Skull Session: Advanced Metrics Name Brian Hartline a Top-10 Coach in College Football, Joe Burrow is a Big Tipper and Geno Smith Loves JSN

By Chase Brown on June 29, 2023 at 5:00 am
Brian Hartline

Welcome to the Skull Session.

It's Thursday. Let's throw it back.

“OHHHHHHH! WHAT A CATCH!” - Gus Johnson.

Let's have a good Thursday, shall we?

 THE BEST IN THE BIZ. Who is the best coach in college football? Some say Nick Saban. Others claim Kirby Smart. The sad and confused beckon others to accept Dabo Swinney. The fact of the matter is, however, that evidence to support Saban, Smart or Swinney as head honcho is scarce beyond wins and losses and championships.

But what if someone developed a way to look beyond that – to quantify a coach's performance with results on the field and player production by punching numbers into a machine and have it develop grades for a coach?

As it turns out, such a system exists. It's called the Coach Rating Index, developed by Matrix Analytical Solutions, and 247Sports' Brandon Marcello reported on its updated 2023 results this week.

Matrix Analytical Solutions [MAS] developed the Coach Rating Index [CRI] in 2009 to measure the careers of all on-field coaches, regardless of position. Matrix Analytical's data is not available publicly, but 247Sports was provided exclusive access to select data. MAS sells access to its data to athletic departments and coaches, which is usually utilized to better inform coaching searches across the FBS and FCS.

Only coaches with three-plus years of experience are ranked in an effort to provide context of a coach's abilities. Many coaches carry more than one title, but they are also only listed once in these rankings. For example: Lincoln Riley is rated in this top 10 as an offensive coordinator — not head coach — because he is the primary play-caller at USC (and previously Oklahoma). His grade as a head coach does not crack the top 10 overall, but his grade as a quarterbacks coach would also rank in the top 10 with a grade of 94.77, according to Matrix Analytical.

The CRI is "a massive grading system with over 30,000 individual unit profiles and over 250,000 annual coaching result reports. If a coach was designated in an on-field role in that time span in either the FBS or FCS levels, he is in the database with a career number rating & accompanying career star rating."

Position coaches are "graded on the cumulative play-by-play effectiveness of their unit." Coordinators are graded on per-play efficiency. Head coaches are "graded on their win and loss records broken down and weighted by difficulty/importance in nine distinct categories ranging from expected close margin games to how they perform in games with equivalent talent profiles." Coaches are obviously not on even playing fields. Coaches like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart obviously have more talented players than other coaches, and that is also taken into consideration in Matrix Analytical's ratings. "A coach's rating is weighted by the talent profile he had to work with in his career. Do more with less against rosters or units with more and the rating reflects that accordingly."

With that explanation in mind, here are the top-10 coaches in college football: Saban (duh), Wisconsin linebackers coach Mike Tressel, USC head coach Lincoln Riley (listed as an OC), Clemson defensive line coach Lemanski Hall, Stanford linebackers coach Bobby April III, Iowa special teams coordinator Levar Woods, Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee, Florida State head coach Mike Norvell (listed as an OC), Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker and...

Ohio State's number one boy, Brian Hartline. Here is Hartline's Coaching Rating Index grade and a small excerpt from Marcello:

10. Brian Hartline, Ohio State wide receivers coach (94.77 career grade)

Brian Hartline has recruited, developed and coached arguably the best group of receivers in college football over the past five years. Four of his players have earned All-American honors, and another (Jameson Williams) was a first-round NFL Draft pick after transferring to Alabama for one season.

Hartline has done all of the above since being promoted from analyst to receivers coach in 2018 at Ohio State. He has since been named 247Sports' Recruiter of the Year (2020) and one of AFCA's 35 Under 35 honorees. Three of his receivers were selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Four different Ohio State receivers have recorded 1,000-yard seasons in the last two years (Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Garrett Wilson).

This is some elite company for Hartline, as he appears in a top 10 that does not feature prominent names like Smart, Swinney or, heck, even Ohio State head coach Ryan Day.

Hartline has long been considered one of the best assistants in college football by humans, but the computers have now taken that a step further, claiming he is one of the best coaches regardless of position or title. That means a lot for the Buckeyes as they prepare for the 2023 season, in which the team's offense should be one of the most explosive units in the nation.

In other words, be prepared, Buckeye Nation. The 2023 edition of Ohio State should be lots and lots of fun.

 JOE BURROW, BIG TIPPER. Joe Burrow did not finish his college career at Ohio State but is still a Buckeye. Born and raised in Athens, Ohio, a quarterback at Ohio State and for the Cincinnati Bengals, being a Buckeye is in Burrow's blood. That's why people in "The Heart of it All" love him.

Or it's that he's a good dude. It could be that, too.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Burrow visited the Brown Bag Deli in Columbus, a restaurant located south of downtown in German Village, and ate sandwiches and baklava with a couple of friends on Friday. After the meal, Brown Bag Deli owner, Molly Merkle told Erica Thompson that Burrow left an extra chunk of change for her workers.

For almost $57 worth of food, which included four "Classic Clubs" with turkey, bacon and a garlic-herb mayo plus some dessert, he left an additional $50 – nearly an 88% gratuity. He also treated the staff exceptionally well during his visit.

“They just really emphasized how he was so polite and kind and obviously very generous with his tip, which is just lovely,” Merkle said. “He’s a great guy.”

With his rookie contract set to end soon, Burrow is expected to become one of the NFL's highest-paid players with a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars, likely in partnership with the Bengals. If that's the case, he will probably pick up some more lunch tabs in the future, and if the tips are that generous now, just wait.

Cheers to Burrow for first visiting the Brown Bag Deli – one of the best restaurants in Columbus – and, more importantly, for choosing to pay it forward. As I said, he's easy to root for. Moments like these make it that much easier.

 7/11 IS IN BUSINESS. This summer, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith has seen what Jaxon Smith-Njigba is capable of on a football field. And while Smith originally tempered his expectations for the former Ohio State wide receiver, he now can't help but marvel at what JSN has done this offseason.

This video posted by the Seahawks on Monday tells us more:

"How do you like that?" Smith said, bragging about Smith-Njigba to his teammates. "That was nice, right? He's good. That's our first-round pick right there. He's pretty good."

In a Skull Session many moons ago, I talked about how Pete Carroll has heaped praise upon Smith-Njigba since he arrived in the Pacific Northwest, calling him "just what we were looking for" in the 2023 NFL draft, according to the Seattle Times. JSN's fellow receiver, Tyler Lockett, was also quick to commend him for his efforts to that point.

“I think he’s going to be phenomenal, man,” Lockett said. “It’s always hard just being able to get adjusted when you first come in. But the way he runs routes, the way he’s understanding the way that [receivers coach] Sanjay [Lal] coaches, the sky’s going to be the limit. I think he’s going to be really good at all the things that the Seahawks — that we — want him to be able to do.”

That's full support from the team's head coach, wide receiver and quarterback within two months. That's pretty good!

It seems like JSN will be a perfect fit for Seattle, who – despite trading away Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson last summer – could make some noise in the NFC for the second consecutive season after reaching the NFL Wild Card Weekend with a 9-8 record in 2022.

 GOT A SILKY SMOOTH VOICE? The Ohio State athletic department is looking for individuals with distinguished vocal talent to become PA announcers and national anthem singers in 2023-24. Do you have what it takes?

 CUT TO THE CHASE. Space Disco Cowboy? Couples ditch traditional wedding dress codes in favor of out-there themes... California man gets prison for nearly $9M phony cow manure-to-green energy investment scheme... That’s no pizza: A wall painting found in Pompeii doesn’t depict Italy’s iconic dish... Forget MVP, Shohei Ohtani is building his case to become baseball's newest GOAT... The Great Return of Ryan Gosling.

View 39 Comments