Joining the likes of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur and Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, Ohio State’s Ryan Day is the next protege of former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to become a head coach when he takes the job on Jan. 2 after the Rose Bowl.
But like Shurmur and Frost, Day’s sole focus throughout his coaching career, throughout stints with Temple and Boston College, to a trip to the NFL as the quarterbacks coach under Kelly for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, has been on the offense.
As he was introduced as the 25th head coach in Ohio State history, he began to talk about what he is known for.
With a reference to the transition at quarterback — from J.T. Barrett to redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins — the offensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach talked about an adaptive offense, one that would continue to modify to the personnel the team has each year.
Then Day moved forward. He began to talk about the part of football he used to plan against, not plan for: the defense.
“We’ll be aggressive,” Day said, “with multiple fronts, sound and simple for the players so that they will have the ability to play fast.”
And that was it. Day would not specify what changes he plans to make on his coaching staff, what the future of defensive coordinator Greg Schiano or co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch would be.
In the short term, this was not the focus, as the attention moved toward the Dec. 19 early signing period. But even with that aspect, Day admitted the relationships he had built on the road recruiting had not been as strong with the defensive players.
Head coach Urban Meyer said “defensive players don’t know him quite as well,” saying that offensive players, when Day was announced as the head coach, are “over the top.”
But players did get a taste of what it would be like to play under Day when Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the season. While the offense scored more than 40 points in each of those contests, the Ohio State defense survived, allowing 31 points and 28 points to Oregon State and then-No. 15 TCU respectively, but keeping Rutgers to three points and 134 yards of total offense.
“I think he talked to more of the defensive guys during that period than offense just to get to know us,” sophomore defensive end Chase Young said. “He was our head coach at the time. He had to get to know us.”
When Day took over the team, junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said he was impressed with how the team never really missed a beat, saying he handled the position with calm and ease, settling the team down and handing Meyer back the team with a 3-0 record.
But even after Day returned to his normal role as the offensive coordinator, many defensive players still viewed him as a coach, as someone they could go and talk to. They viewed Day as the future of the Ohio State football program.
“I’m excited to see him because I’ve actually talked to him a good amount. Just because I’m on defense doesn’t mean I don’t associate with him, I talk to coach Day a lot,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “I’m proud of him, he’s going to be successful.”
No matter who is on Day’s staff for the 2019 season, Young said the players are the ones who define the program.
“Obviously it’s the coaches that set the culture, but it’s really the players,” Young said. “Nothing is going to change with the players. The program is going to run through us and we’re going to still keep it moving.”
As a head coach, Day’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed, even with the highest of expectations for his team as he takes over for one of the most successful head coaches in the history of the sport.
But when talking about Day, the defensive players do not bring up his defensive game plan or the amount he focuses on the offense, coming in with the specialty inherited from Kelly. The talk is of the upcoming head coach’s leadership, it’s the culture.
It’s the head coach at the helm until Jan. 1. It’s Meyer.
“Just seeing [Day], from the way he handled us in the beginning, I just know that he’s the perfect guy for this job. I know that he’s going to take this team. I don’t think anything’s really going to change here,” Cooper said. “I feel like we’re just going to keep getting better each and every year, especially with a guy like him. I think he’s definitely the right guy for the job.”