SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ricky Rahne, Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, would like to share a pet peeve. He considers the position of left tackle important but “highly” overvalued when compared to the right side.
“I am alone in this to some regard, but I’m adamant against the concept of the blind side tackle,” Rahne said. “… The concept is ridiculous.”
Rahne, whom James Franklin has called a “rising star” in coaching, is about to brand Penn State’s offense with his own blueprint, beginning Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl. After 14 years in coaching, including nine as a companion of Franklin’s, Rahne will have full control of the playbook for just the second game in his career.
The first came two years ago, when Rahne served as Penn State’s interim offensive coordinator in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia. After that, Rahne began studying under Joe Moorhead, who spent two seasons transforming Penn State’s offense.
In following Moorhead, now the head coach at Mississippi State, Rahne said he won’t change the essential nature of Penn State’s offense. In fact, Rahne introduced himself as coordinator by setting two ground rules.
“We are not going to go under center,” he said, “and we are not going to have a fullback.”
But after that, Rahne intends to bring his own personality to an offense that averaged more than 40 points for just the third time in Penn State history. His game doctrine can trend toward the unique (such as his left-tackle theory) and his intensity, normally constrained in coaching boxes on gameday, will be on full display.
“Coach Moorhead is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around in football, but coach Rahne is right up there,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. “What makes me excited too is that, how I am with a chip on my shoulder, he’s the exact same way.”
Cornell QB: Rahne played quarterback at Cornell, where he threw for more than 7,700 yards and set 33 school passing records. Still, Rahne downplayed his physical traits (“I was not the most athletic cat”) in favor of his skill behind the play.
“The best thing I did was see blitzes, see things and slide protections, maybe more out of fear than anything else,” Rahne said. “Sometimes that’s the best motivator.”
After college, Rahne wasn’t sure about his career path. With a Cornell degree, he expected to end up working as a lawyer or on Wall Street, if only to get out of debt.
“Quite frankly, I never thought I'd go into coaching, just because you pay all that money to go to an Ivy League school, and I'm from a very middle class family,” he said. “I just finished paying off my school loans not too long ago.”
But football proved too great a lure. Two years after graduating in 2002, Rahne began his career as the assistant defensive line coach at Holy Cross.
After stops there and at his alma mater in 2005, Rahne moved to Kansas State as a graduate assistant in 2006 (Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant). There he worked with Franklin for the first time, and the two developed a coaching bond that has continued for more than a decade.
Franklin connection: Franklin hired Rahne at both Vanderbilt and Penn State and has said for several years that Rahne was destined to become an offensive coordinator. In 2015, Penn State needed a philosophical change offensively, which led Franklin to Moorhead.
With Moorhead’s offensive system in place, Franklin considered Rahne, who has coached quarterbacks and tight ends at Penn State, ready to run with it.
“Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State,” Franklin said. “… A big part of doing this [was], do I go out and hire someone from the outside? But when you do that, they are going to expect, and you're going to expect them, to run their offense. You don't have them come in and run what you're doing, because that's not how they were successful. They were successful running their system. So this allows us to continue to build what we're building here.”
Looking for big plays: Rahne, who called Moorhead a mentor, will continue Penn State’s pursuit of big plays (a hallmark of Moorhead’s offense) while balancing that with a physical component. The Lions’ short-yardage offense occasionally stalled the past two seasons, something Rahne expects to address.
Rahne called the offensive coordinator spot at Penn State his “dream job,” one for which he’s prepared. “It’s kind of like being a parent,” Rahne said in describing his road to this point, knowing his personal confidence will be tested – and soon, no doubt.
Still, Rahne allowed himself to enjoy the moment. His voice quivered describing the phone call to his mom detailing the promotion, which Rahne quickly sought to quell.
“I feel like coach Franklin right now,” Rahne said. “And we only need one guy who cries at press conferences.”