Penn State football is without an offensive coordinator. For now, at least.
Joe Moorhead’s move to Mississippi State became official on Wednesday morning. The former Nittany Lion coordinator — who oversaw offenses that averaged 37.3 and 41.7 points per game in 2016 and 2017, respectively — is now a Bulldog.
With Moorhead’s departure, the question on every set of lips in Happy Valley is a straight-forward one: Who will replace the cutting-edge play-caller?
Here are four realistic candidates who would make sense.
Ricky Rahne, Penn State tight ends coach
This would be the easiest route for James Franklin, who’s already shown the ability to successfully promote from within (replacing Bob Shoop with Brent Pry).
Rahne — not only the Nittany Lions’ tight ends coach, but also passing-game coordinator — was the quarterbacks coach until Moorhead showed up. Rahne, a former record-setting signal-caller at Cornell in his playing days, worked with Franklin at Kansas State before joining his Vanderbilt staff in 2011.
Over the past two seasons, Rahne has had the chance to learn from Moorhead. Back in August, Rahne called himself “one of the luckiest guys in the world” to grow as an assistant around the now-Mississippi State headman.
In the same breath, Rahne said he wants to be an offensive coordinator “someday.” Franklin believes he can do it, too.
“I think he’s a future coordinator,” Franklin said. “He’s been fiercely loyal, he’s a relentless recruiter, and he’s just a team guy.”
Andrew Breiner, Fordham head coach
Penn State could just make Fordham an offensive coordinator pipeline.
Breiner is a bright guy — and Moorhead’s former apprentice. When Moorhead was an assistant at UConn, building his system, Breiner was a graduate assistant helping him put the tape and playbook together.
In an August conversation, Breiner discussed his early look and acclimation to Moorhead’s offensive scheme.
“I was in on it really early,” he told the Centre Daily Times, “and have been doing it ever since.”
Breiner followed Moorhead to Fordham and served as his offensive coordinator as the latter racked up a 38-13 record from 2012-15. Breiner succeeded Moorhead as the Rams’ coach and has accumulated a 12-10 record while averaging 30.9 points per game in two seasons.
Breiner, 33, is young — but familiar with the Nittany Lions. He visited the Lasch Football Building more than once when Moorhead was installing his system in Happy Valley.
Coming from the FCS level, Breiner is the most intriguing option.
Billy Napier, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Franklin follows 2,151 people on Twitter — and Napier is a recent one.
Could be nothing, could be something. But Napier would make sense.
Napier has been in Tempe for just a season, and the head coach that hired him — Todd Graham — was fired just a few days ago. Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said afterward that he hopes the next head coach keeps Napier, but that’s far from a sure thing.
So, what makes Napier an attractive candidate? Well, he spent five seasons as the wide receivers coach at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide win national titles in 2011 and 2015. Napier was also offensive coordinator at Clemson in 2009 and 2010.
While running a zone-read spread at Arizona State, Napier oversaw an offense that averaged 31.9 points per game this season.
He would fit the mold Penn State is looking to fill.
Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
So would Yurcich, for that matter. Only difference is Yurcich has Pennsylvania ties.
Yurcich was Edinboro’s offensive coordinator from 2005-10 and Shippensburg’s play-caller in 2011 and 2012 before making a sizable leap to the same position at Oklahoma State.
Working alongside head coach Mike Gundy, the Cowboys’ offense has thrived. Here are Oklahoma State’s points per game statistics since Yurcich arrived as coordinator and quarterbacks coach:
▪ 2013: 39.1, 15th nationally
▪ 2014: 27.6, 74th nationally
▪ 2015: 39.5, 14th nationally
▪ 2016: 38.6, 17th nationally
▪ 2017: 46.3, 3rd nationally
Aside from one down year, Yurcich — who groomed superstar quarterback Mason Rudolph — has an impressive resume.
Now, Gundy spurned Tennessee’s advances and will stay at Oklahoma State. So Yurcich isn’t in a slight predicament like Napier.
But if returning to Pennsylvania is attractive to him, Yurcich would be a solid candidate for Penn State’s opening.