Brian Hartline had often been told he’d be a good coach when his playing career was over.
But he’d also been coached long enough to know how devoted coaches have to be and the toll the job can take.
“Coaches are nuts,” Hartline said a month ago on WNPQ’s Big Time Sports Radio show out of New Philadelphia, Ohio. “I always thought, ‘Nah, I don’t know if that’s for me.’”
But after the former Ohio State receiver’s seven-year NFL career ended with the 2015 season, he realized he missed the game, he said. He missed the constant striving for self-improvement.
He spent last year as a quality-control coach for the Buckeyes.
On Thursday, three days after Urban Meyer fired receivers coach Zach Smith, he named Hartline as interim receivers coach.
“He’s got the potential to be an excellent coach,” Meyer said of Hartline on Tuesday in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
Meyer said he can be wary of hiring former NFL players as coaches. He questions whether they can embrace the grunt work that comes with paying dues as a low-level assistant. But Hartline proved he was no prima donna.
“Wonderful guy and works his tail off,” Meyer said. “Brian Hartline is a very important part of our staff.”
Hartline, 31, is a Canton native who played for Ohio State from 2005 to '08 and helped the Buckeyes reach consecutive national title games, in 2006 and ’07. The Miami Dolphins selected him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. He caught 344 passes for 4,766 yards and 14 touchdowns during his career, which ended with the Browns in 2015.
“I was always told that I could probably be a good coach,” Hartline said in the radio interview. “I was always a guy in the room who enjoyed helping the other men in the room and making them better and being a conversationalist (discussing) why we do this.”
After his playing career ended, he realized how much he missed the competition.
“Fun is winning,” Hartline said in the radio interview. “Fun is competing. Fun is seeing yourself get better. Fun is being challenged day in and day out, being critiqued at a high level. That’s fun. If your idea of fun is running around and giggling and not being pushed and not wanting to work hard, then go race motorized carts, I guess, or something that’s a hobby.”
Meyer said Hartline has developed a strong rapport with Ohio State’s receivers.
“The NFL is instant credibility, especially for a guy who’s a made player,” Meyer said. “I’ve studied Brian Hartline. The reason he survived (seven) years is that he outworked everybody. It wasn’t because he was a 4.2 (40-yard dash) guy or some specimen athletically. So I have a lot of respect for him, and so do our players.”
One of Hartline’s big challenges if he is to earn the removal of the interim tag on his job title is proving himself on the recruiting trail. Zach Smith was highly effective as a recruiter.
Hartline will inherit a deep group of receivers. The top six in last year’s rotation return.
“The depth we have at receiver is unparalleled, almost to the point where it’s difficult,” Hartline said. “Having six or seven guys rotating through the lineup can be a benefit and a bonus, but it also can be a detriment. It’s hard to get in rhythm at times. It’s hard for guys to come back from a bad play. You have to play with that. But the depth of our room is very important.”
Ohio State also announced the promotion of third-year assistant Corey Dennis to a senior quality-control position working with receivers and quarterbacks. He worked with the receivers the past two years as a graduate assistant and had been working with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day this year.
Dennis, who played at Georgia Tech, is Meyer’s son-in-law. He is married to Meyer’s daughter Nicki, and they have one son.