiar with either Kotelnicki or Allen yet, Franklin added that their impacts have still been huge since arriving and the experience of replacing coordinators right before the bowl game has been helpful with the transition.
“I think Manny being with us, building relationships with the players, getting familiar with the staff, understanding the culture, and how we operate from an organizational perspective, I think really allowed him to hit the ground running the day after the bowl game,” Franklin said. “I think the model we’re using with both coordinators during this whole bowl prep period, I hope we don’t have to do it again, but I did think there was value last year. In talking to both Tom and Andy, I think they think it’s been invaluable.”
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