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Giger: PSU benefits from Rahne’s departure

Commentary

Old Dominion did Penn State a big favor, and gave Nittany Lion fans an early Christmas present.

That may sound harsh, but let’s be clear about one thing: Losing offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne is addition by subtraction for Penn State’s offense.

Rahne is a good guy. A family man. A good representative of Penn State.

I wish him nothing but the best as he takes over as Old Dominion’s head coach, and this is a wonderful opportunity for his career.

But the hard truth is that Rahne was in over his head as the Lions’ offensive coordinator. He was average at best while holding a key position at a program that is working ever so hard to become elite.

James Franklin made a mistake when he hired Rahne, the in-house candidate, to replace Joe Moorhead when the latter left for Mississippi State.

Moorhead was terrific and vastly experienced as a playcaller. He revolutionized Penn State football with his explosive RPO system. He helped make Franklin, as the great 2016 offense saved the head coach’s job and put the Lions back on the national map with a Big Ten title.

Franklin’s mistake was being so loyal to Rahne that he decided to promote him to offensive coordinator, despite the fact that he had never been a full-time playcaller.

The Penn State OC position was a plum gig that could have attracted fantastic candidates. Yet Franklin stayed in house and turned the offensive ship over to a coach who would have to learn on the job and do so at a high-profile program where every move he made would be highly scrutinized.

Which is exactly what happened.

Rahne was good at times but hardly ever great with his playcalling.

He was mediocre or poor at other times, most notably on the infamous fourth-down call that ended PSU’s hopes against Ohio State last season.

A lack of creativity with his playcalling, far too much inconsistency and a failure to get the most out of the entire offense will be Rahne’s legacy at Penn State.

There was really no way Rahne could have lived up to the high standards set by Moorhead. When he didn’t, the fan base turned on him in a major way.

That was evident Monday when news broke that Rahne was leaving for Old Dominion. There was an enormous amount of rejoicing on social media by Penn State fans who were thrilled about him leaving.

It’s a bizarre situation, to be sure, that an assistant coach is so highly thought of by others that he landed a head coaching job elsewhere, while the fan base of his current school is ecstatic to see him go.

Here’s where the situation with Rahne was most interesting: Perhaps no one thinks more highly of him than Franklin.

That’s what put Franklin in such a precarious position, and threatened the potential of the entire Penn State football program.

Franklin wanted to be loyal to his friend and longtime assistant coach, even to a fault. He’s spoken glowingly about Rahne at every turn and loves the guy. Literally.

“Congrats Ricky Rahne! Love you brother!” Franklin tweeted Monday night.

It has to be hard for Franklin to be overly critical of Rahne’s in-game work because of his personal affection for him. That’s human nature, even in big-time college sports.

But at some point — either this offseason or after next year if the inconsistency persisted — Franklin likely would have faced the very real possibility of demoting Rahne. I think that would have been the route Franklin would have taken instead of firing him, but either would have been devastating for Rahne’s career.

Old Dominion came along at the perfect time. Whatever its leaders see in Rahne, they decided to give him a chance to be a head coach for the first time.

Which gives Franklin a chance to hit the reset button with PSU’s offense.

This time around, there simply cannot be an in-house hire out of loyalty. There’s no one on the staff experienced and dynamic enough to take over an offense that has tremendous potential next season.

Franklin surely has names on his list that he will contact for the job. The obvious first choice would be LSU passing game coordinator and former Penn State graduate assistant Joe Brady, who has emerged as a star this season thanks to Joe Burrow and the Tigers’ tremendous offense.

It would cost a lot of money — probably at least $1 million a year — to lure away Brady or any other high-profile offensive guru. If Penn State wants to become elite, it’s going to have to spend that kind of money, and it’s a given that Franklin lobbied for that sort of thing with the new contract he received last week.

The Moorhead hire was the biggest of Franklin’s career. I strongly believe that. Without Moorhead’s powerful offense that led to the 2016 turnaround, Franklin might have lost his job at Penn State.

Three years later, Franklin has enjoyed great success, has all the leverage in the world, has a new contract and can call all the shots.

Franklin needs to nail this decision with Rahne’s replacement. If he does, the Lions could be gearing up for the College Football Playoff this time next year.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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