Exclusive: Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne on the upcoming season
Ricky Rahne feels confident that Penn State offers everything needed to compete—and win—on college football’s biggest stage.
The last two seasons have proven Penn State’s offensive coordinator right, and all indications around the football program point to more of the same. Perhaps that’s one reason why Rahne described Happy Valley as “football nirvana.”
We sat down with Rahne earlier this summer, and the Cornell graduate shared, among other topics, what he enjoys most about coaching Trace McSorley and what stands out about how James Franklin runs the program.
HappyValley.com: On a day-to-day basis, what’s the one thing you enjoy most about coaching football at Penn State, and do you consider this a dream job?
Ricky Rahne: Yeah, I think if you don’t consider this a dream job, you’re a crazy person. This is football nirvana. You are at a place where you’re able to get great players who are great students and people, you don’t have to sacrifice ability for character, you get to coach in arguable the best conference in the country and you get to coach in historical matchups that people care about and do it in front of hundreds of thousands of people. So yeah, it’s an awesome job, not to mention the fact that my wife is from Pittsburgh, so that’s always a great deal, too. This is probably her dream job for me, too.
Probably the most enjoyable thing, though, [ about spending] every day coaching at Penn State, is the people that I get to be around. I love the other coaches in this building, the kids that I get to coach are awesome and just the people I get to interact with in the media, in all honesty. Our media, they’re not going after us, attacking us, like they are at some places. The administration, the other coaches, the former players that are still in town—the people that you get to interact with all the time at this job, it’s a special place, so I would say that’s the thing I enjoy the most.
HappyValley.com: During the spring, Coach Franklin said that you have a very clear idea of what you want to do and how you want to do it. So, as the new offensive coordinator, what do you want to see?
Ricky Rahne: I want us to play fast, physical and explosive. I want to make sure that we’re utilizing numbers, angles and grass in the run game, and precision and timing in the passing game. It’s things that I’ve learned from a lot of different people and the same words that probably they would use. The No. 1 thing I want to do is, I feel my job is to give our kids a chance to be successful on every play, and that was why there were a couple plays in the Fiesta Bowl that I don’t feel gave our kids a chance to be successful. Those are things I look back at and get angry with myself. But, I think that’s going to happen a lot. That’s going to happen in every game. I’m not going to go 70-for-70 (on play-calling), so the thing I have to do is move on from those plays and go from there. But, that’s my No. 1 goal, getting throughout the week and then on game days, giving our kids the best possible opportunity to maximize their God-given talent and then go from there.
HappyValley.com: How do you assess the offense going into the 2018 season? What do you like most, and are there areas where you’d like to see more development?
Ricky Rahne: I think you always want to see development, and it’s one of those things, we’re probably never satisfied. We would like to be a little bit more efficient on first and second down, but with that, still maintaining our ability to be explosive and not taking that away from the kids... I think that’s always going to be critical. We want to make sure that we maintain our ball security, which we’ve been pretty good at, especially last year. Our defense does a great job of getting turnovers, and we didn’t turn it over very much, so our turnover margin was pretty high. That’s something we’ve got to take a lot of pride in as a team, but especially on the offensive side of the ball. I think it’s really everything, from completion percentage, to yards after the catch, which is a detail thing. Every little bit of it, you want to take it to the next step, and that’s how you’re going to take the offense to the next step.
HappyValley.com: How much have you enjoyed coaching Trace, and what stands out to you the most about the way he's matured and really grown into an elite quarterback?
Ricky Rahne: His competitive nature and his hard work is the thing I enjoy the most. The thing that I think is the most underappreciated about him is his skill level and his talent. Everyone always talks about his intangibles, which are numerous and warranted that people talk about them, but his skill level is extremely high. He has a very accurate arm, he has great arm strength, he’s a very quick runner and all those sorts of things, so I think that’s something that maybe is underappreciated about him.
Quite frankly, the other thing that I value about him is his willingness to tell me that he disagrees with me, and he does it in a respectful way. But he also is willing for me to rip him, and he doesn’t take that as disrespectful, either. Our ability to have interactions that are probably less-than-pleasant for most people, but for us, it’s a key part to our relationship. Both of us thrive on that, so that probably helps. He needs to be coached hard, and I need for my player to question things, and so I think we work well together in that way.
HappyValley.com: With having so many playmakers on offense, how do you keep guys motivated, if necessary, simply because not everybody can get 10-12 looks a game?
Ricky Rahne: I think everybody on our team wants the ball as much as humanly possible, and I think the reason they want the ball is not because they’re selfish, but because they feel like they give our team the best chance to win, and I think that’s important. I want guys like that. But, they also have to understand that you may get two catches this game, but you may get 12 the next, so you’ve just got to do your job on that play, and when the ball comes to you, make the play. And, I think the beauty of this offense is the ball gets distributed fairly evenly and when it happens, it happens. ... It’s just the way that the offense works is you’ve just got to continually do your job. There’s a quote by Ovid that I use: “In the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.” So, they’ve always go to have their hook baited, they’ve always got to run their route to max speed, they’ve always got to be blocking their guy exactly how they need to, because they never know where the ball is going to go. I think that’s the thing that we continually as coaches have to coach up and emphasize and make sure that we see. [If it’s] not happening on tape, that we point it out and show how it affects us.
HappyValley.com: One thing that’s clear over the last few years is how much players celebrate their teammates’ success. How much does that factor into players staying motivated even when they’re not getting the ball?
Ricky Rahne: I think it’s that shared suffrage; everyone sees guys working together. But, I think that’s it, they’ve watched guys grind and they’ve watched guy do things outside of the coaches’ eyeballs and how hard they’re working, and that’s why they’re so happy when those guys succeed. That’s a culture that we need to maintain, and that’s the thing I task our older players with all the time is, “Hey, if you’re going to go do something extra, bring somebody along with you, because one thing that you can really do is leave a legacy here. You know that the reason that guy is successful 5-10 years from now is the legacy of hard work you laid down now.” Our wide receivers, I think, are a great example of that. The legacy that Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton have put down with their hard work, that’s gone through to Juwan (Johnson) and DeAndre (Thompkins), and that’ll go through to our younger receivers.
HappyValley.com: How do you describe the progression of the offensive line over the last couple of years, and what’s the coaching dynamic like between you and Coach Limegrover, in that the offensive line has to be in sync with the offense you’re calling.
Ricky Rahne: I think Coach Limegrover is the best offensive line coach in the country, and I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve worked with some great ones. The thing I think that he does the best is [he] and I work together very well, and we’re able to have disagreements with each other and then come to a consensus. One of doesn’t just give up. We’re able to say “OK, I’m willing to accept your point because of this.” So yeah, we’ve got to be on the same page, that’s critical.
The development of our offensive line, the No. 1 thing that I’ve seen is age. We’re older. The narrative when we got here, we were young on the offensive line, and that’s not a knock toward Coach O’Brien because he didn’t have any scholarships. I mean, what are you going to do? So, as we have progressed, our offensive linemen have gotten older. You’re going to be a better offensive lineman when you’re older because you’re stronger, your technique is better, but also because you can anticipate things that the defense is going to do, and that allows you to play faster and play with more confidence. And, you know what your buddy is going to do because you’ve played next to him for a long time. I think that’s the thing that’s really happened with our offensive line, is they’ve been able to get into a groove. We’ve been in this system now for two years. A lot of these guys have grown up in this system, and so they start to know what’s going on, and that confidence and that experience has really helped us out.
HappyValley.com: Coaching with Coach Franklin for as long as you have, what stands out the most to you about the way he runs his program?
Ricky Rahne: I think part of it is just his expectations for everybody in the building. His expectation is for more. If we did this last year, then we need to do this, because in order for us to improve, we’ve got to get more. That might be to be more efficient, because at some point you run out of how many hours you can get. It might be being more efficient or it might be eliminating something or delegating something so you can do more and giving somebody else the opportunity to do more. He does a great job of that and always pushing the program forward, whether it’s from a facilities standpoint, whether it’s from a marketing standpoint or whether it’s internally, in terms of recruiting or strength and development.
HappyValley.com: With some new coaches joining the team since last season, how do you build chemistry among the coaching staff?
Ricky Rahne: Some of it is just in the office and getting to know guys, some of it is being together outside of the office. It can be as simple as having text chains with each other and you’re able to joke around with each other. There are a number of different things, and I think part of it is hiring people—which Coach Franklin does an outstanding job with—that are good people but also comfortable enough in their own skin to where they’re not too sensitive to criticism or they can take a joke. I think that’s one thing we do a good job with, we’re going to have fun...that’s something that I like to do. I chose this career because I love this game, and I love to have fun, and this is fun for me. I want other guys who feel that way, too, and it’s all right to joke around in the middle of a meeting. We have a bunch of smart people, and that also helps because you know everyone is pulling their weight.