Gophers offensive coordinator leaves for Big Ten rival

Kirk Ciarrocca nearly left as the Gophers’ offensive coordinator after last season for an offer to join the West Virginia staff. Ciarrocca’s last-minute decision to remain with his good friend, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, was considered a key to the team’s success in 2019.

This time, however, Ciarrocca will not reconsider and he won’t remain at the University of Minnesota. That became official on Thursday when Penn State announced that Ciarrocca has accepted the job to become its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The decision comes just over a month after the Gophers beat Penn State, 31-26, at TCF Bank Stadium in what was one of the biggest victories for the program.

The Gophers went 10-2 in the regular season, their first 10-win season since 1905, and will face Auburn on Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. Minnesota remained in contention for the College Football Playoff or a Rose Bowl berth until a regular-season ending loss to Wisconsin.

Ciarrocca has served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator since 2013 and followed Fleck to the Gophers after the pair worked together at Western Michigan. Ciarrocca takes over for Ricky Rahne, who is leaving Penn State to become head coach at Old Dominion.

Ciarrocca was paid $720,000 by the Gophers in 2019, according to USA Today. Fleck, however, received a seven-year contract extension in November that calls for his annual salary to rise $1 million to $4.6 million annually with an additional pool of just over $1-million for assistants and staff.

Ciarrocca is a native of Lewisberry, Pa., and was a defensive back at Juniata College in Pennsylvania before moving on to Temple where he graduated in 1990.

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring in someone of Kirk’s caliber to our Penn State football family,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He is a veteran coordinator who also has deep Pennsylvania roots and ties. His most recent successes as an offensive coordinator caught our eye. What impressed me most about Kirk in the hiring process was his humility and his willingness to make this an easy transition for our players.”

Said Ciarrocca: “I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work at a program as rich in tradition as Penn State University. It is an honor and a privilege to join Coach Franklin’s staff and to work alongside such a successful head football coach. Having grown up a Penn State fan, I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as your offensive coordinator.”

Ciarrocca, who also was the Gophers’ quarterbacks coach, oversaw a unit that became the third-highest scoring offense in program history and had the second-most passing yards in a season. Ciarrocca was selected as a semifinalist for the 2019 Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach.

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan established program records for season passing yards, season touchdown passes and consecutive games with a touchdown pass on the way to earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. The Gophers also had a pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers in All-America and Big Ten Receiver of the Year Rashod Bateman and All-Big Ten first team player Tyler Johnson.

As you can see in the above tweet from Darren Wolfson of SKOR North and KSTP-TV, Gophers wide receivers coach Matt Simon could be in line to take over as the team’s offensive play caller.