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Red Land grad learns to 'adapt, overcome' in new role as Penn State offensive coordinator

JERRY DiPAOLA
(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Kirk Ciarrocca
  • Kirk Ciarrocca is the new offensive coordinator for the Penn State football team.
  • Ciarrocca grew up in Lewisberry and graduated from Red Land High School.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak has presented some challenges for PSU and Ciarrocca.
  • Ciarrocca says he's learned to “adapt and overcome” during the pandemic.

The only time Kirk Ciarrocca had an opportunity to watch Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford throw a football, he didn’t pay close attention.

Penn State’s first-year offensive coordinator was fixated on Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, who completed 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-26 victory against Penn State on Nov. 9.

That was five months ago, but in the meantime, Penn State coach James Franklin hired Ciarrocca away from Minnesota where he was the OC and helped the Golden Gophers average 34.1 points per game (third in the Big Ten to Ohio State and Penn State).

Ciarrocca considered it a good career move and a chance to return to his Pennsylvania roots. He grew up in Lewisberry, graduated from Red Land High School, attended Juniata College, graduated from Temple University and coached for the Owls and at Penn. But this offseason has not been conducive to a smooth transition from former coordinator Ricky Rahne, now the head coach at Old Dominion.

“I really have not seen any of (Penn State’s quarterbacks) throw,” he said Tuesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Not complaining: Not that he's complaining about it or lowering his expectations. Like all college football coaches whose jobs have been dramatically altered by the COVID 19 pandemic, he has learned to “adapt and overcome.”

Of course, that’s what coaches must do in normal times, too, with adversity often emerging inside most programs at different times for a variety of reasons.

Spring practice has been canceled at every school in the nation and the informal — but important — summer workouts also are in jeopardy.

When he was asked how those realities might impact the overall college football product this season (assuming, there is one), he said, “That’s a hard question to answer since I never experienced anything like this, right? I’m not really sure.

“I feel, myself, I’m looking for the exact same product I’ve always looked for once we get out there on the field and by the time we get a chance to play games.

“That’s the way I’m approaching it. I’m not planning on lowering my standards and I don’t think anybody in the country is.

“Everybody is facing all kinds of different adversities all throughout their life right now. It’s how do we choose to respond.”

Familiar with all aspects of an offense: Ciarrocca, who coached Joe Flacco at Delaware, has gained a reputation in his 30-year career as a coach with knowledge of all aspects of an offense, including pass catchers, running backs and linemen.

When he was offensive coordinator at Division III Western Connecticut in 1992 — his first full-time job — the line coach quit in July. “So, I had no choice,” he said of coaching the linemen. “I became fascinated in that area. I’ve always been really intrigued with offensive line play.”

Busy days: Ciarrocca said he starts every day at 7 a.m., and works on football material until 10. Then, there’s a staff meeting, recruiting calls and a 3 o’clock quarterbacks meeting. He’s allowed eight hours a week with the players, and they are quizzed on the material.

He said he also does three recruiting evaluations every night.

It’s a busy day, something that has not gone unnoticed by Ciarrocca’s wife, Kim.

“My wife said to me the other day, `You seem to be working now more than ever this time of year.’ ”

Promoting discussion: He said he promotes discussion — more than what he has to say — at his meetings,

“I need to have feedback from them and questions they may have,” he said.

Ciarrocca was hired in December and was able to connect with his new colleagues for the first 2½ months of the year before the coronavirus shutdown.

“It would have been a lot more difficult if this crisis situation had started Jan. 4 and we would have been in a remote learning situation right then,” he said.

“We had some time together to get to know each other a little bit and feel comfortable enough with each other to say what’s on our mind.”