After coaching the wide receivers at West Point in 2017, David Corley caught on as Penn State’s new wide receivers coach in 2018.
There’s a catch, though (several, in fact).
Initial catch: Head coach James Franklin originally hired Corley as the Nittany Lions' running backs coach, to replace Charles Huff, who joined Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State.
Catch two: A week later, Josh Gattis left Penn State for Alabama. And Corley was switched from coaching the PSU RBs to the WRs.
Another catch: When Franklin hired Gattis at Vanderbilt in 2012, he also interviewed Corley.
The final catch: This offseason, Corley went from the 129th (and last) passing team in major college football — averaging 27.8 passing yards per game, with two TD passes on the season — to No. 23, which averaged 290.2 yards per game and 32 passing TDs football. (Click here for 2017 NCAA 2017 passing statistics.)
No worry, though. Corley was a four-year starter at quarterback at William & Mary and has had stints coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers, as well as serving as passing game coordinator for a season.
Corley spent 2017 coaching the wide receivers at Army, where much of his time was spent refining the Cadets’ blocking techniques. Army ran the ball 92.3% of the time last season. The West Point air attack completed 20 of 65 pass attempts for 361 yards, with six interceptions and those two TDs. For the season. (By comparison, last season Penn State’s Trace McSorley completed more than 20 passes in a single game seven times last season, including 19 in the first half vs. Maryland.) Running back Kell Walker was Army’s leading receiver, with five catches for 111 yards.
Corley coached the wide receivers at William & Mary in 2013, when he was the passing game coordinator, and at UConn in 2015. Overall, his other college coaching positions included: William & Mary, running backs (2008-09), and quarterbacks (2010-2012); and UConn running backs (2016) and special teams (2014). At UConn, he served as the offensive coordinator for the final month of the 2016 season.
Corley is one of five former quarterbacks on the Penn State coaching staff, including: Franklin, offensive coordinator/QB coach Ricky Rahne, new running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith.
In his first season at Penn State, Corley inherits a pair of top-notch returning starters — veteran wide receivers DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson. Thompkins had 28 catches in 2017, averaging a whopping 15.8 yards per reception, with three touchdowns. Juwan had 54 grabs (most among all returning Nittany Lions), averaging 13 yards per reception, with one TD — the game-winner at Iowa. After those two, there’s a host of contenders for the No. 3 spot, including veteran Brandon Polk, redshirt freshmen K.J. Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer, and highly-touted freshman Justin Shorter.
WHAT CORLEY SAYS
Corley will have a lot to work with, not to mention a veteran QB and Heisman Trophy candidate throwing the football to his guys. We caught up with Corley on Penn State’s media day on Saturday, for the following one-on-one Q&A.
SC.com: Your leading receiver at Army last year caught five passes for the season. Your leading receiver here might catch five balls in one drive. How do you juxtaposition the coaching of your receivers last year and coaching this group this year?
Corley: “I’ve coached wide receivers in a pro-style offense before, so I’m using and falling back on the past experience doing that.
“When you’re coaching a triple-option offense (like at Army), it’s obviously more run-oriented. With that group, there was a lot more focus on the blocking aspect of things. We still did things with the passing game, but it was more run-heavy. Here, you just have to have more balance. We’re more than capable of running and passing the ball extremely well.”
SC.com: What have you brought that is new and different to the wide receivers?
Corley: “I can’t answer that, since I wasn’t here last year.”
SC.com: OK, what are your strengths?
Corley: “I tell these guys I’m going to coach them like I’m going to coach my son. And they’ve met my son (Bishop, age 5) and my daughter (Charlie, 7). So for me, relationships are very important. Not that we have to be buddies — we will still have a coach-player relationship within the building. But for these guys, outside of the building, I want to have a relationship with them and want them to be able to talk to me about more than just football. Relationships with me are important.”
SC.com: You saw a lot of Juwan and DeAndre in the spring, plus I would assume on film. What special traits do they bring to the table?
Corley: “Both guys are very knowledgeable about the system. Both of these guys understand Penn State and the culture here, so they’ve been leaders in the locker room within our position group, helping these younger guys transition.
“With Juwan, obviously you look at him and see his size. He has good short-space quickness for someone with that kind of length (6-foot-4). He has strong hands. With DeAndre, he’s extremely fast, with elite speed and quickness. Both of these guys have some qualities you’d love to have in your wide receivers.”
SC.com: For the third spot, how are you going to pick the starter there? What has to happen there for someone to get the job?
Corley: “With our group, these guys understand that there’s competition. It’s not something that goes from one year to the next. It’s daily competition. The first spot or the second or third spot — or the fourth, fifth or sixth spot, however you want to put it — guys have to go out there and earn it.
“We talked about this the other day: If there is someone out there ahead of you, if the depth chart looks a certain way on a certain day, it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. We’re looking to find the best guys to put out on the field, whether it’s three receivers, four receivers — whatever the number is that Coach Rahne thinks is necessary for us to win.”
SC.com: How has the transition been — getting acclimated to the system, working with Ricky and Coach Seider?
Corley: “I think it’s been great. I think Coach Franklin has done an awesome job of building a staff of like-minded people. Obviously, you don’t want everybody to be the same. But from a chemistry standpoint, I think our staff has great chemistry.
“I didn’t know Ricky well, but we knew of each other. We saw each other down the road from time to time. When he was at Vandy and I was at William & Mary, we both were down in the Atlanta area a lot. I had seen Ja’Juan on the road before; I recruited South Florida when I was at UConn.”
SC.com: Like-minded. Can you expound upon that a bit?
Corley: “All of us played quarterback. And the mentality of the quarterback is that you’re thinking about the team first and whatever is necessary to get the job done. Everybody pitching in and doing their part. It’s too big for anyone to have a role or a job.”