In one of the least surprising moves of the college football offseason, Penn State fired wide receivers coach David Corley on Wednesday — a day after the 27-24 Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky and a full season after his position group committed drop after drop.
“I appreciate David’s efforts this season but feel it is in our program’s best interest to make a change at this time,” head coach James Franklin said in a written statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”
The Corley experiment was set to fail from almost the very beginning. The William & Mary alum was initially hired to coach the running backs but, after assistant Josh Gattis bolted to Alabama two weeks later, the Nittany Lions moved him to wideouts and hired another assistant.
That switch wasn’t exactly a perfect fit. In 2017, Corley had coached Army’s receivers — a position group that accounted for 10 combined receptions in 13 games. Corley began his coaching career in 2004 but never before oversaw receivers for back-to-back seasons.
His firing was a long time coming.
After Penn State’s first two games of the season, in which both veteran starters Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins struggled, Frankin told reporters, “I have the utmost confidence in those guys, and I think they are both going to have huge years for us.” Franklin often repeated that line early in the season — but it didn’t continue through October. Because they didn’t.
In mid-October, Pro Football Focus revealed in numbers what most fans mumbled in the stands — the receiving corps had regressed considerably. Five games into the season, and the Nittany Lions had committed 17 drops, which was tied for the worst mark in the Power 5. What made those numbers even more incomprehensible was the fact Trace McSorley threw just 137 passes at the time. The other teams tied for first included Washington State (Gardner Minshew, 314 attempts) and Utah (Tyler Huntley, 152 attempts).
The issue of drops never got better. Johnson, who was projected in the preseason to go as high as No. 7 overall in the 2019 NFL draft, didn’t have more than two catches in a game after September. The 6-foot-4 wideout also finished the season with a single TD catch. Brandon Polk took a step back. Thompkins wasn’t the deep threat he was in years past.
The Nittany Lions’ best pass-catcher became a true freshman tight end in Pat Freiermuth. And McSorley’s completion rate dropped from 66.5 percent in 2017 to 53.2 percent in 2018.
Corley wasn’t the lone source of the passing game struggles. McSorley was injured part of the season, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne made his share of mistakes, and it was a tall task to replace the likes of DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki. But the receivers’ production fell far short of both their talent and the staff’s expectations.
Corley may have failed in his one season as a Penn State assistant coach. But his hiring was purely the fault of Franklin, who remembered interviewing him back at Vanderbilt. The head coach now “will immediately begin a national search for Corley’s replacement,” according to a news release from the university.
Hopefully for fans, this time, the head coach taps someone with a track record.