Franklin discusses considerations for bringing Ciarrocca on as new OC
Penn State head coach James Franklin wanted to steer the conversation toward the Cotton Bowl.
Of course, given the news of the morning, he knew better.
Hours after a report that Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca would be the Nittany Lions’ new OC, then confirmed by the program via social media and a press release, Franklin took to the podium at Cowboys Stadium for the team’s official Cotton Bowl Media Day press conference. Praising the entirety of the operation, the facilities, the Dallas Cowboys and the Nittany Lions’ Saturday morning opponent - the Memphis Tigers - Franklin’s opening sentiments were short-lived.
Acknowledging that he understood the news of Ciarrocca’s hire would take center stage on the day, Franklin apologized, then discussed at length the decision-making process that went into bringing the Golden Gophers’ signal-caller onboard.
“We wanted to get a proven play-caller, a guy that's got a history of calling plays, but also somebody that our systems were similar, that there would be some carryover,” Franklin said. “It’s a fine line because you go out and you hire someone because they've obviously been successful doing what they do, but also the humility to say, look, Penn State is returning a bunch of starters.”
With that in mind, Franklin continued, Penn State would want and need an experienced, intelligent offensive coordinator who had already been “used to adjusting.”
“So someone that would be willing to come in and say, ‘Okay, what can we keep the same from a verbiage and terminology standpoint? What are the things that I have conviction about that I need to do in terms of calling the offense to be comfortable? So what's the blend? What can stay the same with what Penn State's been doing? What do I have conviction about, what I've done in my career specifically at Minnesota? And how can we take the best of both of those worlds and blend them together that's going to be in everyone's best interest?’
“As you guys know, it's not like this process started when Ricky [Rahne] left. I'm constantly keeping lists. (Director of Football Operations) Michael Hazel helps me putting studies together and studying data and backing up some of our thoughts with data and who we want to be and where we want to go. But was able to narrow it down pretty quickly and then be able to hire Kirk.”
Beyond just the professional qualifications for the job, having helped transformed Minnesota’s offense into one of the best in the program’s history during the Gophers’ 10-2 2019 season, tied with Penn State at No. 22 nationally at 34.3 points per game, Franklin also saw in Ciarrocca a candidate with a strong desire to be in State College.
“I also think there are some people that probably believe in this, and there are some people who don't. I also believe strongly in hiring people that want to be here and Kirk really wanted to be here,” Franklin said. “He's from Pennsylvania. Grew up watching and supporting Penn State, and I think that's important. He's fired up about being here. His wife is fired up about coming back to Pennsylvania. Obviously, we have a top-ten program to offer, unbelievable support and fan base, recruiting going well. So it makes sense in a lot of different directions. But there's a lot of factors that go into it, but those were the main ones.”
For as much as the offensive coordinator hire dominated the day, it wasn’t the only topic of conversation on media day. Let’s take a look at some of the other news and notes items to emerge:
- Given Penn State’s performance to cap the 2018 season, an initially listless 27-24 loss to Kentucky that started sloppily and needed a comeback that just fell short, Franklin was asked about the disparity in perception between the Nittany Lions and their upcoming opponent.
Acknowledging that human nature tendency, Franklin said the program has been frank in addressing it with the team.
“I think mentality in bowl games is critical. Mentality in bowl games is critical. You see it every single year. So I think the first thing is talking about it and discussing it,” Franklin said. “This is the biggest game in Memphis football history, in my opinion. I'm not sure if you feel differently. New Year's Six bowl game, all those types of things. We've discussed that. We've talked about it.
“I think mentality in bowl games is critical. Again, that goes back to the healthy respect that we have for our opponent, not just our opponent but what you've just discussed. And, again, I think our guys have prepared well. But we better be ready for a dog fight. And there's a bunch of examples of what you're talking about -- and we've shown that to our players -- examples of a Group of Five playing power conferences and some of those games not going as people anticipate.”
Penn State’s recent history, locked in a 45-38 overtime thriller against Appalachian State just a year ago, was probably an easy reference point from which Franklin could draw. With all those examples in mind, he noted the bottom line proposition ahead of the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
“At the end of the day for us, part of us preparing our players is not just the schemes, it's also making sure that they understand what they're getting themselves into,” Franklin said. “And this is a very good football team. This is a well-coached football team. This is an extremely prideful team and proud community as well. And we better be ready to play.”
- Judging by Franklin’s comments leading into the game, now just two days away, his Nittany Lions have demonstrated enough focus and determination to inspire his confidence.
“I think we got a pretty good idea. We have a healthy respect for our opponent in Memphis. But our guys have been good,” Franklin said. “We practiced well and… we take a lot of pride in the discipline in our program. We seem to have always had a guy on a bowl trip that we have had to send home, and we haven't had that (knocking)… this year. And I think that's a big part of the leadership. The seniors had a player-only meeting to make sure we didn't have any distractions or issues like that. So I think that's a real positive for us, and I'm proud of that.
“But I think a lot of it has to do that we have a healthy respect for our opponent. But our guys have been really good at controlling the things that we can control. Our practices have been great. I have gotten great feedback from the Cotton Bowl staff that our players have been very appreciative and well-mannered, which is very important to me and I know our Penn State community as well. So far, so good. But at the end of the day, we need to find a way to get a win Saturday evening getting on that plane and flying back to State College.”
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