Hack’s in good hands: PSU’s new QB coach known for leadership
Ricky Rahne has been handed the keys to Penn State’s Cadillac, so to speak, as it will be largely up to him to fine tune and further develop Christian Hackenberg.
It’s a wonderful opportunity, to say the least, for a young quarterbacks coach. Rahne gets to work every day with a player who many people believe is on a path to being a first-round NFL draft pick.
“I can say without a shadow of a doubt no one’s going to outwork me,” Rahne said. “People may work as hard, but no one’s going to work harder. That’s what I can bring to the table with Christian, to get myself as prepared as possible to get him as prepared as possible.”
There’s also an inherent challenge for Rahne, who is taking over Hackenberg’s day-to-day coaching from Bill O’Brien and may always be compared to PSU’s former head coach.
“I have the utmost respect for Coach O’Brien,” Rahne said before later adding, “The one thing I’m not going to do is be him. I can’t be Bill O’Brien. But I can be me.”
OK, so is who Ricky Rahne, and why should Penn State fans feel comfortable with the 33-year-old former Ivy Leaguer coaching the franchise quarterback?
“He’s a tremendous leader, a guy that can rally people around him and a person that you definitely want in the huddle with you,” said Tim Pendergast, who coached Rahne during his senior season at Cornell in 2001.
“He takes control, he understands situations and I think he will be a person who is very well-received by not only the quarterbacks at Penn State, but by the entire team.”
Rahne set numerous passing records at Cornell, taking over the starting job late in his freshman season and keeping it his final three years. The fact that he went to Cornell should be indication enough of how intelligent he is, but he also dedicated himself to playing at a very high level.
“The biggest thing about him is the moment never gets too big for him,” said Pete Mangurian, Cornell’s head coach during Rahne’s first three years. “He’s very calm. He’s one of those guys that’s an emotional player, kind of wears it on his sleeve a little bit, which is a good thing. But as the pressure mounts and the stakes get higher, he tends to calm down and get much more focused.”
That sounds very similar to what Hackenberg showed during his freshman season. He didn’t waver during clutch situations late in games, which was most exemplified by his calm demeanor and leadership during the closing seconds of regulation as he led a game-tying TD drive against Michigan.
If anything, Rahne might be able to help Hackenberg even more from the mental aspect of playing the position.
“The thing that’s important about Ricky is I believe he’ll be able to transfer that calmness and that kind of ‘close everything out and focus on the moment’ to the player,” said Mangurian, now the head coach at Columbia.
Rahne also showed his Cornell coaches a passionate dedication.
“He was a perfectionist, but an easy-going perfectionist,” Pendergast said. “Many perfectionists, the type-A personality people, they’re high-strung, anxious, nervous. He’s not that way at all. He’s very even-keeled, extremely personable, well-respected, well-liked.
“He’s a very easy-going guy, he’s charismatic.”
O’Brien worked closely with Hackenberg, serving as the offensive coordinator and de facto quarterbacks coach, even though Charlie Fisher held that title. O’Brien enjoyed doing the film work with the quarterback, so they had a unique bond between player and head coach.
New PSU coach James Franklin also played quarterback in college, but he won’t be the guy doing all the one-on-one work with Hackenberg. Rahne will be there doing the film work and individual instruction, while Franklin will help when he deems necessary.
“Coach Franklin is very involved with every position on our team,” Rahne said. “I don’t think he’s more involved with quarterbacks than with anybody else, but if he sees something during practice or during a game that he thinks he can help, then he’s going to say something.
“Now, a lot of times [Franklin will] come to me and say, ‘Hey, what do you think he was seeing there? And then I can go to [Hackenberg] and talk to him.”
There’s usually a close connection between a quarterback and his coach, but there’s also a line there. It can’t be a buddy-buddy situation because that usually doesn’t help a coach get the most out of the player.
“What Ricky can do is he’s mature enough to divorce himself from being the best friend of any player,” Pendergast said, “yet he’s skillful enough to lead himself into being really respected and really well thought of as a mentor, as a confidant, as a friend, as a teacher, as a coach.”
Rahne says it’s his job to prepare for anything and everything, so that he can pass along the best information to Hackenberg. Not information overload, but useful information that can be utilized on the field.
Rahne noted he’s a big believer in a quarterback’s footwork and how that will often be a major factor when it comes to accuracy and power on throws. He’s watched some film on Hackenberg and likes the fundamentals but knows he really won’t get a good feel until they can get out on the practice field.
“I played the position, so I’m not going to ask him to do things that are physically impossible,” Rahne said. “I think sometimes when guys haven’t played quarterback, they’re like, ‘Hey, you need to look over here, and then if that guy’s not open, turn and find this guy.'”
Mangurian knows how excited Rahne must be to get this chance with Penn State and Hackenberg. He also believes that no matter how good Hackenberg is now, he can get better working with Rahne.
“We all know what Christian can do,” Mangurian said. “We’ve seen that from afar, and he’ll see it up close. I think he’ll probably be, not critical in a negative sense, but will really try to focus on what he can do to make him be better instead of getting lost in how good he is, because that’s what coaches do.”