Players losing their position coach on the eve of training camp would seem to be a recipe for disaster.
If that position is wide receiver, where the prima donna stereotype persists, the loss could even be magnified.
As you may have heard, Zach Smith is no longer the Ohio State wide receivers coach. As ugly as the story surrounding his departure has been, all signs are that Buckeyes receivers have weathered the process smoothly.
It helps that Smith’s replacement, Brian Hartline, was with the program last year in a background role and is a former Buckeyes and NFL receiver.
“Brian, on short notice, has stepped in and brought a lot of energy,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “He’s got great experience. He’s sat in their seats. He’s played wide receiver at Ohio State, he’s played in the NFL. So he has great experience that he can obviously relay to those guys. He’s done a great job so far.”
Hartline, 31, is a Canton native who helped Ohio State reach consecutive national championship games in 2006 and ’07. He then played seven years in the NFL, six with Miami and his final season with the Browns.
“He’s a really hands-on coach, really fiery,” senior receiver Terry McLaurin said. “He won’t accept anything less than our best — that goes from me down to our freshmen. He’s played the game and been in our shoes, and that’s encouraging to us as players because he has seen the game from our perspective. That’s new for us.”
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What has also helped the transition is that this wide receivers group defies the prima donna stereotype. Before his suspension, Urban Meyer said that that unit embodies the culture he wants the Buckeyes to have. Three of the team’s seven captains — McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell — are receivers.
“If you talk to Mick,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said, referring to head strength coach Mickey Marotti, “they’re unbelievable the way they train, the way they carry themselves.”
McLaurin said Hartline’s presence, even though he wasn’t the receivers coach at the time, was a factor in his decision to return for his senior season. The two worked hard on improving McLaurin’s footwork during the offseason.
McLaurin said that Hartline set the expectations for the receivers in his first meeting.
“He just said (his) job is to make sure we’re the best players we can be,” McLaurin said. “He said if he can do that, that’s all he cares about. He’s not in it for the money. He’s not in it for the title. He just wants us to be the best players and people we can be.”
In addition to the three captains, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack return from the Buckeyes’ receivers rotation from last year. Also on the depth chart are C.J. Saunders, who earned a scholarship after a breakthrough 2017 season, and impressive freshman Chris Olave.
Not surprisingly, the three receivers captains were more eager to talk about their excitement of the new year and new coach than about the ugly departure of Smith.
“I don’t want to go backward,” Campbell said. “The loss, we’re kind of moving on from it. Our focus is on being 1-0. We’re loving our coach and loving what we’re doing now.”