Brian Hartline is Ohio State's Best Option to Replace Zach Smith, For Now

By James Grega on July 23, 2018 at 8:39 pm
Brian Hartline

CHICAGO – Ohio State announced the firing of wide receivers coach Zach Smith on Monday night, leaving a vacancy on Urban Meyer's coaching staff just more than a month from the season opener against Oregon State. 

Since the season is so close to kicking off, Meyer likely won't have time to hire Smith's immediate successor, which leaves quality control coach and former Ohio State receiver Brian Hartline as the most logical choice. According to Lettermen Row's Austin Ward, that is already the route Ohio State is planning to take. 

Hartline was officially added to Meyer's staff in March of 2017 after his seven-year NFL career came to an end in May of 2016, when he was released by the Cleveland Browns. He spent the first six years of his professional career with the Miami Dolphins, compiling back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2012-13. 

Hartline, who played for the Buckeyes from 2005-08, is an Ohio native who played his high school football at Canton GlenOak, a staple in the most tradition-rich football county in the state. His already established relationship with the current wide receiver unit and playing experience makes a promotion, at least on an interim basis, a no-brainer for Ohio State. 

Hartline's Credentials

  • Ohio State wide receiver (2005-08)
  • Seven-year NFL veteran
  • Current Ohio State quality control coach

Should the Buckeyes make Hartline the interim wide receivers coach, he would likely have an entire season to make a case to be kept on permanently by Meyer, especially after the last few seasons in which the receiver play has come under much scrutiny. A productive year from the unit, with a first-year starter at quarterback behind center, could be enough for Meyer to remove Hartline's interim tag despite his inexperience as a coach. 

At age 31, Hartline would be the youngest position coach on staff and the youngest assistant Meyer has had at Ohio State since Smith, who joined Meyer's staff in 2012 at the age of 28. 

If Hartline doesn't work out, Meyer would immediately begin the search for a full-time replacement shortly after the upcoming season ends. If not Hartline, Ohio State has plenty of options.

One option Ohio State could entertain is bringing back Joker Phillips, who spent the 2016 season as an offensive quality control coach for the Buckeyes. The former Kentucky head coach (2010-12) has experience coaching at the NFL and college level and currently serves as the wide receivers coach for Luke Fickell at Cincinnati. 

A more likely option, however, would be to pursue Billy Gonzales, who is currently the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Florida. With a possible scenario of Ryan Day or Kevin Wilson soon leaving for a head coaching job, a spot could come open for Gonzales to take over the wide receiver unit as well as offensive play-calling duties. 

Gonzales served as the wide receivers coach at Florida under Meyer from 2005-09 and also has experience coaching in the Big Ten, having spent the 2012 season at Illinois. Before moving with Dan Mullen back to Gainesville, Gonzales was the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State from 2013-17. 

Corey Dennis
Corey Dennis, who currently serves as a GA at Ohio State, played WR at Georgia Tech and is also Urban Meyer's son-in-law.

Another name from Meyer's Florida past that could become an option is Zach Azzanni, who spent one season coaching wide receivers in Gainesville in 2010, and is currently the receivers coach for the Denver Broncos in the NFL. Azzanni spent the first 17 years of his coaching career in the college ranks, before leaving Tennessee in 2017 to take the wide receivers coaching job with the Chicago Bears. Azzanni also spent two years as a graduate assistant under Meyer at Bowling Green from 2001-02. 

Two names that could factor in as long-shot scenarios include Santonio Holmes and Corey Dennis. Holmes was seen around the facilities throughout the offseason, even on the sidelines in coaching gear for the 2018 Spring Game, working with the wide receivers. Dennis, who is also Meyer's son-in-law, played wide receiver at Georgia Tech and has served as a graduate assistant on Meyer's staff each of the last two seasons. Keenan Bailey, who currently serves as a graduate assistant working primarily with the receivers, could also be an option. 

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