Brian Hartline Needed Less Than Five Months to Prove He Belonged on Ohio State’s Coaching Staff

By Dan Hope on December 10, 2018 at 2:24 pm
Brian Hartline

Less than five months after he was named as Ohio State’s interim wide receivers coach in July, Brian Hartline became a permanent member of Ohio State’s coaching staff on Saturday.

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins felt Hartline shouldn’t have even had to wait that long.

“He’s a really great coach,” Haskins said Saturday night prior to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York. “Great person. Thought he should have been named a little earlier. But he’s been a great coach for our receivers, bringing a lot of leadership for them. Those guys look up to him a lot, and he comes to work every day with a chip on his shoulder, and I know he’s going to be a really great receivers coach.”

Before this summer, when Hartline was called upon to coach the receivers for the 2018 season following the abrupt dismissal of former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, Hartline had never been a full-time position coach at any level. He joined the Buckeyes’ staff as a quality control coach in 2017, but that was the very beginning of his career as a coach, following seven seasons playing wide receiver in the NFL.

That makes Hartline far less experienced in coaching than the usual position coach hired by Ohio State.

Even so, new head coach Ryan Day’s decision to name Hartline was viewed as almost entirely uncontroversial.

In a season during which Ohio State drew its fair share of criticism both on and off the field, Hartline has seemingly drawn universal praise for his work with the Buckeyes’ wide receivers, who have been arguably the team’s most impressive position group this season outside of Haskins.

“His efforts coaching the wide receivers this season are a huge reason we are Big Ten champions and headed to the Rose Bowl,” Day said in a press release announcing Hartline’s promotion.

“Those guys look up to him a lot, and he comes to work every day with a chip on his shoulder, and I know he’s going to be a really great receivers coach.”– Dwayne Haskins on Brian Hartline

Ohio State’s wide receivers have demonstrated clear improvement this season, particularly the Buckeyes’ top four receivers – fifth-year seniors Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon and fourth-year junior K.J. Hill – who have all taken their production to new levels in 2018.

Ohio State's Top Four Receivers, 2017 vs. 2018
Receiver 2017 Stats 2018 Stats
PARRIS CAMPBELL 40 receptions, 584 yards, 3 touchdowns 79 receptions, 992 yards, 11 touchdowns
K.J. HILL 56 receptions, 549 yards, 3 touchdowns 65 receptions, 811 yards, 6 touchdwns
TERRY MCLAURIN 29 receptions, 436 yards, 6 touchdowns 34 receptions, 669 yards, 11 touchdowns
JOHNNIE DIXON 18 receptions, 422 yards, 8 touchdowns 40 receptions, 642 yards, 7 touchdowns

True freshman wide receiver Chris Olave has also developed over the course of the season to become an impact player for the Buckeyes down the stretch, catching three touchdown passes (and seven total receptions for 127 yards) between Ohio State’s last two games against Michigan and Northwestern.

That’s not all because of Hartline. Campbell, McLaurin, Dixon and Hill are all hard workers who likely would have continued to improve regardless of who their position coach was. Olave, meanwhile, began making an impression on his teammates and coaches as soon as he has arrived on campus this summer, demonstrating that he was ready to play before he had even much chance to work with Hartline.

“I think he was better than me, Parris and Terry just coming in right away,” Dixon said earlier this year. “I haven’t seen a guy come in like that yet. Chris was a dude that turned everybody’s heads … From day one, he jumped in, you could tell that he could play.”

Of course, there might not have been any bigger boost to the wide receivers this season than the play of Haskins at quarterback, as he rewrote Ohio State’s single-season record books with the most prolific passing season in school history.

That said, Haskins believes Hartline deserves credit, too, for helping Ohio State’s offense become one of the nation’s most prolific this season, particularly in the passing game (the Buckeyes rank second in the nation in both total yards per game and passing yards per game).

“I’m really close with the receivers and offensive line. So me going back and forth with (offensive line coach Greg Studrawa) about protections and walking over to Coach Hartline, talking about plays that will work for certain coverages and ask for receivers’ opinions, he always gave great insight, always gave me great information as far as timing and then knowing where the ball should be in certain plays and certain routes,” Haskins said. “And him having played in the NFL, he knows what it looks like, so he helps out a lot.”

With Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon all set to play their final games as Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, and Hill and Haskins also among those who could potentially leave early for the NFL, Hartline could face a tougher challenge in 2019 in that he will not have as many experienced leaders at his position, while the Buckeyes could also be breaking in a new starting quarterback.

Hartline has already demonstrated that he belongs on Ohio State’s coaching staff, though, by stepping into what was certainly a challenging situation – becoming the wide receivers coach just eight days before the start of fall camp, in a season that began with Day also serving as acting head coach while Urban Meyer was suspended for three games – and helping what had been considered one of Ohio State’s more underwhelming position groups into one of its biggest strengths.

Additionally, he’s shown that he can be successful on the recruiting trail, landing a pair of commitments from four-star receivers this season in 2019 target Jameson Williams and 2020 target Jaxon Smith-Njigba, while also solidifying the commitment of five-star 2019 receiver Garrett Wilson. Whether he can continue to attract top receivers to Columbus will ultimately play a huge part in his long-term success as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach, but he’s off to a promising start.

Now that he is officially a member of Ohio State’s full-time coaching staff, he joins a long line of former Ohio State players who gone on to launch their coaching careers at their alma mater. The two most recent former Ohio State players to serve as full-time assistant coaches for the Buckeyes, Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel, have since gone on to become head coaches elsewhere, with Fickell leading the program at Cincinnati and Vrabel leading the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

At just 32 years old, Hartline could have the opportunity to follow a similar path going forward if he continues to succeed as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach.

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