The door is clearly open for Brian Hartline to become Ohio State’s offensive play-caller this season, but Ryan Day hasn’t made a final decision yet.
In his first press conference since promoting Hartline to offensive coordinator in January, Day confirmed he is considering giving up play-calling duties this season. Entering his fifth year as Ohio State’s head coach, Day believes it might be for the best if he delegates that responsibility, which would free him up to spend more time working with all areas of the team rather than spending the majority of his time working with the offense.
“I think when you, year after year, you sit down and you evaluate everything in the program, and certainly evaluate where college football is and demands of the job the way it is now as opposed to two years ago and four years ago … I have to look at time management,” Day said Wednesday. “I think that during the offseason, no problem at all. Beginning of the season, you know, pretty good. As we get to the middle of the season, end of the season, I feel like there's times where I have to manage my time a little bit better and make sure that as the head coach, there’s enough presence going around the building late in the season. And so trying to figure out how to best remedy that.
“Just making sure that I'm evaluating myself as the head coach the right way. And there's a lot of different things that are changing on a daily basis. And so whether that's giving up the play calling and letting Brian do it or not, we'll decide that here in the next few months, probably. But just trying to figure out how to do a better job of that.”
Day doesn’t plan to make a final decision on who will call offensive plays until after the conclusion of spring practices. The spring will serve as a test run of sorts for Hartline as an offensive play-caller, as Day plans to put Hartline in as many situations as possible where he’s going head-to-head with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles in order to evaluate Hartline’s readiness to call plays.
“What we're gonna do is go through the spring, talk to Brian about that and create some environments where we can call it – have Jim call it, have an opportunity for Brian to call it and then we'll come up for air at the end of the spring and kind of figure out what that dynamic looks like going into the preseason and then into obviously the season,” Day said. “So we won't decide on any of that now, but certainly give him an opportunity to kind of call it this spring and see how that goes.”
Hartline understands why Day doesn’t want to lock in who will call plays right now. He thinks the spring will be a great opportunity for him and Day and the rest of the offensive coaching staff to work through that dynamic.
“I mean, if I were coming in from out of the building, coming into this role, everything would be on the table the same way as it is now. But to kind of corner ourselves into a spot and then justify it one way or the other, we really didn’t want to do that,” Hartline said. “So everything's on the table. Looking forward to the opportunity this spring. I think just in general, though, I mean, in spring, the more opportunities we get the chance to play it as real as possible for myself and the young quarterbacks and everybody else, I think that serves everybody well.”
Hartline believes he would be ready to call offensive plays in a game right now if he was tasked with doing so, knowing he’ll still have Day in his ear to help him even if he becomes the lead play-caller.
“Pretty comfortable, just because of the surrounding party I have,” Hartline said. “I mean, I think that Coach Day has always done it at an elite level, we've always produced from a production standpoint offensively at an elite level. But the support staff I have around me really empowers me. So my confidence comes from having them. So I'd be very confident.”
Giving play-calling duties to Hartline would come with some degree of risk, given that Hartline has never been a play-caller before at any level. But Day felt comfortable making him the new offensive coordinator because of the growth he’s seen from Hartline over the past five years, particularly last year when Hartline was promoted to passing game coordinator.
“I challenged him about protections, challenged him about even learning about the run game. And I thought he did a great job of that as well,” Day said. “His knowledge of offensive football is excellent. And now he's got an opportunity to take that next step in his progression. I think that's natural for him. But I also feel comfortable, because I think we have a good staff in there.”
There will be no way of knowing for sure if Hartline is truly ready to call offensive plays until he actually has to do it. But Day is confident Hartline will learn quickly if Ohio State ends up going that route.
“There's a time where I had to call it for the first time, and then you make mistakes, and you learn,” Day said. “I think that's one of the things that Brian has done an unbelievable job of in his career. When are you really ready to call plays? I don't know. When are you ready to be a parent? When are you ready to buy your first house? You don't know, right? But you figure it out. You learn, make mistakes and you learn. Now it's time to really have an opportunity here this spring and hopefully in the preseason to do those types of things. And create game environments.”