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You’re Nuts: Which assistant coach promotion will be more impactful for Ohio State?

Brian Hartline, Justin Frye and Keenan Bailey will each have more responsibilities in 2023.

Michigan State University vs Ohio State University Set Number: X164186 TK1

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Which assistant coach promotion will be more impactful for Ohio State?

Josh’s Take

Ryan Day handed out two important promotions this past week, one of which made national headlines.

Brian Hartline, former wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator, was elevated to offensive coordinator, ending weeks of speculation. Offensive line coach Justin Frye was also given the additional responsibility of run game coordinator, a title last held by running backs coach Tony Alford.

Lots of moving and shaking, and barring any unforeseen changes, Ohio State will begin the 2023 season with most of its offensive staff taking on new or additional responsibilities.

Day also promoted Keenan Bailey to tight ends coach in December, for a total of three significant changes made to his coaching staff since the end of the 2022 regular season. Significance can be debated, seeing as though all moves were promotions from within, but it is clear that Day favors chemistry and relationships over taking big swings. And personally, I am fine with that.

Hartline’s promotion to OC received most of the attention, for good reason. He is a former Buckeye wideout, has grown up (as a coach) on the Ohio State sideline, and is widely regarded as one of the best position coaches and recruiters in college football. There have been rumors of other schools attempting to poach Hartline for what seems like forever, but he has chosen to stay committed to OSU, and now gets rewarded with an opportunity to (potentially?) call plays and take his own coaching career to the next level. Buckeye Nation hopes that he can do for the offense what he has consistently done for its wide receivers.

However, nothing is guaranteed. Hartline’s promotion, while earned, still leaves plenty of questions. Will Ryan Day pass the play-calling sticks? Can Hartline excel if given those responsibilities, even though he has never called plays before? And will the Ohio State offense suffer as a result of this shakeup? All good questions, but hypothetical at best and not likely to be answered any time soon.

Regardless of how the Day-Hartline dynamic ultimately plays out, the former WR coach will have a much larger impact on next year’s offense. But will his promotion be the most impactful in 2023?

I think not, Gene! Because I just do not believe that Day is going to hand over the keys to the offense. At least not yet. I find it more likely that he continues to call plays for at least one more season, while bringing Hartline along slowly. The latter will certainly have a voice, but I do not see him essentially going from 0-to-60 as the maestro of the Buckeyes’ offense.

For that reason, I predict Frye’s promotion to have more of an impact on the 2023 team. Unlike Hartline, OSU’s offensive line coach and new run game coordinator (RGC) has called plays before — under Day’s mentor, as a matter of fact! So although he did not get the big bump to OC, I could actually see Frye being handed complete control of the Buckeyes’ running game. I mean, it is sort of implied in the title, right? And with that control, he could help reinvigorate a facet of Ohio State’s offense which was lacking in big games.

Frye could essentially take half “ownership” of the OSU offense, with Day and Hartline combining to take over the rest. I know it sounds odd, given his (Frye) lesser title, but go with me here... HC and OC – Day and Hartline – would own the passing game and situational play calling, leaving Frye to his own devices with the ground attack... Sort of like “Hey, we are going to call a lot of your plays, make sure they look good and/or gain yards when we do.”

Because Frye does not need to be babysat. He knows a thing or two about orchestrating a potent rushing attack. In 2019, during his first season as OC at UCLA, the Bruins improved their rushing average by 40 yards per game. In both 2020 and 2021, the team finished inside the top-14 nationally (same statistic).

And as if Frye’s recent success were not impressive enough, Day also watched him work wonders as a RGC in the past. Both were on the Boston College staff in 2013, when Frye designed a run game which allowed Andre Williams to go for 2,000 yards and take home the Doak Walker award — the first and only time it has ever been awarded to an ACC running back.

I think – and hope – that Hartline will eventually become a great OC. He has succeeded in football at every level, and this promotion seems like the next step in his coaching evolution. But it is something he has never done before. Whereas Frye is sliding back into a familiar role. A role in which he has previously prospered. And the Buckeyes need him to do so again, if they want to use their stable of RB in the best way possible.

So I like both of these coaching moves, but I predict that one will yield immediate results over the other.

Gene’s Take

Like Josh, I think the promotion of Frye to run game coordinator is very significant. Ryan Day is a genius when it comes to quarterback play and passing the football, but he is lacking when it comes to designing a diverse and effective run game. Some of those flaws have been hidden by the talent at running back that Ohio State has had during Day’s tenure, but lately those shortcomings are becoming more and more apparent, specifically in short-yardage situations against the best teams on the schedule.

As a former Chip Kelly disciple, working with the offensive mastermind at UCLA from 2018 until his hiring at Ohio State in 2022, Frye can bring more in-depth and nuanced conceptions to the Buckeyes’ rushing attack. He has experience working with both gap and zone blocking, and understands the importance of creating numbers advantages for the running backs.

Whether he is able to do that with basically a brand new offensive line in 2023 remains to be seen, but anything more than just inside zone and stretch runs will be a huge upgrade — especially given all that returns to the RB room in Columbus next year.

Simply for argument’s sake, I will take the stance that because of the lack of experience up front on Ohio State’s offensive line, which will lose three of its five starters, Frye might not be able to do everything he wants from a blocking standpoint in his first year in charge of the rushing attack.

Brian Hartline, on the other hand, returns all of his top weapons from the 2022 season, including a guy who should already be playing on Sundays in Marvin Harrison Jr. and a strong supporting cast among the likes of Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson. For that reason, I think Hartline’s promotion will be more impactful in 2023.

For starters, nobody understands the strengths of each specific wide receiver more than Brian Hartline. Ohio State has done a much better job recently of playing into those strengths, as I’m still getting flashbacks of them trying to turn 6-foot-4 Binjimen Victor into a bubble screen guy, but they can hone those skillsets even more with Hartline getting more of a say in the play calls.

Ohio State lost a lot of what made their passing attack so lethal this past season when they went away from attacking the middle of the field. Gone were the slants and mesh concepts that helped them to drop 60+ points on some good Michigan teams. The passing attack was still really good, don’t get me wrong, but it felt like they were unnecessarily hamstringing themself at times by not taking some of the easy yardage they could get over the middle and instead opting to throw behind the line or take deep shots that left them behind schedule.

Like Josh said, I doubt Hartline will get to take over full play-calling duties right away in 2023, but I do think his input will be significant. Using guys like Harrison Jr. and Egbuka in specific ways keyed to their strengths will make two stellar wide receivers look even better, and maybe they will find more ways to use a guy like Johnson who excelled for the Buckeyes this year every time his name was called despite getting very limited touches.

Ohio State will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new offensive line, so getting that passing game going early will be of massive importance. We know it is the defense that needs to take a significant step next season in order for the Buckeyes to really maximize their potential, but the brain trust of Day and Hartline have the possibility to put together a truly lethal offense that could maybe make up for some of the shortcomings on the other side of the football.