One day after a lackluster offensive performance against Michigan, James Franklin made the call to fire offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich. Now, Franklin will be tasked with hiring his sixth offensive coordinator of his Penn State tenure. What direction does he go in? Will he look to bring back someone he’s worked with before? Does he look for a more pass-happy spread attack? Does he look to the NFL ranks, shifting to more of a pro-style offense?
Regardless of the direction, we have a series of names that could be potential fits. Some are super obvious that you have likely seen listed elsewhere. Others are thinking outside the box a bit. But view this list as a starter for some closer deep dives we’ll take over the next few weeks before the hire is made.
Current Job: QB Coach, Buffalo Bills
A former graduate assistant for Penn State in 2015 and 2016, Joe Brady rose to notoriety as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for the legendary 2019 LSU championship team. During his one-year stint with the Tigers, he was given a lot of credit for the offense’s improvement between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He parlayed that success into an NFL offensive coordinator gig with the Carolina Panthers, which didn’t quite work out. He’s spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, serving as the quarterbacks coach and working with Josh Allen.
Brady is, obviously, a long shot. While his Panthers tenure slowed his star down a bit, he’s still been receiving offensive coordinator interest from other NFL teams as recently as last offseason. But given his ties to Penn State, he has to be mentioned should he think a move back to college could restart his career.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, Missouri
The younger brother of Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Kirby is making a name for himself in the football world as well. He worked his way up at Fresno State from being the wide receivers coach in 2017 to the offensive coordinator in 2022, learning under notable offensive minds like Jeff Tedford and Kalen DeBoer along the way. He moved to the SEC last offseason, taking over as the OC at Missouri. The results have been impressive, with the Tigers jumping from 24.8 PPG in 2022 to 32.8 PPG this season.
Moore has deeper ties to the West Coast, and could be in the thick of things for the head job at his alma mater, Boise State, or even the offensive coordinator job at Washington should current Huskies OC Ryan Grubb leave for a head position of his own.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, Kansas State
The former Heisman Trophy contender has turned into quite the coach, as Collin Klein has worked his way up the Kansas State staff over the years and has now served as the Wildcats offensive coordinator dating back to 2022. He’s turned what had been a dormant offense for most of Chris Klieman’s tenure into one of the best in the Big 12 and the country.
The issue? Klein has spent the large majority of the past 15 years with the Kansas State program, both as a player and now a coach. It’s valid to question if he would leave Manhattan for any other college offensive coordinator job. But there is a tie between him and James Franklin, with Franklin having recruited Klein to Kansas State way back in the aughts.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, UNLV
A longtime stalwart on my coaching big boards given that he’s a Pennsylvania native, Brennan Marion has now legitimately worked his way onto the offensive coordinator version. After spending last season at Texas as the Longhorns passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, Marion made the move to UNLV where he got play calling duties. Through 10 games, Marion and his “Go-Go” offense has been a major success, increasing the Runnin’ Rebels’ PPG from 26.3 last season to 36.4 in 2023.
One potential downside to Marion? He doesn’t stay in any place very long. Since starting his coaching career in 2011, he’s coached at 12 different schools, with Howard in 2017-2018 being the lone spot he stayed for more than one season.
Current Job: OC, Kansas
Lance Leipold’s right hand man dating back to his days at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Kotelnicki deserves a ton of credit for the work he’s done in helping turn around the Kansas program. The Jayhawks were routinely finishing dead last in the Big 12 in offense throughout the 2010s, but now sport one of the more innovative RPO offenses in the country. The proof is in the pudding, with Kansas set to have back-to-back seasons of averaging over 30 PPG for the first time since the Mark Mangino era.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, Colorado
A disciple of Dino Babers, Sean Lewis spent five seasons as the head coach at Kent State where the Golden Flashes consistently had one of the most prolific MAC offenses. He took a gamble on himself last offseason by leaving Kent State and heading to Boulder to take over as the offensive coordinator for Deion Sanders and Colorado. The immediate returns appeared good for Lewis, with the Buffaloes and Shadeur Sanders putting up big offensive numbers. But Coach Prime opted to demote Lewis from the play caller role a few weeks back for not clear reasons, which all but assures Lewis will be coaching elsewhere next season.
Lewis, compared to most of the others on this list, would be a rather large shift in offensive philosophy compared to what Penn State has done the past few seasons. At Kent State, Lewis was largely working in 11 personnel and having his tight end up line up as an h-back. It was a fast-paced, spread-attack, with the idea of getting as many snaps off as possible. Is Franklin willing to go through that dramatic of a shift?
Current Job: Head Coach, Akron
I love Joe. He is my dad. I will always welcome him back with open arms. Perhaps things have changed, but he went back to Akron largely based on wanting some stability for his family. I know in coaching, “family” can usually be a made up reason, but in the case of JoeMo I think it’s real. He was coming off a successful stint at Oregon, and absolutely could have stayed a Power 5 coordinator. Instead, he chose Akron — a place he was familiar with and one he knew wasn’t going to be a quick stepping stone elsewhere.
Like I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe coming back to Penn State and working for James Franklin is something that entices him. But I’d personally bet against it.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, Virginia Tech
If Moorhead himself isn’t the choice, maybe someone from his coaching tree is? Hello, Tyler Bowen. The former Penn State tight end coach and co-offensive coordinator has been serving as Brent Pry’s play caller down in Blacksburg for the last two seasons, and despite the expected choppy start, the Hokies are turning things around. They jumped from 19.3 PPG in 2022 to 26.0 this season; meager numbers for sure, but given where that Virginia Tech program was when Pry and Bowen got there, it’s been a nice turnaround. Ready for a jump to the Penn State job given the climate in Happy Valley? Questionable.
Current Job: OC, Utah
When you think of offensive juggernauts, you probably don’t think of Utah. But Andy Ludwig is very well-respected in the industry among coaches (Notre Dame tried to pry him away last winter) and is known for tough, efficient offenses. His use of tight ends in particular is something that would fit nicely with Penn State’s current roster.
One of my reasons for pause though is that the Utes have struggled with explosive plays over his tenure — they have consistently been in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in plays of 30 yards or more. Given that, I don’t know if that’s the direction Penn State wants to go.
Current Job: OC/QB Coach, Kentucky
A New England native, Liam Coen made the jump from Maine offensive coordinator to the NFL when he became the Los Angeles Rams assistant wide receivers coach in 2018. He spent three years working for Sean McVay before heading back to the college game in 2021, serving as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Will Levis’ breakout season in 2021. He then went back to the Rams in 2022, spending one season as the OC before leaving again for — you guessed it — Kentucky when it seemed like McVay was 50/50 on stepping away from the Rams job.
Coen’s second stint with Kentucky hasn’t been as impressive as his first, but take a look at the improvements the Wildcats’ offense made both times Coen took over:
- 2020: 21.8 PPG (without Coen)
- 2021: 32.3 PPG (with Coen)
- 2022: 20.4 PPG (without Coen)
- 2023: 29.1 PPG (with Coen)
He’s clearly doing something right.
Current Job: Passing Game Coordinator/WR Coach, Washington
Admittedly, this would be one of the more risky hires. JaMarcus Shephard has never called plays before on a full-time basis, which very well could eliminate him from being a viable candidate. But I still want to mention him because I’m a big fan. He’s looked at as one of the best (if not the best) wide receiver coaches in the country, and has served as a co-OC or passing game coordinator under both Jeff Brohm and Kalen DeBoer. It’s simply just a matter of time before he gets the opportunities to call plays — though I understand that likely won’t be at Penn State.
Current Job: QB Coach, New York Giants
Going to mention three NFL guys here, with the first one being Shea Tierney who currently serves as the QB coach for the New York Giants. He’s originally from James Franklin’s high school alma mater, Neshaminy, and worked his way up as a coaching intern for Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles staff. He then worked at Alabama as an offensive analyst, where he linked up with Brian Daboll and has followed Daboll ever since.
Daboll has an interesting connection with James Franklin, as his son, Christian Daboll, was a student assistant for Franklin at Penn State.
Current Job: Senior Offensive Assistant, Philadelphia Eagles
A name rumored as someone James Franklin has interviewed in the past, Marcus Brady’s name could surface again this time around. He spent five years with the Indianapolis Colts from 2018-2022, going from the assistant quarterbacks coach to the offensive coordinator in 2021-2022. While his time with the Colts didn’t end well — Frank Reich fired him just before getting fired himself — he could be an option in Happy Valley should Franklin opt for a more pro-style offense.
Current Job: QB Coach, Minnesota Vikings
One other off-the-wall NFL coach who stuck out to me was Chris O’Hara. O’Hara is also originally from Pennsylvania, growing up in Luzerne County. He got his coaching start as a student assistant at Temple for Al Golden, and then actually followed Golden to Miami as well. He’s bounced around the NFL since then, working for coaches like Sean McVay and now Kevin O’Connell.
Current Job: OC/WR Coach, James Madison
Looking at the Group of Five ranks, James Madison’s Mike Shanahan is viewed as a rising star in the coaching world. If you remember, Shanahan had a standout career at Pitt as a wide receiver and then linked up with Curt Cignetti at IUP, Elon, and now James Madison. He’s been the play caller for the Dukes since 2021, and is a big reason for their dominance since jumping up to the FBS ranks.