When the news broke that Joe Moorhead was heading to Mississippi State to become the next head coach in Starkville, Penn State fans' heads started spinning. Who will replace Moorhead? How will they possibly be able to fill his shoes? Is Penn State going to return to being a slow, low-scoring, under-center offense?
To fill the vacated position, James Franklin didn't need to look any further than down the hall in the Lasch Building. Though there were some interesting options outside of Happy Valley (Fordham's Andrew Breiner, Oklahoma State's Mike Yurcich, Arizona State's Billy Napier), promoting tight ends coach Ricky Rahne should prove to be a fruitful hire for Penn State.
Rahne has been working with Franklin since 2011 at Vanderbilt, so there's nothing to worry about as far as everyone being on the same page, or building chemistry among the staff. With Josh Gattis and Matt Limegrover set to serve as passing game coordinator and run game coordinator, respectively, there will be little-to-no adjustment period for the offensive staff. It's also worth noting that new tight ends coach Tyler Bowen has worked under both Franklin and Moorhead, meaning that he'll have plenty to add to the conversation as well.
Rahne has also had the chance to work under multiple offensive coordinators, the most recent being Moorhead, of course.
It's tough to know what a coach's vision is as a play caller until they actually get the chance to, you know, call plays. But from the sound of things, Rahne's offense will look fairly similar to Moorhead's.
"We are thrilled to elevate Ricky to offensive coordinator and add Tyler and Phil to our staff," Franklin said. "Ricky is one of the rising stars in college football. He is extremely sharp, driven and has a great rapport with our players. He has been very involved in our offensive scheme the last two years, which is why I anticipate our offense will continue to thrive under Ricky.
Serving as the passing game coordinator, Rahne had a chance to work very closely with Moorhead and surely picked up a lot from their time together. Those who are expecting a return to the John Donovan offense simply because Rahne was Donovan's quarterbacks coach are just finding an excuse to be upset about the hire. As long as James Franklin is the head coach at Penn State, the offense will surely be some iteration of what fans have seen over the course of 2016 and 2017.
Promoting Rahne allows for a smoother transition than bringing in an entirely new face. That's not to say that the outside candidates weren't good ones, but promoting Rahne means that everyone in the room is still on the same page. He still will have to prove that he can be a skilled in-game play caller, but for a team that shouldn't and won't look to make any major changes to an offense that has proven dominant over the past two years, continuity is important.
There's also the fact that Rahne's players do truly seem to love him. Tight end Mike Gesicki has always been publicly effusive on social media when talking about Rahne, and former quarterback Christian Hackenberg spoke highly of him, as well. One of the things that made Moorhead so successful was how much his players enjoyed talking with him and being around him. In Rahne, they have someone that they already know is capable of connecting with players in a similar way.
As far as player development, those who are opposed to the hire will surely be quick to point out the lack of development of Christian Hackenberg while Rahne was his position coach. However, if you're going to do that, you also need to make sure to give him credit for Mike Gesicki. In the two years before Rahne took over as tight ends coach, Gesicki caught 24 passes for 239 yards. The two years after that? 99 catches, 1,180 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Part of those numbers were certainly due to the offense designed by Moorhead as well as gaining experience, but if that's your excuse against Rahne, then it's only fair that you question how much he was to blame for Hackenberg in Donovan's offense, too.
No one knows exactly how Rahne will fare as Penn State's new offensive coordinator. And with how successful the offense has been over the past two years, any success Rahne experiences will likely always be compared with and judged against that of Moorhead. Fair or not, that's what he's up against.
But with the time he's had to learn and soak in teachings of other coaches, the relationships he's proven he has the ability to build, the continuity he'll provide, and even the recruiting chops he brings to the table, Ricky Rahne is the right choice to be Penn State's next offensive coordinator.