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Penn State football changes its leading men on offense: From Kirk Ciarrocca to Mike Yurcich

Frank Bodani
York Daily Record

James Franklin and Penn State football wasted little time in making a big coaching change heading into the 2021 season.

First-year offensive coordinator and former York County resident Kirk Ciarrocca is out.

Former Texas assistant coach Mike Yurcich is in.

Penn State announced the change Friday, three weeks after the end to one of its most disappointing and disjointed seasons ever.

Still, it is a swift and unexpected move. Despite the Nittany Lions' school-record struggles during a season marred by COVID-19, they did recover by the end under unprecedented circumstances.

They started 0-5 for the first time ever but did so while missing star running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain and most of the season without healthy All-American tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Former York County resident Kirk Ciarrocca was fired after just one season as Penn State's offensive coordinator. The moves comes as a bit of a surprise considering the struggles Penn State dealt with through injuries and COVID-19 in 2020.

The offense's biggest struggles revolved around quarterback, where junior Sean Clifford regressed and was benched before recovering during Penn State's season-ending, four-game win streak.

While Ciarrocca's offense moved the ball well, it struggled mightily with turnovers and scoring in the red zone.

"First, I would like to thank Kirk for his contributions to our program last year," Franklin said in a prepared statement. "This was a difficult decision but felt it was best for our program to make a change. We wish him and his family all the best in their future endeavors."

Franklin went on to address Yurcich, who will also coach the quarterbacks:

"He is an impressive offensive mind and talented play caller who has set records everywhere he has been as an offensive coordinator. I look forward to seeing what he can do with all of the offensive weapons we have here at Penn State. I have followed Mike's career for a long time, dating back to his time in the PSAC at Shippensburg and Edinboro. We look forward to bringing Mike and his family back to Pennsylvania."

Franklin hired Ciarrocca just a year ago, after the long-tenured coordinator helped orchestrate a dramatic turnaround at Minnesota, which included a masterly executed upset of the undefeated Lions in 2019.

Ciarrocca, like all of Penn State's new assistant hires, was unable to work with his players hands-on during the spring or through a traditional preseason camp.

The sudden move may be more about Yurcich's availability than Ciarrocca's faults. Yurcich has been a well-respected offensive mind for the past several years but abruptly was left without a job when Texas recently replaced head coach Tom Herman with Alabama offensive guru Steve Sarkisian.

Yurcich was at Texas for just a year after coaching star quarterback Justin Fields at Ohio State in 2019. Before that, he was Oklahoma State’s prolific offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2018.

The change means Clifford will be working with his fourth offensive coordinator during his five years at Penn State.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at fbodani@ydr.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.