New Minnesota Golden Gopher head football coach P.J. Fleck has officially announced the hiring of nine assistant football coaches.
Kirk Ciarrocca, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach
Ciarrocca has been the offensive coordinator for Fleck since he took the helm at Western Michigan four years ago. He is a graduate of Temple University, where he started out his coaching career as a graduate assistant from 1990-91. Ciarrocca split the next two years as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at two different programs, Western Connecticut State and Delaware Valley College. He returned to Western Connecticut State in 1994 to serve as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and wide receivers coach for two seasons, before moving on to coach wide receivers at Princeton from 1996-99. After a two-year stop at the University of Pennsylvania as wide receivers coach, Ciarrocca accepted the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach position at Delaware, where he would mentor a quarterback by the name of Joe Flacco during his six seasons with the program. In 2008, Greg Schiano hired Ciarrocca as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rutgers, where he remained through 2010. Before arriving at Western Michigan, he split the next two years at Richmond as quarterbacks coach and at Delaware as running backs coach, respectively.
Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach
Smith has served as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for Bret Bielema and the Arkansas Razorbacks the last three seasons. His coaching career began at Iowa, where he was a defensive graduate assistant and quality control assistant from 1999-2001. In 2002, Smith was hired to coach defensive backs at Maine, where he would be promoted to associate head coach and defensive coordinator in 2006. He held that position at Maine until 2009, when he was hired at Rutgers under then head coach Greg Schiano. At Rutgers, Smith coached linebackers and special teams in 2009 and 2011, and coached cornerbacks and special teams in 2010. In 2012, Smith served as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He would follow Schiano to the NFL the next year as linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Kenni Burns, Running Backs Coach
Last season at Western Michigan was his first coaching under Fleck. Burns is no stranger to the Big Ten, having played running back at Indiana from 2003-06. His coaching career began as a running backs coach at Millersville University in 2007, before spending two seasons at Southern Illinois as tight ends coach. He landed at North Dakota State in 2010, where he coached wide receivers and won three consecutive national championships in three seasons. He followed NDSU head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming in 2014 and served as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator for one season with the Cowboys.
Matt Simon, Wide Receivers Coach
Simon is an Edina native who coached wide receivers under Fleck at Western Michigan the last three seasons. Like Fleck, Simon was a wide receiver at Northern Illinois. His coaching career began at his alma mater as an offensive quality control assistant in 2010. He left the Huskies a year later to coach tight ends and special teams at the University of St. Thomas right here in Minnesota. In 2012, he was hired at Rutgers as a player development assistant, assisting the coaching and academic personnel in day-to-day duties, scouting, film breakdown, and game plans. He was promoted to wide receivers coach in 2013 before being hired by Fleck a year layer.
Brian Callahan, Tight Ends Coach
Callahan spent the last four seasons coaching the offensive line at Western Michigan under Fleck. His college coaching career began in 1994 as a graduate assistant at Louisville, Oklahoma, and then Pittsburgh, spending a season at each stop. His first offensive line coaching gig was at Northern Michigan, where he spent two seasons, one as recruiting coordinator in addition to offensive line coach. In 2000, Callahan was hired as tight ends coach at Texas El-Paso, before switching over to offensive line for the next three seasons. He left to coach offensive line and serve as run game coordinator at Akron in 2004, where he spent six seasons with the Zips. From 2010-12, Callahan was the offensive line coach at Eastern Illinois before joining Fleck.
Ed Warinner, Offensive Line Coach
Warinner comes to Minnesota from Ohio State, where he spent five seasons as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach (although he coached tight ends last season, rather than the offensive line). After 33 years in this profession, Warinner is a well-traveled coaching veteran. His career started as a running backs coach at Akron in 1984, before moving onto Michigan State coaching linebackers and defensive backs for two seasons. Warinner then spent the next 13 years of his career at Army, where he coached a number of different positions before serving as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1998-99. He coached offensive line at Air Force from 2000-02 before landing his first Power 5 gig at Kansas as offensive line coach and run game coordinator. He left after two seasons for the same position with Illinois, but lasted two seasons before returning to Kansas as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2007-09. Before being hired at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, Warinner spent the next two seasons at Notre Dame as offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
Bryce Paup, Defensive Line Coach
Paup spent the last four seasons as the defensive line coach at the FCS program Northern Iowa. He played linebacker at UNI from 1986-89, before moving on to an 11-year career in the NFL. Paup was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and even earned defensive MVP honors in 1995 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. His coaching career began as the head football coach at Southwest High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Paup coached there from 2007-12.
Maurice Linguist, Defensive Backs Coach
Linguist departs Mississippi State after one season coaching safeties under head coach Dan Mullen. He was a four-year letterwinner as a strong safety at Baylor from 2003-06, where he earned an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection and was named Academic All-Big 12. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 2007, before moving on to coach defensive backs and special teams at Division II program Valdosta State for a year. From 2009-11, Linguist coached safeties for FCS program James Madison, then assumed the role of defensive passing game coordinator at Buffalo from 2012-13. He landed his first Power 5 gig at Iowa State, where he served as defensive passing game coordinator from 2014-15.
Rob Wenger, Special Teams Coordinator
Wenger was a grad assistant at Western Michigan under Fleck in 2013 before being promoted to defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator the following season. His coaching career started at Rutgers from 2008-09 as an operations and player development assistant. Wenger was hired in 2009 as an assistant coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where he also served as defensive coordinator for two seasons. He also spent a couple seasons as an assistant coach and one as a defensive coordinator at Allegheny College.
One thing to remember: The NCAA is in the process of approving a 10th assistant coach, with it expected to be made official this spring. Don’t be surprised if that 10th assistant coach at Minnesota is former linebackers coach Mike Sherels.
In the coming days, I’ll be taking a closer look at both coordinators — and potentially each assistant coach — to give you a better idea of what to expect from this coaching staff. So keep an eye out for that in the near future.