Football

What a Short, Strange Trip It’s Been for Brian Hartline

Brian Hartline didn’t know it at the time, but four years ago this month his coaching career began.

In his first year of NFL retirement, Hartline was asked to come back to Ohio State and work on the scout team during bowl prep for the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson in 2016. It wasn’t all that unusual for former players to come back and help like this, and so Hartline grabbed an old helmet and shoulder pads from his basement and headed back to campus for the start of a homecoming unlike any other.

The game didn’t go as planned. Ohio State got shutout 31-0 by the Tigers. After the game, then-head coach Urban Meyer vowed that this would never happen at Ohio State again. Soon after, he made changes in his coaching staff, most notably bringing in Ryan Day to coach the quarterbacks and former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson to help Day run the offense.

With the changes, Meyer also asked Hartline if he’d be interested in giving coaching a shot. Hartline, who enjoyed his time helping out during bowl prep, declined. Ever the ace recruiter, however, Meyer asked again later in the winter and Hartline decided there would be no harm in simply dipping a toe in the water.

Almost immediately the wading pool wasn’t deep enough for him and so he was brought on as a quality control coach for the 2017 season. More of the same was expected the following year as he continued to build his coaching resume, but with the firing of OSU receivers coach Zach Smith, Hartline stepped in at the position he knows best, and the rest is history.

But it’s also the present and the future.

Hartline has said coaching quickly became “a calling,” and it’s hard to argue with him because if it was just a job, the results wouldn’t be so impressive.

In his first season as Ohio State’s receivers coach, Parris Campbell set an OSU single-season record with 90 receptions. He became the first 1,000-yard receiver for the Buckeyes since Michael Jenkins in 2002. Campbell was selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft and teammate Terry McLaurin was selected in the third round. Two or three years earlier, that may not have seemed possible.

In Hartline’s second season, KJ Hill left as Ohio State’s all-time receptions leader.

Much of the individual successes were due to an increase in passing from the Buckeyes and a perfect storm of selfless veterans who were ready to blossom, but it would also be disingenuous to only credit the circumstances and not the coaching.

Hartline’s impact since he suited back up for the Buckeyes four years ago hasn’t just taken place on the field. He is also now labeled as one of the nation’s best recruiters.

In his first full recruiting cycle, he finished as 247Sports’ No. 1 recruiter in the 2020 class, having been the primary recruiter for four top 100 receivers. He is currently ranked No. 4 for the 2021 class. And even though he is sitting in fourth on his own team for 2022, it’s important to remember that things are still early and his one commitment so far is from the No. 2 receiver in the nation.

For the second year in a row, Hartline signed the nation’s top receiver. Last year it was Julian Fleming out of Pennsylvania and this year it was Emeka Egbuka out of Washington. The Buckeyes also signed receivers Jayden Ballard and Marvin Harrison, Jr., who are both top 100 receivers in the 2021 class.

There may be no assistant coach in the nation operating at a recruiting level like Hartline. Since he was named OSU’s receivers coach, he has signed or received commitments from 10 wide receivers. All 10 have been Top 100 guys and half of them have been 5-star prospects.

Meanwhile, on the field this year, receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have both had All-Big Ten seasons. Both are averaging over 100 yards receiving per game, which is something that no Buckeye receiver has done since David Boston in 1998.

Hartline has been Ohio State’s wide receivers coach for roughly two-and-a-half years and none of it has yet to appear to be too much for him. Even though his career has not followed the paths of most others, the weeds have never been too tall for him to navigate.

This is also why Buckeye fans have already been asking themselves how much longer Hartline will stick around before moving on and moving up the coaching ladder.

Those may be uncomfortable questions to ask, but they’re much better than the alternative of wondering how much longer a guy is going to stick around and hamstring your program.

It may have been a phone call that brought Brian Hartline back to Ohio State four years ago, but it was a calling that kept him.

And that calling may keep him with the Buckeyes longer than you just might think.