ONU head football coach Dean Paul announced on Wednesday that offensive line coach Devin Russell will be the team’s next offensive coordinator. The decision was announced 13 days after former offensive coordinator Mike Schmitz, who had filled the position for five years, announced his retirement.
Paul also said that David Price, the defensive line coach, will now assume additional responsibilities as the team’s recruiting coordinator. Russell had previously filled that position.
While Paul said that Ohio Northern never officially posted anything about the job opening at offensive coordinator “because of the timing of it,” he estimates that around 50 coaches from outside schools had expressed interest in the position.
Russell, an ONU alumnus and former offensive lineman under Paul, has spent the last nine years as ONU’s offensive line coach. He graduated from ONU in 2006 with a degree in sport management and served as an assistant offensive line coach at both John Carroll and Morehead State over the span of three years before returning to Ohio Northern in 2009.
When making the decision to choose Russell, Paul said that he was most impressed with the way he handled his previous responsibilities on ONU’s coaching staff.
“Any time somebody gets promoted, whether it’s a player going from being a backup to being a starter, or in any profession, the best indicator is some- body that does a great job with their previous role, their previous responsibility,” Paul said. “Devin Russell has done a great job of doing everything we asked of him — as a recruiting coordinator, as an offensive line coach. He’s coordinated our camps. He’s done a lot of different things.”
Paul also pointed to Russell’s leadership qualities, which will now be magnified as the offensive coordinator.
“At the end of the day, I’m confident he’s a really good leader,” Paul said. “He’ll be able to lead and motivate the players and the offensive coaches.”
Russell will take over an offense that needs tweaks, but not a complete overhaul, as Paul noted last week. Northern will stick with the spread system, as they have for the past 10 years, and the majority of their main playmakers from last year’s roster will be back next season.
All-American Christiaan Williams will be back for his junior season, while both quarterbacks who started last year—Will Freed and Anthony McFadden—will return as well. The Polar Bears will also return a solid portion of their offensive line and key receivers such as Chad Rex and Brenden Hadley.
Ohio Northern averaged 434 yards per game last season, which ranked fourth in the OAC.
“We don’t feel we’re in a situation where we want to overhaul the offense,” Paul said. “There are things we want to do to improve and to be better at, but we don’t feel like we’re looking at a complete overhaul. We’ll make a few adjustments, we’ll make a few changes. [Russell] will have input on that, and then the quarterback coach will as well, so that will be a collective decision.”
While Russell will still be in charge of the offensive line, he will now also serve as Northern’s main play-caller. When it comes down to the game-planning process, however, Paul said that it will be a collective effort.
“He’ll be the decision-maker, but other coaches are going to have a lot of say in what we do as well,” Paul said. “We try to have a very collaborative environment, whether it’s the whole staff or just, in this particular case, the offensive staff, about what a gameplan is going to look like and what we are going to do in certain formations. At the end of the day, somebody has to facilitate that collaboration. Somebody has to help make a decision.”
That person is now Russell, who will be accompanied by a new quarterbacks coach soon. Paul hopes to have the new coach hired by spring break, which is less than three weeks away. He said that he already has a few coaches who he wants to talk to and potentially bring on campus.
“We’re going to try to find somebody who will add value to the program, somebody who has some good experience, and somebody who has good familiarity with the spread offense —our style of spread—so that they can add things that fit well with who we are and what we want to do,” Paul said.
Among other reasons, the decision to hire Russell as the offensive coordinator was practical because typically in college football, the offensive coordinator will also serve as either the offensive line or quarterbacks coach.
“Those are the two most difficult positions to coach and [they] are the most involved in a big part of the offense,” Paul said.
Just 13 years ago, Paul coached Russell during the lineman’s senior season on the gridiron. During that year, the Polar Bears knocked off Mount Union to snap the Purple Raiders’ streak of 110 straight regular season wins. The win put ONU football on the map, as national media such as ESPN and The Washington Post covered the historic result. As the final horn sounded in Alliance that day, the all-conference lineman and his head coach walked off the field, victorious.
This coming fall, Russell will call the shots alongside Paul as they try to do it again.