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Penn State Football: Ricky Rahne is Ready, Thanks to James & JoeMo

by on April 01, 2018 8:30 PM

To James Franklin's way of thinking, he was lucky.

Fortunate, in fact, that he had Ricky Rahne on his staff when offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead left for Mississippi State in late November.

It took Franklin all of two days and a short walk down the second-floor Lash Building hallway to promote Rahne from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator.

It was, however, a promotion nearly a dozen years in the making.

Moorhead came and went in 718 days, and left behind a sterling blue(-and-white)print of offensive success.

In his stead, Franklin had a loyal aide to run what had been Moor or less one of the most exciting and prolific offenses in college football over the past two years. Luck, they say, is the residue of design.

In light of Moorhead's departure, the Penn State head coach had three choices as he headed into the Fiesta Bowl having to hire his third offensive coordinator in four seasons in Happy Valley: One, promote Rahne, 37, from tight ends coach, his post the past two seasons after Moorhead came to town. Two, promote wide receivers coach Josh Gattis, 34 (who subsequently left for Alabama in January). Or three, hire from outside.

For Franklin, it wasn't a tough decision. He went with who he knew the best.

"The biggest thing with Ricky," Franklin said last week, "is he's too smart and he works too hard not to be successful. When you have that combination, you have a chance."

Ball Coach Joe couldn't agree more.

The current Mississippi State head coach thinks the world of the current Penn State offensive coordinator. And on Sunday, Moorhead took time from his family to say this about his former protege, testament to his strong feelings about Rahne:

"Ricky combines tremendous work intelligence and work ethic," Moorhead said. "He's an excellent communicator, teacher and motivator.

"I am so excited for him and this opportunity. He will absolutely make the most of it. The offense looked great in the bowl game and will continue to improve in the fall."


Franklin and Rahne coached together at Vanderbilt in 2011-13, but the two go back to Kansas State in 2006, when Rahhe was a graduate assistant and Franklin was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under head coach Ron Prince.

Raheem Morris, who went on to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the defensive coordinator. His GA was Scott Frost, the undefeated UCF coach who is now the head coach of Nebraska. Rahne, a record-setting quarterback at Cornell whose time in Ithaca overlapped with Morris' one-year stint as a Big Red assistant, worked for Franklin. (Previous to that, Rahne was an assistant defensive line coach under Sean Spencer at Holy Cross in 2004 — yes, Coach Chaos — and the running backs coach at his alma mater in 2005.)

At Kansas State, Franklin and Rahne tutored quarterback Josh Freeman, who had committed to K-State a month before Franklin was hired. And he stayed there a year after Franklin left following the 2007 season. For two years, though, Freeman shined under Franklin’s tutelage, throwing for over 5,000 yards, with 33 TD passes and 17 interceptions, while completing 456 of 769 pass attempts.

"Ricky and I, we've been together a long time, so that helps," Franklin was saying on Wednesday, several days into spring practice, Rahne's first as the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator. "It helps when you're in a situation like this and you have transition."


It not only helps Franklin, who has two offensive assistants in their first year at Penn State — wide receivers coach David Corley and running backs coach Ju'Juan Seider. It also helps the Nittany Lions quarterbacks. Trace McSorley worked under Rahne for two years, in 2014-15, when Rahne was the QB coach, and backup Tommy Stevens worked with Rahne in 2015 as well.

"It helped Trace McSorley that we made the decision we made so that they're not all having to learn something new," Franklin said.

Then, Franklin flashed a bit of candor and put some onus on Rahne. McSorley, after all, is heading into his fifth season at Penn State, with a 22-3 record over his last 25 games as a starter, and college career totals of 7,379 yards passing, 899 yards rushing and a combined 77 TDs responsible for.

"But let's be honest," Franklin said. "It also helps Ricky Rahne that he's got Trace McSorley, a veteran quarterback, and probably the strongest offensive line since we've been here. That is kind of ideal, in terms if you have to go through transition. That's probably the best way for it to be."

Penn State's offense thrived under Moorhead, going from scoring a total of 568 points combined for 26 games in 2014 and '15 to scoring 534 points in just 13 games in 2017. For both Franklin, who was the offensive coordinator at both Kansas State and Maryland, and Rahne the shift to the RPO was career-altering.

"Obviously," Franklin said on Wednesday, "the last two years were good for Ricky and for all of us — and really for our team from a confidence standpoint."


That confidence extended into the Fiesta Bowl, where Penn State won 35-28, breaking the Huskies' 26-game streak of holding opponents under 30 points.

With Rahne calling the plays, the Nittany Lions had a program bowl-record 542 yards of offense, as McSorley completed 32 of 42 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 12 times for 60 yards.

McSorley was 12 of 12 passing on third downs, resulting in 11 of Penn State's 13 third-down conversions (the most by PSU since 2008). Saquon Barkley added 137 yards carrying the football against college football's No. 1 rushing defense, and other than a few failed shovel passes and an inability to get Stevens going in his new Lion positon role — he had just three touches for minus one yard — Penn State's offense was its usual juggernaut.

"Ricky," his longtime boss said this past week, "has a very clear understanding of he wants to do and how he wants to do it."


Ten years and three coaching stops with Franklin have helped in that regard. Certainly, so did 102 weeks working with Moorhead.

"I think the thing Joe did the best, and something I feel like I learned from, is his preparation in Sunday through Friday," Rahne said after he was promoted. "He was a great play-caller because of how he designed the plays Sunday through Friday. That’s something that’s been key.

"He always knew, ‘OK, these are the two things they can do to attack me, here are my adjustments to those.’ That’s one thing I want to take from him. The other thing is, he had an ability to get people to like him and play for him."

By all indications, Ricky looks like he can be a good Joe too.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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