Warinner Part of Ohio State’s Culture Change on Offense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even when he was coaching at Notre Dame, Ed Warinner would flick on the television each Saturday to see if Ohio State was playing.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That is something the Strasburg, Ohio, native also did as a player at the University of Mount Union, where he led the Purple Raiders in rushing yards, receptions and scoring as a senior in 1983.
Nearly 30 years later, Warinner is back in Ohio, this time coaching at the place he always dreamt he would one day be.
“Because Ohio State is a dream job, and I've always wanted to coach here, and this is home, I was excited about it,” Warinner said of his decision to leave Notre Dame.
“But I had a really good job, and I worked with good people and great players at Notre Dame. I have a family and any time you move a family and relocate and change jobs, there's a transition that is stressful.”
The 50-year old Warinner was the offensive line coach and run game coordinator in South Bend under Brian Kelly, but both he and Tim Hinton couldn’t resist the call to come home, especially when it came from a coach with a pair of BCS National Titles on his resume.
“So you evaluate that, but because it was Ohio State, because it was Urban Meyer, because of my love for this place, that made the decision when I made it—it didn't take long,” Warinner said.
“When I made the decision, I knew that's what I wanted to do, and I'm really excited that I did.”
Outside of Meyer—and possibly new offensive coordinator Tom Herman—Warinner might be the most popular new coach on Ohio State’s staff, even if fans don’t quite know his name just yet.
It has more to do with the coach he is replacing in Columbus.
Having long fallen out of favor as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator and line coach, Jim Bollman came under fire from the Ohio State fan base after he was left to run the offense without Jim Tressel in 2011.
The results were not good.
The Buckeyes finished 107th in total offense and 115 in passing offense this past season. Part of that was the forced change from senior quarterback Terrelle Pryor—who left in June—to backup Joe Bauserman, to freshman Braxton Miller.
It was a long, grueling process, but the Gator Bowl exposed the fact it wasn’t just the absence of guys like Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams that crippled Ohio State’s offense in 2011.
It was the offense itself.
While the Buckeyes did produce some effective offenses over the last decade, their success on that side of the ball was almost always predicated on having a few supreme athletes at the most critical skill positions.
Ohio State’s new offense will also look to have supreme athletes at those key positions, but it will certainly not stop there.
“Conventional football was you want to run power and you’ve got eight or nine offensive guys near the football. So they’re going to have nine or 10 defensive guys around the football. So it just becomes a lot of bodies,” Warinner said.
“Spreading them out kind of identifies how many guys you have around the box, how many people you have around the football. It makes it a little bit easier to identify who you’re blocking and where different defensive stunts and adjustments are coming. So spread is very varied and it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a finesse or throwing team. It just means that you’re spacing the field horizontally.”
That has been the key to Meyer’s success since he began formulating his plan for the spread offense during his final days as the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame. He met with a number of brilliant offensive minds, including Scott Linehan, who was coaching Louisville’s offense at the time. He would also meet with Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson—now the head coach at Indiana—and even Rich Rodriguez, who put together some dynamic offenses at both West Virginia and Michigan.
The words ‘spread offense’ have come with a certain connotation over the years. Many don’t think it can work in the Big Ten because of the conference’s physical nature. There were also plenty of folks who thought Meyer would be wildly unsuccessful at Florida because of the speed on defense in the SEC.
He won two BCS national titles and five bowl games using different variations of his spread attack, which blends together bits and pieces of different spread offenses he has studied around the country.
“There’s a lot of different definitions of spread and there’s a lot of different types of spread,” Warinner added.
“There’s a spread offense that maybe Mike Leach runs that throws the ball 55 times a game. Then there’s spread offenses that maybe Oregon runs where they run it 55 times a game, 60 times a game. So you can do whatever you want.”
Meyer has a basic plan for the offense he wants to run in Columbus. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman will add to that, but Meyer specifically wanted someone like Warinner to bring an outside perspective to what they are going to do on offense.
“It’s obviously going to be Coach Meyer’s offense,” said Warinner, who will also serve as co-offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes.
“He’s going to entrust Tom Herman and myself the responsibility of teaching it to the players and developing some things, enhancing it so to speak.”
Meyer has always been hands-on with the offense. The more he trusts his coaches, the more he allows them to run things with his supervision. He had that for many years with former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, which is something Meyer would like to recreate with his new offensive staff.
“He’s a part of it. We all have a role. Coach Meyer is first. Tom Herman is second. I’m third,” Warinner said with a smile.
“Then all the coaches are involved. It’ll be a combination of a lot of experienced people running a spread offense, putting together our minds and staying within the core beliefs of (Meyer’s) offensive system.”
Mixed with a little bit of good, old-fashioned Ohio State power football.
“We do believe you can run the ball in the spread offense. We do believe you can be physical up front. We do want to control the line of scrimmage,” OSU’s new run game coordinator said.
“Those are all tenants of his offensive system. In terms of running the football, yeah, we believe in that. We just probably won’t have as many people crowded around the box as maybe in the past. ... We’ll be strongly committed to running the football and being a very balanced team.”
That alone is music to the ears of Ohio State fans everywhere.
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