With Adrian Klemm already on his way out of town after accepting an offer to become Oregon’s offensive line coach, running game coordinator, and assistant head coach, the Steelers will be in the market for a new offensive line coach in just a matter of weeks. But who should the Steelers target as Klemm’s replacement? This question, my friends, boils down to one man and one man only: Ed Warinner.
Why is he the right man, you may ask? He has no NFL coaching experience, and he has no legitimate ties to the Steelers. Nonetheless, there is one quality that Steelers fans should find so intriguing: his experience taking over bad offenses and bad offensive lines and making them good by the time he leaves.
Ed Warinner may not have the NFL experience that some would like to see, but he has coached countless NFL linemen at the collegiate level, as we will discover in just a minute. He has been coaching at the college level since 1984, and his résumé speaks for itself. His first job geared toward offensive linemen was in 1987, when he coached the interior linemen for Army. He held other positions during his time with the Black Knights as well, but six of those thirteen years were specifically coaching offensive linemen, while his final two years with the program was as the offensive coordinator. That was not his final job with a military academy, however, as Air Force hired him to be their offensive line coach in 2000.
Warinner did not begin making a name for himself until his first of two stints with Kansas. When he became their offensive line coach in 2003, he took over a line who failed to create running lanes for the running backs the previous year. In 2002, all the Kansas running backs combined failed to rush for 1,000 yards, and they averaged a mere 3.78 yards per carry on the ground. In Warriner’s first year as offensive line coach, Kansas’ offense experienced a major improvement, averaging nearly 30 points per game, rushing the ball for over 1,500 yards, and averaging 4.93 yards per carry. Warinner also had a part in developing offensive lineman Adrian Jones, who became a fourth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2004 and played five seasons in the NFL.
In 2005, Warinner became the offensive line and running game coordinator for Illinois, serving two years in that role. During his time with the Illini, he had a part in developing two legitimate NFL running backs. One of those backs, Pierre Thomas, became a valuable dual-threat back with the Saints for eight seasons, averaging 4.6 yards per carry throughout his career. The other running back Warinner developed was former Steeler Rashard Mendenhall, who averaged 8.2 yards per carry during Warinner’s final year at Illinois. Mendenhall, of course, went on to be a first-round pick, playing six seasons in the NFL and having two 1,000-yard seasons during his time in Pittsburgh.
Warinner returned to Kansas in 2007, but this time as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. However, there is a great likelihood that he still had a big say in the decisions made along the offensive line, simply based off their frequent usage of the dual double-team concepts that Warinner is known for running. The offense at Kansas was decent at times in 2006, but when Warinner took it over in 2007, it reached a level that had never been seen in the history of Kansas football.
After struggling to move the ball through the air just one year previous, Warinner’s changes allowed the passing game to thrive, as the team threw for over 3,750 yards and 36 touchdowns. He also built an incredible rushing attack, scheming ways for the Jayhawk backs to combine for over 2,000 rushing yards and averaging nearly 5.9 yards per carry on the season. The final token of the 2007 turnaround Warinner was responsible for was the drafting of offensive tackle Anthony Collins, who benefited from Warinner’s scheme and caught the eye of the Bengals during his final season in college. Cincinnati took Collins in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, and he became a valuable depth piece during his six seasons with the team.
In 2008, the Kansas offense became slightly more pass-happy, but Warriner still produced an efficient running game, as their backs still managed to average over 4.5 yards per carry. Warinner did not have many great options to work with at the running back position in 2009, as Toben Opurum, who was more a fullback than a halfback, was their leading rusher. Nonetheless, their backfield still managed to average a sufficient 4.25 yards per carry.
Notre Dame took notice of Warinner’s success at Kansas and decided to bring him in as the offensive line coach in 2010, and it turned out to be a very good decision. The Irish were coming off a 6-6 season despite only playing two ranked teams the entire season, and their running game was nothing more than solid. Despite their 2010 schedule that included multiple matchups against tough defenses, their running game took a small step forward, and the offensive line began to show consistency once again.
The biggest encouragement for Irish fans, however, was this sophomore lineman that Warinner had been working on and had transformed into an absolutely dominant lineman. That player was none other than Zach Martin, who went on to be a first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2014. Martin is a seven-time all-pro selection who has been one of the best linemen in the NFL over the past decade. Warinner also developed Chris Watt, who was drafted by the Chargers in the third round and played four seasons in the league.
His next stop was in Columbus, as he was the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2012-2014. In 2015, he took the full reigns as offensive coordinator while keeping his duties as offensive line coach, and in 2016, he coached the tight ends while remaining the team’s offensive coordinator. The first legitimate project Warinner took on at Ohio State was Jack Mewhort, who had potential but had a sloppy technique and bad footwork. After Warinner had him for a year, Mewhort began to make progress. He made so much progress that, in 2013, he was named an All-American by ESPN. In the 2014 draft, Mewhort was selected by the Colts in the second round, and he started every NFL game he played in. If not for chronic knee issues, he may still be in the league today.
I am not going to bore you with Ohio State’s specific offensive stats with Warinner in charge, but despite criticism from Ohio State fans about play calling, the numbers were solid. The Buckeyes finished inside the top 25 offenses in the FBS every season except one under Warinner, and in the one season they did not finish in the top 25, they ranked 28th. The product was consistent under him, and Warinner himself was growing as a coach. Under Urban Meyer, he found ways to mix in zone-blocking concepts that were traditionally used during Meyer’s time at Ohio State, while also adding his own ideas to create a unique blend of power and zone schemes. It worked with great success, and the draft prospects developed by Warinner at Ohio State prove it.
His two greatest accomplishments at Ohio State were developing Corey Linsley and developing Taylor Decker. Both players have enjoyed successful NFL careers, and both are still playing at an incredibly high level. Other linemen that he developed during his time at Ohio State include Pat Elflein, Billy Price, Jamarco Jones, and Isaiah Prince, all of whom are still in the NFL.
The point being, Warriner consistently developed the talent he was given at Ohio State. Back in 2015, he sat down with Big Ten Network’s Gerry Dinardo and did a short film session on how Ohio State’s offensive line improved during his time in Columbus. You can check it out below.
If you would like to hear more from Warinner, you can watch these videos. In the first video, he breaks down the differences between zone and gap schemes, and in the second video, he gives an in-depth breakdown of the zone read.
After a one-year stint with Minnesota, Jim Harbaugh brought Warinner to Michigan, a school whose offensive line had been a disaster for several years. As a Michigan fan, it was a breath of fresh air to finally have someone who had a track record of fixing offensive lines. The Tim Drevno experiment was a fail from day one, and Michigan fans were more than ready for somebody different.
Midway through Warinner’s first season with the Wolverines, there was already a noticeable difference in the line’s play. It only got better in year two, and in my personal opinion, it was almost as good in 2020 despite losing several players to the NFL and not having a normal spring and summer practice schedule. Long story short, any Michigan fan would tell you that the offensive line quickly became a strength of the Michigan football team with Warinner in charge. Notable prospects he developed at Michigan include 2020 first-round pick Caesar Ruiz, Ravens guard Ben Bredeson, Packers lineman John Runyan, Patriots guard Michael Onwenu, and 2021 draft prospects Andrew Stueber and Andrew Vastardis.
After the 2020 season, Jim Harbaugh knew that changes needed to be made, and one of the changes that needed to be made was getting younger on staff. Unfortunately, Ed Warinner was one of the “older” assistants who Harbaugh parted ways with. Having said that, Warinner’s impact at Michigan was evident this past season, even though he was no longer on staff. The Michigan offensive line was awarded the 2021 Joe Moore Award, which is given to the best offensive line in the country. This is not to take away from the job Sherrone Moore did with the line in 2021, but Warinner laid the foundation to the current offensive line, and he deserves much of the credit for Michigan’s 2021 success.
It is true that Warinner does not have the NFL experience that others may have, but his storied history of developing NFL talents at the collegiate level indicate that he could be a perfect fit for a Steelers offensive line that is in a state of transition. At every place Ed Warinner has coached at, the offensive line has been in better shape when he left than what it was when he got there, and I do not think it would be any different with the Steelers.
Ed is currently on staff at Florida Atlantic, coaching the offensive line and serving as the running game coordinator. He deserves a chance at the NFL level, and the Steelers’ situation is what Warinner has dealt with much of his coaching career: taking a broken offensive line and turning it into a strength of the team.
Warinner is a man with a proven track record and a man who is respected greatly in his craft. From Zach Martin, to Corey Linsley, to Taylor Decker, to Pat Elflein, to Billy Price, to Caesar Ruiz—the examples of his success as an offensive line coach are countless. This, my friends, is why the Steelers need to bring in Ed Warinner if they want to resolve their current offensive line issues once and for all.