STILLWATER, Okla. – Mike Yurcich realizes he has been given an opportunity many small-college coaches dream about.
Plucked from obscurity at NCAA Division II Shippensburg to become the offensive coordinator at Football Bowl Subdivision power Oklahoma State, Yurcich said Thursday he’s grateful to be where he’s at, while acknowledging he’s also somewhat anxious for the chance to show what he can do at college football’s highest level.
“That’s a big jump, when you (work in) Division II and now you’re in the Big 12 and you see the guys that are on the roster here,” Yurcich said during head coach Mike Gundy’s annual media outing at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
“They’ve done a heck of a job recruiting. You try not to let your jaw hit the ground, that sort of thing, but our guys are the best in the country. It’s very special for me to be able to coach that type of athlete.”
Except for a two-year stint as a graduate assistant at Indiana, Yurcich has been a small-college lifer. He played at Division III Mount Union (Ohio) and Division II California (Pa.), then began his coaching career as running backs coach at St. Francis (Ind.). After that, he spent six years at Edinboro, becoming the offensive coordinator in 2006.
In 2011, he became Shippensburg’s offensive coordinator and his first team set school records for points, touchdowns, total plays, first downs and total offense. His second Shippensburg team led Division II in total offense at 529.2 yards per game, was second nationally in scoring (46.9 points per game) and passing offense (387.7 yards per game).
Those numbers – along with the fact Yurcich ran a system similar to that run by Oklahoma State’s two most recent offensive coordinators, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken – caught Gundy’s attention after Monken left to become the head coach at Southern Mississippi.
“When you have a pool of coordinators to choose from, and then you see how many of those guys will run the offense that we have and not their own system, that pool decreases dramatically,” Gundy said. “We wanted a play caller with quarterback experience. Played the position. Coached the position. Coached wide receivers. Had been in a fast-paced offense. So it was really a good fit for us and I liked his personality when I spent time with him.”
The biggest adjustment, Yurcich said, has been in the amount of resources available at the major-college level. He specifically noted Oklahoma State’s strength and conditioning program as “one of the major things that really stuck out. It’s really relative. I think all of the positions are bigger and stronger.”
Gundy acknowledged that not a lot of Division II coaches ever make the jump to the major-college level. He said that’s because major-college head coaches and athletic directors often don’t want to take a chance on a small-college coach “that, in somebody’s opinion, may be unproven. It’s easier to hire somebody that everybody says, `That’s a great hire’ that doesn’t work. Then people can say, ‘He was the best guy out there. I don’t know why it didn’t work.”’
Yurcich worked with the Cowboys during spring practice and said he learned a lot about Oklahoma State’s offensive system – installed by Holgorsen and tweaked by Monken – from talking with returning quarterbacks Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh while watching film with them.
Yurcich said the gist of the no-huddle system he ran at Shippensburg and the one already in place at Oklahoma State is the same.
“What we try to do is spread the ball out and make sure we’re attacking the defense horizontally and vertically at the same time with tempo,” he said. “That’s really important there. A lot of (the differences are) semantics.”
At its core, “football is football,” he said. “Football coaches understand that it’s still a game. Different stage. But they understand what it is.”
The last four men to serve as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator have gone on to become head coaches - Gundy, Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Holgorsen (West Virginia) and Monken.
Gundy noted that it’s a high-profile job but expressed confidence in Yurcich.
“In the end, he’s here to coach football and teach and develop young men and he’s done that for a number of years,” Gundy said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be at this level for a long time, but I have recruited high schools for a long time. I’ve followed and been in some NFL camps and practices and watched and I think coaching and teaching is the same.
“It is a big jump. You don’t see a number of guys go from that level to our level. But he’s done very well. He’s been very humble. He listens well. He’s a diligent worker and it’s important to him. I think he’ll do fine.”