STILLWATER — When Mike Yurcich was announced — via Twitter, no less — as Oklahoma State's new offensive coordinator last month, one simple question quickly became the overwhelming one.
Those in the media and blogosphere scrambled to gather the basics of his resume:
*Gaudy offensive numbers as the coordinator at Shippensburg University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania.
*One Division I coaching job in 13 seasons, a two-year stint as a graduate assistant at Indiana nearly a decade ago.
*A quarterback at a high school powerhouse in Ohio and at the University of California — in Pennsylvania, of course.
*Once diagramed plays using Star Wars Legos.
Yet much about Yurcich still remains a mystery. He has yet to meet face-to-face with local reporters, only holding his first teleconference since being hired last week. He still hasn't seen his players live in practice.
So who is this guy hoping to maintain OSU's wild offensive success first obtained under Air Raid guru Dana Holgorsen and continued under Todd Monken? The guy who will play a significant role in evaluating OSU's starting quarterback competition, a process that begins Monday when the Cowboys open spring workouts?
He's a coach who's proud of the unconventional road he's taken through college football's lower divisions and the people he's met along the way. And he's confident in the coach — and person — he's become.
“I am who I am,” Yurcich said. “I come from a background that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of.”
Growing up in the football-crazed Cleveland suburb of Euclid, it made perfect sense that Yurcich wanted to play the sport at an early age.
Earlier than he theoretically could.
The Christian Youth league in Ohio starts in sixth grade, with a pee-wee prep league available the year before.
Yurcich already wanted to hit the field as a third-grader. Because he went to a small elementary school, coaches went ahead and let him.
And his position was already set.
“He started off as a quarterback, right from the get-go,” said his father, Chuck.
Mike started playing organized basketball and baseball around the same age, with his dad sometimes serving as his coach. During down time, the father-son duo often went to games around town, where Mike already showed an interest in the strategy of sports.
“This is gonna sound silly, even when he was in grade school,” Chuck said. “He was interested in playing the game, but he was also interested in the strategy — what we were going to do to beat the other team.”
He also excelled at that playing the game thing, too. And he became popular with both kids and adults because of his engaging personality.
“He was always sort of ‘that' kid,” said Charlie Smialek, a longtime teammate and classmate. “The best way to describe it was he was a step or a half-step better than everybody else, really, from the age of probably 10 years old up until we graduated (high school).”
The good news for Mike? The high school program was one of the state's best in the early 1990s. The bad news? It primarily used a rushing attack, producing tailbacks that starred at the college level such as Robert Smith, Tony Fisher and Mike's teammate, Pepe Pearson.
Still, Mike's arm caught the early attention of offensive coordinator Roy Pignatiello. So much so that during a playoff game Mike's sophomore season, Pignatiello wanted to switch to the young quarterback at halftime because the opponent kept stacking eight defenders in the box to stuff the run.
That proposal was ultimately vetoed by Euclid head coach Tom Banc, but the offense belonged to Mike the next two seasons. Euclid still probably didn't pass as much as a teenage Mike would have liked, but Banc's trust in his quarterback was most displayed in allowing him to audible and call plays at the line of scrimmage.
“Very, very intelligent,” Banc said, “as well as gifted and a tremendous leader. That's why we allowed him to audible as much as we did.”
Smialek believes that if Mike was playing in today's high school offenses, he would have thrown for 4,000 yards and earned a Division I scholarship.
Instead, his playing career sent him to two smaller schools in Mount Union and California, which eventually led him down this coaching path.
Mike often found his mind drifting when he went to the library in between classes at Mount Union.
That's normal for a college kid. But he didn't doodle in his notebook. He diagramed plays.
“I really developed a passion for the game,” Mike said, “and coaching really intrigued me at that time.”
During those two years at the Division III power in his home state, Chuck remembers his son consistently speaking highly of the philosophies of legendary coach Larry Kehres. But it was Mike's next coach, Kevin Donley, who gave him his first coaching opportunity.
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