COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer saw remaking a clumsy offensive line as the most important challenge of his first season at Ohio State, and he knew just the type of guy for the job.
“My vision of a line coach is the toughest guy on your staff," Meyer said.
He found his man in Ed Warinner — and his players’ ears have not stopped ringing since.
Meet the in-your-face intellectual behind the most dramatic transformation on the sixth-ranked Buckeyes.
Remember last winter when Meyer labeled the line “non-functional?” Not anymore. The same unit that yielded 46 sacks last season — the most by a Big Ten team in four seasons — and lost three starters who signed with NFL teams is now a cornerstone strength.
Anchored by left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort, the crew of four juniors and a senior has kept quarterback Braxton Miller safer in the pocket and cleared room for one of the country’s top rushing offenses. The Buckeyes’ 248 ground yards per game is fourth-most among BCS schools.
“That’s the whole reason why we are where we are today,” Meyer said recently of the line, which has allowed just 18 sacks through nine games. “Tell it the way it is. Our offensive line is coming on.”
Can a new staff and, more specifically, one man really make all the difference?
“Well, Ed Warinner can make that difference,” former Kansas coach Mark Mangino said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There may be a lot of folks in the state of Ohio that are surprised, but I’m not. I liked Ed so much, I hired him twice at Kansas.”
Players say the 51-year-old Warinner is just who they needed, though the transition from more understated former line coach Jim Bollman took some time. It did not help that a handful of linemen missed Meyer’s first team meeting and a couple showed up late for the second.
“He was a cool guy, easy to talk to, good dude when I first met him,” center Corey Linsley said of Warinner. “Then they all kind of found out about the offensive line — not that he didn’t know coming in — but coach Meyer really exposed our reputation as soft, lazy, not playing up to our ability, and the true coach Warinner came out – the motivator, the screamer. He’s a yeller and a motivator, that’s what he is. It’s made us all better.”
Linsley learned Warinner yelled “because he loves you,” and found it easy to fall in line behind a coach who seemed to know everything.
Meyer said Warinner reminded him of Steve Adazzio, a former Florida assistant who progressed from line coach to offensive coordinator and is now head coach at Temple. Warinner was also given the title of co-offensive coordinator.
“I wanted to hire a tough guy that's very involved in the game-planning, because sometimes line coaches just go live in their world,” Meyer said. “The thing I liked about Ed Warriner is he was the offensive coordinator at Kansas when they went to the Orange Bowl. He's got a great concept of the big picture.”
A Strasburg, Ohio, native who played running back at Mount Union, Warinner immediately gained Mangino’s full trust at Kansas. Mangino, who was the offensive coordinator of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team, felt comfortable delegating more than usual to his tireless assistant.
Warinner was the coordinator in 2007 when the traditionally doleful Jayhawks averaged a national-best 42.8 points per game and went 12-1. The next season, he was a finalist for the American Football Coaches Association’s national assistant of the year award.
“I told him exactly what I was looking for, all the details, the philosophy, the particulars,” Mangino said of Warinner, who served as his offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. “Ed was such an intelligent guy and great football mind that he put together things perfectly in the vision I had. I was astonished. Every detail that I had talked about, he not only implemented it but he made it better.
“He can take a play and watch it on tape and critique all 11 guys from the very first step they take to the way they finish the play. Ed could critique one play for an hour if you allowed him to. But I told him, ‘Our coaches have to go home to bed and get some rest, and see their families.”
Mangino said he sees Warinner as a head coach someday, as do others. Rivals.com last year named Warinner, who spent the last two seasons coaching the offensive line at Notre Dame, as one of the top 20 assistants primed to take that step.
For now, though, he is all-in at OSU. He knows no other way.
"He’s relentless," Mewhort said. "He never lets up, but that’s exactly what we needed."
Times have changed.
“We’re not going to get pushed around,” Warinner said.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.