Urban Meyer knew when he had decided to retire after the season.
It was not as he walked out of Ohio Stadium after the Ohio State head coach had defeated his rival, Michigan, for the seventh time. It was not as he walked off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after Ohio State secured its second-consecutive Big Ten title.
Retirement had crossed his mind during both those times. He even thought he wanted to coach longer. But that was not the deciding factor for Tuesday’s announcement.
It was recruiting. It was when high school athletes, looking ahead to the early signing period, which lasts from Dec. 19-21, started to ask about Meyer’s longevity. And he did not want to lie to them.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to mislead recruits,” Meyer said. “[Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith] and I both felt — not felt, we knew — and that’s what made it now, the decision now.”
Even in the time of transition, Meyer’s focus was on the longevity of the program. Maybe not the longevity of his role within the program after the Rose Bowl, but giving Day the opportunity to begin to build his team, to make sure the success continues when Meyer coaches his last play.
Meyer said Day is being placed in a unique position. He said when the head coach changes at a major university like Ohio State, he said “you usually have to implode the whole thing.”
In the position he is currently in, taking a step up from a coordinator role and into a head coaching role he held for the first three games of the season, Day will focus on continuing to build the program from the ground up, Meyer said.
Earning three wins to begin the season — against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU — Day auditioned for the Ohio State head coaching job, taking a job he had never held in any level of football.
And after learning the ropes of what it means to be a head coach at the collegiate level, Day said he is confident in himself and what he can provide for the program.
“Walking in those shoes during the beginning of the year, during that time, took a step away from just working with the offense and the X’s and O’s and then took a wider step back and looked at the leadership role of what it means to be the head coach at Ohio State,” Day said. “[To] have walked in those shoes and had a chance to experience that. And so I’m excited and confident about it.”
But to be a head coach at a program like Ohio State, Meyer said, is a different animal.
He said the expectation coming in when he took the job in 2012 was remarkably high and remarkably complex, something Meyer did not believe at first, but later reiterated the same message to Day.
“The expectation — like I told Ryan Day — here at Ohio State is win every game, win every game, graduate,” Meyer said. “With Gene Smith, have them over a 3.0 [GPA]. Every player stay out of trouble and every player be a high draft pick. And as I usually follow up with it, ‘Go get it, tiger.’”
This is something Day had to embrace the minute after he left the press conference.
Meyer said the new head coach would be on the road recruiting in four states on Wednesday, talking to players prior to the start of the early signing day period as the head coach of Ohio State while Meyer visits recruits on campus because he said he was very close with the class.
Day said the transition for him in terms of recruiting as a head coach does not change because many of the relationships for this class have already been built. But he said the response to his promotion has been positive and strong.
Meyer said Day has a genuine love and cares for his players, knowing the ins and outs of his personal life, his family and what his long-term aspirations are.
“Once those players know that you have that genuine love and care for them they’ll move mountains for you,” Meyer said. “And I saw that with Ryan Day.”
Despite having a bit of a different personality than Meyer, Day said he and the current head coach share many common values, morals and beliefs, but that it might be shown in a different style, something that will be sorted out in the weeks heading into the Rose Bowl — Meyer’s final game — and the weeks after.
“Most of what Coach has built here is going to stay,” Day said. “And as we go along, there’s going to be some changes in terms of the way we do certain things. But our beliefs are strong.”
Smith believes in Day. He believes in the transition process promoting an offensive coordinator, despite not having long-term coaching experience, brings.
For Smith, three games were enough. He saw a future head coach. But Day still has so much more to prove.
“Now, if he wasn’t talented I wouldn’t have him here if he couldn’t X and O, let’s be clear,” Smith said. “He’s gotta win ball games. He knows that. Gotta win ball games.”
And that starts Wednesday as Day travels to four states, beginning to build, to mold his version, the 25th version of the Ohio State football program.