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Penn State’s new offensive coordinator is looking to contend for a national championship

Kirk Ciarrocca spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since being named to the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff.

Kirk Ciarrocca, former offensive coordinator at Minnesota, is the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Penn State.
Kirk Ciarrocca, former offensive coordinator at Minnesota, is the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Penn State.Read moreMinnesota Athletics (custom credit) / Minnesota Athletics.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca had received calls from several coaches interested in bringing him on board their programs.

It had never been the perfect fit, however, until James Franklin called to offer him a position at Penn State, the school Ciarrocca had rooted for as a boy growing up outside Harrisburg and a place he had once dreamed of playing college football himself.

Ciarrocca had no hesitation.

“The first thing I was looking for was a head coach I respected and who I thought could help me grow as a coach, and [who] had a great culture, a culture I believed in," said Ciarrocca, 54. “Coach Franklin met that criteria.”

Oh, and there was one another big draw, he added.

“I wanted to coach at a school where I thought I had a legitimate chance to win a national championship,” he said.

Ciarrocca spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since being named Penn State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in late December. A Temple graduate, he spent the past three seasons as offensive coordinator for the Golden Gophers, who beat Penn State 31-26 on Nov. 9 en route to their first 10-win regular season in more than a century. He replaces Ricky Rahne, who is now head coach at Old Dominion.

» READ MORE: Penn State hires Temple graduate Kirk Ciarrocca as its new offensive coordinator

Franklin said the decision to hire Ciarrocca was an easy one.

“You’re talking about an experienced guy who’s been calling plays and putting offenses together for a long time," Franklin said. Ciarrocca "won a [Division I-AA] national championship at the University of Delaware, obviously has been in two rebuilds now, in Western Michigan and Minnesota, [and] is from Pennsylvania. Some of my closest friends in the profession are his closest friends.”

Franklin was particularly impressed, he said, by Ciarrocca’s desire to merge his personal strengths and experiences with the parts of Penn State’s offense that have made the unit successful in recent years.

“I don’t feel like we need to go hire someone, blow [the offense] up, and start all over,” Franklin said.

Ciarrocca said he’ll have a better feel for the unit when the team starts spring practices, but for now, he plans to employ the mind-set that has served him well in previous jobs.

“Ultimately, it’s about what your players do best," he said. "Accentuate their strengths. Limit their weaknesses. That’s something that I’ve always been able to do, no matter where I’ve coached.”

Ciarrocca has just begun to get to know his players. Quarterback Sean Clifford happened to be the first person Ciarrocca ran into upon his arrival in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.

“I felt a real connection right away with him," Ciarrocca said. “Very intelligent. Really hard worker. He really wants to be great.”

Ciarrocca is excited for the chance to elevate the offense, he said, and build on the progress Franklin and the previous coordinators have made. Despite his laid-back persona off the field, he said he’s intense and goal-oriented on it, and he’s optimistic about Penn State’s chances of soon making the College Football Playoff.

“On the field, I love what I do. I just love it," he said. “I love working with these kids. I love helping them reach their fullest potentials."

Two other new position coaches — offensive line coach Phil Trautwein and wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield — said they hope to help Ciarrocca achieve these goals.

» READ MORE: Penn State hires former Purdue All-America Taylor Stubblefield as wide receivers coach

Trautwein, a Voorhees native who played tackle at Florida, joined the staff from Boston College, where he also was the offensive line coach. He replaced Matt Limegrover, whose contract wasn’t renewed after last season.

Stubblefield, a former All-American wide receiver at Purdue and wide receivers coach at Miami, replaced Gerad Parker, who left to become the offensive coordinator at West Virginia.

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer also is leaving Penn State, to take the same job with the New York Giants. Franklin said he doesn’t expect the hiring process for Spencer’s replacement to be “dragging on very long.”

Franklin said the coaching turnover doesn’t worry him.

“Obviously it does create challenges, but I do think it’s a really good example of a healthy program that people have seen the success that we’ve had and want to steal bits and pieces of it,” Franklin said. “It’s an opportunity, hopefully, for us to be able to hire someone with a similar skill set to keep things the same, and in some areas maybe even be able to upgrade."