Positional coaches aren’t always the most talked-about members of a football organization, but oftentimes they are some of the most important. Whether it's revamping an entire unit, getting the best out of a player, or even just fixing certain aspects of an athlete's game, these coaches are instrumental to the progression and development of football players, particularly in college and their growing years.
At the NFL level, a couple of elite position coaches come to mind: Bill Callahan (Cleveland Browns OL), Mike Munchak (Denver Broncos OL), and Mike Kafka (Kansas City Chiefs QB) are just a few that pop up in discussions when attributing success to certain players and positions. But at the college level, I keep on coming back to one name that’s currently doing it better than anyone else: Ohio State WR coach Brian Hartline.
Whether it be his NFL experience and technical mind, or the current star receivers he’s producing at his alma mater, his switch from wide receiver to coach has been wildly successful thus far.
One of my biggest pet peeves in football is when people assume that to be a great coach you had to have been an elite Hall-of-Fame-level player. You don’t have to look further than Bill Belichick for that point to be proven wrong, but even going beyond that, coaching and playing are two entirely different jobs. It’s like saying that the smartest mathematician on earth would also be the greatest math teacher. It could be true, but the two require many different skill sets that have little overlap.
Hartline happens to be a great example of this, as even though he was a very successful NFL player (and carved out a longer and better career than the majority of pro athletes), he wasn’t a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens at the wide receiver position.
Without unreal size or speed, Hartline relied on the aspects he could control: quickness, toughness, efficient releases, crisp routes, pace, and all the technical aspects that come along with it. Coincidentally, these are all considered “coachable” skills, and the ones a positional coach has the most power over controlling.
With Hartline having to spend his whole playing career mastering these skills just to stay on a roster, already having these tools effortlessly in his back pocket is what made his transition from player to coach so effortless. And it’s also what has made it so easy for him to refine the skills of the wide receivers he works with.
Speaking of said wide receivers...
Already turning out Stars
Alabama seems to be “WRU” lately, given their three first-round picks at the position over the past few years, but the Buckeyes aren’t far behind—in no small part due to Hartline’s help. Whether it be Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, or current Ohio State pass-catchers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the Buckeyes have become a breeding ground for top-notch prospects.
Particularly zoning in on Mclaurin, his ascension from barely getting on the Buckeyes to bonafide NFL star has been an exceptional story, as is Olave’s from solid 4-star to potential WR1 in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Both have directly credited Hartline for their improvements in route-running and hand-eye coordination, and if you look at either of their scouting reports, some of the first things you’ll see are about the technical aspects of their games. From releases to routes they have it down pat, and Hartline has helped shape them from prospects to stars.
The phrases “technically sound,” “crisp,” “precise,” and “savvy” have become synonymous with Ohio State wide receivers, and if that isn’t a testament to Hartline’s work, I don’t know what is. Sure, Alabama has their 5-star speedsters who get all the attention, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Hartline is producing the most NFL-ready wide receivers right now and recruits are starting to take notice.
From 5-star sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba to 4-star freshman Marvin Harrison Jr. to future 5-star commitment Caleb Burton, youngsters are well-aware of his impact and influence, and Ohio State is slowly becoming wide receiver central for all top-level recruits.
He’s still "just" a position coach at his alma mater, but Hartline is shaping the future of the wideout position one route at a time. It's time we give him the credit he deserves.
- Dec 06, 2022
- Dec 05, 2022