ARLINGTON, Texas -- After he found out that Pennsylvania native and Temple graduate Kirk Ciarrocca had been named Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford reached out to a fellow QB, Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, for a scouting report.
In 2019, his third season as the Golden Gophers’ offensive coordinator, Ciarrocca helped lead the team to its first 10-win season since 1905 and guided Morgan to a sixth-place finish in FBS in passing efficiency, including an 18-for-20, 339-yard, three-touchdown performance against Penn State on Nov. 9.
Speaking Thursday at Cotton Bowl media day, just a few hours after Ciarrocca’s hiring was announced publicly, Clifford said he received a text from Morgan “giving him a bunch of praise."
“It’s one thing to see the track record, but to hear it from a guy who’s been in the same room with him is definitely a sense of relief,” Clifford said. “The whole process is just a sense of relief to finally have it over with. I know coach [James] Franklin’s excited to have him here, too.
“I’m sure I’ll get to talking to him a little bit more. But at the same time, I’m just excited for the future and what it holds.”
Ciarrocca is from Lewisberry, Pa., near Harrisburg. He began his coaching career in 1990 as a graduate assistant at Temple and coached locally at Delaware Valley and at Penn. He took over as offensive coordinator at Delaware in 2002, helping lead the Blue Hens to the 2003 FCS national championship while his 2007 offense, headed by eventual Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, was one of the nation’s best.
Ciarrocca served as the offensive coordinator on P.J. Fleck’s staff for the last seven seasons, four at Western Michigan where the team twice set new program records for offense, and the last three at Minnesota. Published reports said he came close to moving on to Auburn after the 2017 season and West Virginia about a year ago.
The lure of Penn State, however, was too tempting to pass up.
“I 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.”
Franklin called Ciarrocca a proven play-caller who could take his offensive philosophy and blend it effectively with Penn State’s terminology and personnel.
Ciarrocca arrived Thursday in Dallas to meet the team. He will not coach in the Cotton Bowl, where the offensive coordinator duties are in the hands of tight ends coach Tyler Bowen for Saturday’s game against Memphis.
Bowen, who was an offensive coordinator for one season at Fordham, said he has been pleased with the collaborative effort in helping the team prepare.
“Everyone has picked up the slack with how we game plan, and that’s really how we game plan all year,” Bowen said. “So other than a few scripting responsibilities for practice or something like that, not much has changed in that regard. We were able to get in and really, way before we got down here, start putting together a very good game plan for Memphis.”
Clifford, who will be back in the lineup after missing the regular-season finale against Rutgers with undisclosed injuries, said he has enjoyed working with Bowen and Kirk Campbell, an offensive analyst who will be interim quarterback coach for the game.
“I’m just super-excited for him and this offense on Saturday,” Clifford said of Bowen. “I think that he’s created a great game plan, him and Coach Campbell. They’ve both done great things these past three weeks, made myself and the rest of the offense extremely confident going into this game. We’re ready to not skip a beat and if anything, be better.”