He molded the offensive line into the engine of the team in 2012 and ’13, taking a group of one-time four-star prospects that hadn’t yet clicked and molding it into a tough, road-grading unit that spurred a 24-game winning streak to start the Meyer era.
His first two years of work were impressive, but it was nothing compared to last year when he had just one returning starter to work with. The Buckeyes were ragtag, inexperienced group of seniors who hadn’t played, youngsters with no experience and converted defensive linemen.
By the end of the year, the five man starting unit of Taylor Decker, Billy Price, Jacoby Boren, Patrick Elflein and Darryl Baldwin was one of the best in the nation, one capable of paving the way for Ezekiel Elliott’s breakout postseason and the Buckeyes’ national championship.
How does he do it? A blend of technical acumen, attention to detail and a demanding personality.
“Very intense,” Elflein said. “He’s a perfectionist. He won’t let anything slip, no matter what it is. Wrong step, hand placement – if it’s not perfect, he’s on you and he’s going to get it right. That’s probably his best quality, and that’s why we’ve been playing so good. He’s developed so many guys to be great players.”
Now, Warinner gets to increase that challenge to the entire team as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, a job he took over with the departure of Tom Herman to Houston as head coach. It’s a role he’s held before – Warinner has previously been an offensive coordinator at both Kansas and Army – but one that will certainly take on scrutiny given it comes with the defending national champions.
But while he has new responsibilities with the Buckeyes, don’t expect Warinner to change his stripes.
“I just do that with everybody now,” he said with a laugh when asked how his intense scrutiny of the O-line will translate to the rest of the offense. “That’s how you get good. If you graded out at 75 percent, then we want to grade out at 80. If you grade out at 80, then we’re trying to get to 85. If you grade out at 85, we’re trying to get to 90.
“Is it realistic to be perfect? In football, you can’t be perfect. We have a bar that’s set high and we have high expectations. We expect guys to be focused, locked in, know their job and do it really well. My thing now is to make sure that mentality that we had with our offensive line permeates to all the positions.”
Listen in on Warinner coach and he ride players when need be, almost bordering on abrasive if the situation calls for it. But to quote a famous line, it’s Division I football, and that attention to detail and demanding nature can lead to excellent results.
“It can be hard to swallow that pill at times because you’re never going to catch a break, but as a player, that’s a good thing,” Decker said. “You don’t always want to hear those things, but you need to. That’s going to make you a great player. He’s the type of guy that will take you places you can’t take yourself.”
In fact, it’s clear the offensive linemen appreciate the work Warinner has done. The proof, of course, is in the pudding when it comes to offensive results, but it’s more than that. There’s a camaraderie in the offensive line room that is hard to duplicate, and Warinner’s approach – demanding, truthful and yet with the best intents in mind – has gone a long way in creating that.
“I think he’s going to stay true to himself,” Price said. “He’s a great coach and excellent man, and he’s earned that position. I think he’s going to do very well.”
The rest of the team is just starting to figure that out, but don’t expect Warinner to change. There’s only one way for him to bring about the same results for the whole offense he’s put together for the offensive line.
“When I see things I don’t like a receiver doing or a running back or a quarterback doing now, I can step in and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to see this a little bit better,’ or ‘We need to do this, this way,’ or so forth,” he said. “I’m just another voice and another set of eyes. Where Tom did that last year, I’ve got to pick up the slack on some of that this year.”