The wait is finally over. News broke on Thursday night that Rutgers was poised to hire Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator. Pete Thamel appears to have been the first to report the hire with NJ Advance Media reporting the news minutes later.
After almost six weeks since the season ended, head coach Greg Schiano is bringing back Ciarrocca who served as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rutgers from 2009-2010 after being promoted from wide receivers coach in 2008. Ciarrocca has been an offensive coordinator in five of the last six seasons with four coming at Minnesota (2017-2019; 2022) and one at Penn State (2020).
Here are five takeaways on the reported hiring of Ciarrocca by Rutgers.
A Solid Developer of QB’s
Ciarrocca checks a big box in that he has extensive experience in developing quarterbacks. That needed to be a priority with this hire and Schiano made sure he found a coach with a proven track record in this area. Ciarrocca made his bones at Delaware nearly two decades ago in developing Joe Flacco. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach there for six years that included a DI-AA national championship. Flacco set almost two dozen school records before becoming a first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He was named Super Bowl MVP in leading the Baltimore Ravens to a world championship and has had a long, successful NFL career.
At Western Michigan from 2013-2016, Ciarrocca was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under now Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck. He mentored Zach Terrell, who set the program record for career passing yards. In 2016, Terrell had the best TD to INT ration in FBS with 34 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Western Michigan went 13-0 and were MAC champions before losing by one score to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.
Most recently at Minnesota in two stints spread over six years, Ciarrocca led the development of Tanner Morgan. In 2019, he set the program’s single season records for passing yards and touchdown passes.
Obviously a big part of the Rutgers job is getting the most out of former 4-star QB Gavin Wimsatt. There is no question Ciarrocca bring a pedigree with him. Now it’s a matter of developing the talented signal caller.
Big Ten track record is mixed
Another positive about Ciarrocca’s resume is he has been an offensive coordinator in the Big Ten in five of the previous six seasons. He was the OC at Minnesota from 2017 through 2019. Then he was at Penn State in the same role in 2020 before returning to Minnesota in 2022.
With the Gophers, the offense was at its best in 2019 when they averaged 34.1 points and 432 yards of total offense per game. Minnesota went 11-2 and finished No. 10 in the final AP Poll that season.
Ciarrocca leveraged that success in taking the OC job at Penn State. While it was the Covid shortened 2020 season in which he led the offense for James Franklin, it did not go well. PSU got off to a 0-5 start and Ciarrocca was ultimately let go. He did have some bad luck as star running back Journey Brown was diagnosed with a career ending heart condition before the season. Not having a true offseason to fully implement and develop his offense was a major obstacle as well.
This past season, Minnesota was 65th nationally in total offense in averaging 390 yards per game. Morgan dealt with an injury and the offense was run heavy with Mo Ibrahim. He was a special running back and the Gophers had an established offense line.
The experience is a big positive, although its fair to point out the majority of it is in the Big Ten West division compared to the East. How Ciarrocca adjusts being back in the tougher division with less talent than he had at Minnesota is a big question to be answered.
His first tenure at Rutgers wasn’t good
What makes this hire so interesting is that Ciarrocca’s first tenure as OC for Schiano didn’t go particularly well. After serving as wide receivers coach during the 2008 season, he along with Kyle Flood were promoted following the departure of OC John McNulty. They were named co-offensive coordinators while Ciarrocca also coached the quarterbacks. The offense switched from a pro-style to a spread. This transition coincided with losing the most prolific quarterback in program history in Mike Teel. However, he was replaced by Tom Savage, who earned Freshman All-American honors before losing his job and transferring out of the program.
Rutgers finished 94th and 110th in total offense during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The 2009 team was 53rd in scoring at 28.8 points per game. The following season RU scored just 20.8 points per game (103rd nationally).
The wildcat was implemented in the 2010 season with Mo Sanu running it and Chas Dodd taking over for Savage at quarterback. It was Schiano’s only losing season in his last seven years in his first tenure at Rutgers. To be fair, that was the year Eric LeGrand was paralyzed and I have no doubt that impacted the team’s performance the rest of that season. So it shouldn’t be all on Ciarrocca, but the offense was not good in 2010.
Ultimately, Ciarrocca was let go by Schiano. Flood was retained and the rest is history. So while Ciarrocca has plenty of experience and has had success, it is interesting and a bit surprisng that Schiano is bringing him back over a decade later. The task to overhaul what’s been one of the worst offenses in FBS the previous two seasons is massive. He could absolutely be the right fit. His ability to hit the ground running with Schiano faster than other candidates is appealing. However, his success is far from a sure thing too. Whoever took this job was going to face an uphill battle. Can Ciarrocca navigate it well? We’ll see.
Play Calling experience a plus
Ciarrocca has almost two decades of experience in calling offensive plays during games. When he was the Co-OC at Rutgers, he was the play caller for the offense. He had one season apiece at Delaware, Western Michigan and Minnesota in which the offense was one of the best in the nation. That’s a solid track record. However, you could argue the consistency has been lacking in recent years. Even so, Schiano did a good job finding a coach that brings plenty of play calling experience to the table.
Big Pay Day despite not being home run hire
According to Chris Iseman of USA Today, Ciarrocca had just signed a contract extension with Minnesota. From Iseman’s report:
“Ciarrocca reportedly made $625,000 this past season, but was set to earn $900,000 in 2023 under the terms of his new deal.
It was set to rise to $950,000 in 2024 and $1 million in 2025.
For reference, former Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, who was fired in October, made $1,025,000 in 2022 and was set to make $1,050,000 next year. At the time of Gleeson’s firing, Schiano said Rutgers would honor the remainder of the contract.”
While the hope was that Rutgers would keep the million dollar salary range for its next offensive coordinator, spending that much on Ciarrocca isn’t great value. Some fans expected a much bigger name or an OC with a more successful track record to take the job at that salary. Whether that was realistic or not, Ciarrocca will be scrutinized more heavily with such a high pay day likely coming.
As reports have indicated, the Board of Governors is expected to meet on Saturday to approve Ciarrocca’s contract. Terms have not been reported on. However, it seems likely they will be similar to what Gleeson was making at Rutgers. He was the highest paid OC in program history.
Overall, I think there are positives with this hire. Ciarrocca’s experience in the Big Ten, in developing quarterbacks and his extensive play calling background. I do think there are some valid concerns based on his lack of success in his first stint at Rutgers, his struggles at Penn State and whether he will be able to recruit at a high level. To be successful this time, Ciarrocca has to add a lot of talent and depth to the offense. I suspect he’ll be aggressive exploring options in the transfer portal with Schiano. They need to for sure. Running an offense similar to Minnesota makes sense, but a lot of changes need to happen to make it work at Rutgers.
I’ll more analysis soon on the reported hiring of Kirk Ciarrocca as the new offensive coordinator for Rutgers football.
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