A fundamental goal that Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has set for himself involves sleep. He wants to get 42 hours a week, or six a night, during the football season.
Rahne lives five minutes from Penn State’s football offices and goes home every night (“I think it’s important that my two boys know that their mother is the most important thing in my life," he said), so stealing naps on an office couch isn’t the issue. But when he got home, especially after a few games last year, Rahne winced restlessly at letting go of the gameplan or the practice film or 4th-and-5.
Forty-two hours of sleep would represent maybe a 30-percent increase over last year, when Rahne was a first-year coordinator internalizing every play. So this year, he’s listening to the sports science, to other coaches and to his own body, all of which tell him that more sleep is better than more film study.
Even if it still sounds counterintuitive.
“You know, my natural instinct is just to work harder, and that can’t always be the way, right?” Rahne said. “There’s only so much blood in the stone.”
But of course, Rahne knows fans want more. In his first season as Penn State’s offensive coordinator, the team produced the best per-game rushing average in a decade and introduced future stars in receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Penn State also regressed in the passing game (by nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns), allowed 31 sacks (the most since 2015) and could not put away fourth-quarter leads against Ohio State and Michigan State. Last year, Rahne basically apologized for the late 4th-and-5 play call against the Buckeyes that was stopped for a loss and essentially ended the game.
Getting some help: Now, Rahne acknowledges that he’s a year wiser, having spent the offseason in a timeshare between reflective self-study and continuing education. He has graded his own calls (“I wish I could have given Trace [McSorley] more options,” Rahne said recently of the fourth-down play) and talked offense with fellow coaches from high school the NFL.
Rahne preferred keeping the names private, though several former NFL head coaches (including Miami’s Joe Philbin) have attended practice, and Penn State’s coaching staff held its annual preseason retreat in Philadelphia.
From those meetings, and even with high school coaches during recruiting visits, Rahne has tucked concepts and details into his “data bank,” to which he refers often for motivation and incentive.
Rested and ready: All that is vital, because if Penn State is to contend for a Big Ten title this year, Rahne has to be the coordinator head coach James Franklin anticipated when he he hired Rahne at Vanderbilt and promoted him at Penn State.
Rahne’s ready. And rested.
“Every assistant coach feels like they know what it takes to be a coordinator,” Franklin said. “Every coordinator, assistant coach feels like they know what it takes to be a head coach until you sit in those chairs have that type of responsibility. It’s different.
“Ricky learned a lot over the last 12 months. As you know, I have a tremendous amount of belief and faith in Ricky.”
The challenge: To describe his approach to the job, Rahne told a story about video games. One of his sons recently started playing Madden NFL 2020, using the Pittsburgh Steelers to score 109 points against Cincinnati.
Rahne encouraged his son to increase the game’s difficulty. It reminded him of being offensive coordinator at Penn State.
“That’s what makes life exciting, is a challenge,” he said. “If you walk through life and everything is handed to you, that’s not exciting and that’s not rewarding.”
Rahne had coached for 14 years, nine with Franklin at three different schools, before replacing Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator in 2018. Rahne kept the framework of Moorhead’s no-huddle, RPO offense, but it lacked some of the spark of previous seasons — especially in the big-play department. Penn State 92 plays of 20+ yards last year, 14 fewer than in 2017.
More information: His approach to calling plays this year will be the same, just with more information. Upon rewatching last season, Rahne said some plays that produced negative results were in fact pretty good calls. Others plays that he considered to be incorrectly called actually produced touchdowns.
Rahne also felt he got into faster rhythms as the season wore on, adjusting to defenses and game paces more smoothly. That’s a work-in-progress for any offensive coordinator, but Rahne thought that he coached faster, and his players played faster, even during spring drills.
This year, he has a host of new players, primarily quarterback Sean Clifford, around which to build his offense. Clifford and fellow quarterback Will Levis both have strong arms that will be assets in a downfield passing game which was such a threat under Moorhead. Rahne has been tinkering with those plays, too.
Won't overload himself or players: One thing he refuses to do is overload, either himself or his players. Following all his self- and outside study, Rahne sought then to compartmentalize that offensive data. He doesn’t want to be an offensive coordinator drawn to unlimited toppings.
“I picked up some things that are great ideas and could be perfect fits for us,” he said. "But one thing I don’t want to do is just add stuff, because then you ask, ‘Who are you? What are you going to be?’ We play our best when our kids play fast because they know what's going on."
'I’m old school:’ One more video game story. Recently, Rahne played Freiermuth in a hockey video game and led by one goal late. The coordinator got aggressive, trying to make it a two-goal lead, but Freiermuth defended that, scored the tying goal and won in overtime.
“Should have run the clock out,” Rahne said.
As with video games, Rahne is an aggressive play-calling personality as well, an edge he’ll continue to ride with Penn State’s 2019 offense. With that comes responsibility.
Accepting responsibility: Rahne accepted responsibility for the finish against Ohio State, the mistakes of other losses and the reduced number of explosive plays last season. Before the Citrus Bowl, Rahne said that connecting on more explosive plays would be part of his focus this season. He placed the responsibility squarely on himself and expects the same from others.
Franklin said that “everybody within our walls is extremely excited" about what Rahne will do this season. For Rahne, that also means a concurrent level of accountability.
“I’m old school,” he said. “Everyone wants to take responsibility for the wins. The good teams have a lot of guys who take responsibility for the losses, too. That doesn’t mean dwelling on them. It means learning from it, accepting responsibility and going from there."