Ohio State’s coaches spoke to the media last week, and a major topic was the discussion surrounding the Buckeyes’ play-calling duties. Ryan Day announced that Brian Hartline would call plays in the spring, creating an opportunity for the highly lauded receiver coach to further put his stamp on the program.
Day went into reasons Hartline was the right fit for a promotion to offensive coordinator, siting his NFL experience, his part in game-planning during the 2022 season, and his ability as a recruiter. The notion of passing the sticks is a shift in identity for Day, who has made his career in college football as a play-caller. With the changing landscape of the sport, the head coach has additional responsibilities in recruiting and roster management, leaving a short time to prepare for calling plays.
“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,” Day said during his media availability.
Even if a coach and program can’t directly partake in NIL, there are still a lot of aspects that this effects on a day-to-day basis. Combining that with the new transfer rules, and any coach in college football needs to be involved with all parts of the roster to have a more intuitive view in potential changes. The job of a head coach is always changing, and so are the needs of the program. That one more additional responsibility of play-calling is time consuming, and an art that can’t be rushed.
That is why Day is making the correct decision in moving on from play-calling, and taking the CEO role many play-calling head coaches take on too late.
The plan is simple: Day is giving Hartline the spring to test-pilot play-calling duties. The Buckeyes plan to run more competitive live periods of offense vs. defense, where both coordinators are scheming against each other. This is a significant opportunity for Hartline to learn, given his opposition on the defensive side in 34-year defensive coaching veteran Jim Knowles.
This may seem like a small ask when it comes to spring practice, but the importance of play-calling in any capacity is huge. Hartline will likely be responsible for coming up with the practice period scripts, building out the run game plan with new run-game coordinator Justin Frye, and taking on a larger role in managing all the groups on the practice field.
On the other side, this is a perfect time for Day to take a step back and truly evaluate the aspects of the team. Looking at Hartline, he will be a small part of how Day sees the offense develop without him calling the plays. He will still be the architect of the offensive plans and philosophies, but the more hands off approach will allow him to give input rather than having to make every little decision for the offense on a play-by-play basis.
From both a rhythm and coaching standpoint, play-calling is a role that should be taken on with full-time attention. When the defense takes the field, a play-caller is often still going over the next drive. Before the defense is off the field, the head coach’s attention shifts away from the now to the next offensive series. If a defensive issue arises, when is Day addressing that ? While he is addressing the issue, how much is preparing for the next series?
Those are the questions he is trying to find the answer for this offseason. When he talked about evaluating himself as a coach, he mentioned time management. During a 60-minute football game, that is equally as important to all of the day-to-day tasks a coach has to deal with during a practice week. Maximizing his time on the sideline during a game is something I think many of us expect, and by passing the play-calling baton, this should be the expectation.
Moving back to Hartline, this is a huge opportunity for one of the fastest rising coaches in the business. Day cited recruiting ability and his NFL experience as reasons he’s excited for Hartline in the OC role. Hartline comes into the spot with a quarterback competition — no pressure there at all to start the job. This also gives a natural place for a transition.
Whether the quarterback is Kyle McCord or Devin Brown, the relationship between offensive coordinator and quarterback is one of the most vital in sports. Understanding the skillset and limits a quarterback has is a challenge. Hartline will be dealing with two relatively different quarterback skillsets. This adds an important dynamic to play-calling.
For Hartline, he does have an incredible staff of experienced offensive minds around him and a load of talent to go with it. Running back coach Tony Alford as well as Frye have enough experience to aid Hartline in that area. Having Day to lean on is an added bonus in managing the quarterbacks and to lean on during games with input for play-calling decisions.
To me, Hartline getting the opportunity as the offensive coordinator wasn’t the most exciting hire. When Kirk Herbstreit talked about his conversation with Day giving up play-calling duties, I wanted a seasoned play-caller with a background in designing a dynamic running game due to the static nature in Ohio State’s. Instead the Buckeyes promoted from within, giving the position to a coach with a background in the same part of the game as the head coach giving him the opportunity.
At least with Kevin Wilson, he brought a different skill set at the time Urban Meyer brought him in with Day, and he also gave the Buckeyes a new dynamic zone running game. That’s where my questions with Hartline come into play. Outside of recruiting, he didn’t necessarily yell offensive evolution. But then I thought about why Hartline is a special receiver coach.
Hartline is a hardworking, personable coach who spent almost a decade in the NFL in a multitude of different offenses. In his time in the NFL, he learned more about football than many of us will ever know, and that experience is irreplaceable. Will all that translate to being a successful play-caller? We’ll find out. The real story though is he earned enough trust during the interview process and in his time at Ohio State to earn an opportunity to call plays.
That is no small feat given the stature of the man he is replacing in that duty. Ryan Day has called top-10 offenses every season he has been at Ohio State. Hartline is following those foot steps, and he has the man who built the offense behind him in the head coach who had to call plays for the first time once.
Day talked about that, discussing when a person is ready for calling plays, how do you know? The answer is you can’t, but now is the time to get a fresh set of eyes behind the wheel. That is why even the relatively small opportunity of calling plays in the spring can turn into a big one down the road.
Hartline will make mistakes, but at least there will be some freshness when it comes to the man in the booth. This will also give Day an opportunity to evaluate the program in a more holistic manner on and off the field. With Hartline being one of the fastest rising coaches in the country, the promotion and additional responsibilities just make too much sense.
Now there is another exciting story to follow. Hartline calling the plays will be a significant difference for the program. There will be bumps in the road, but the offense was stale these past couple of seasons barring the few games Day got additional time to prepare. Now they will have a coach whose sole job is preparing the offense. That sounds like a good deal to me, especially with the improvement we saw on the defensive side of the ball in 2022.
Ryan Day is showing a willingness to change the status quo of his program, moving on from past iterations of the Buckeyes in his tenure. With spring practice on the horizon, this is another story to follow — and we’ll get our first look at what the offense will look like with Hartline calling the plays April 15 during Ohio State’s spring game.