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Oklahoma State football: Mike Yurcich has made a name for himself in a small way

Yurcich was a well-known commodity at the small-school level. Now, he tries to do the same at Oklahoma State.
By Gina Mizell Published: March 11, 2013

Donley left California in 1997 to become the first head coach at an upstart program at Saint Francis, an NAIA school in Fort Wayne, Ind. He first brought Mike to the school as a graduate assistant and running backs coach in 1999. By 2002, Mike had been elevated to offensive coordinator.

“That was when I saw that this was obviously more than just playing and thinking about it as a hobby,” Chuck said. “This was now going to be serious.”

That gig sparked more than a decade of coaching at the lower levels, other than those two years at Indiana.

Mike downplays the struggles of those times, insisting he didn't feel like he was paying his dues and didn't fear he would get stuck in the Division II ranks.

“Good people are good people, and it's fun to be around them,” Mike said. “It's fun to see a young man grow from Point A to Point B and know that you had a little bit to do with that.

“That's really what it's all about at the end of the day. I don't care where you are at.”

But things are, of course, different in that world.

At Edinboro University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania that Mike coached at for six seasons, an offensive staff meeting often consisted of just him as the quarterbacks and receivers coach, and coordinator Scott Browning.

So Browning closely saw Mike's consistent, everyday growing process. It showed in his hours in the film room, in his phone conversations with other coaches about innovative tactics and in the way he worked with his players on the field.

“I saw a high-energy guy, a guy that coached with great passion,” said Browning, who promoted Mike to offensive coordinator when he became the head coach in 2006. “He was demanding of the players. He was very technique-conscious. And he's very detailed.

“It was very black and white what he wanted. When he coached a certain skill or task or technique, he was very clear in his mind and to the players what he wanted.”

Then the eye-popping numbers came at Shippensburg, particularly last season. Tops in Division II in total offense (529.92 yards per game) and second in passing offense (387.69 yards per game) and scoring offense (46.85 points per game). A Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II's equivalent of the Heisman, for quarterback Zach Zulli after passing for 4,47 yards and 54 touchdowns.

Even with all that success, Chuck said Mike was “always sending out resumes,” trying to find a situation where he could make a bigger impact. This past offseason, he was interested in the head job at John Carroll University, a Division III school near Cleveland.

Little did Mike know something better would be coming when OSU coach Mike Gundy called.


Mike Yurcich and Mike Gundy had no prior relationship before Gundy made that initial contact in early February.

Perhaps a mutual friend or colleague in the coaching world recommended Mike Yurcich. He's not sure. He's never asked.

But the interview process was pretty typical, yet fast. A couple phone conversations. An in-person interview in Stillwater. More phone conversations. Then an offer.

Chuck didn't even know his son was in contention for the job until Mike Yurcich called and said he had accepted the gig. And Mike Yurcich said he honestly never worried during the process about his status as a lower-division coach hindering his chances of landing the gig.

The past month has been understandably hectic for Mike Yurcich. He's got his wife, Julie, and two young children, Jack and Clay, moved to Stillwater. He's getting acclimated to a Cowboy coaching staff that has seen plenty of turnover this offseason. And he's devoted himself to learning the Air Raid spread, a system he says is similar to the one he ran at Shippensburg but still features plenty of new elements he needs to pick up.

The folks back home in Euclid, however, have been savoring Mike Yurcich's big break.

The news created a buzz in the hallways at the high school, where Smialek is now the principal and Pignatiello is still a teacher. It was recently a topic of conversation between Banc and a friend over breakfast, where they agreed that Mike Yurcich was the best quarterback Banc ever coached. And now, Smialek says the locals have a reason to watch the other OSU — as in, the school that isn't The Ohio State University.

When Mike Yurcich calls his first play for OSU's season-opener against Mississippi State in Houston, he'll still be a relative unknown. But many won't ultimately care who he is or where he coached before arriving in Stillwater. He'll be judged by his results.

Mike Yurcich is ready for that challenge.

“You work so hard for your whole entire career,” he said. “To see it flourish and to see an opportunity like this come my way, I couldn't be any more happy than I am right and now.”