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Football: Ryan Day’s unique road to Ohio State head coach

Ohio State acting head coach Ryan Day prepares to lead the Buckeyes onto the field prior to the game against Oregon State game on Sept. 1 in Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 77-31. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Ryan Day is not the typical choice for a head coach at Ohio State.

The 39-year old offensive coordinator is the second-youngest coach ever hired by the program behind Woody Hayes, who was 38.

Head coach Urban Meyer, who announced his retirement on Tuesday and started his head coaching career at Bowling Green when he was 36 in 2001, could not imagine being Day’s age at the helm of a program like Ohio State.

“No chance,” Meyer said. “But I wasn’t knee-deep in it like he was. He earned a lot of responsibilities that I gave him over the years. And then obviously he’s 3-0 as the coach already before we start. He’s very unique to be able to handle that.”

Day’s youth is not the only thing that separates him from most of the 24 head coaches of Ohio State’s past: his lack of experience does as well.

Day began his coaching career where his playing career ended, at the University of New Hampshire. Day played quarterback for the Wildcats for four years, breaking program records for yards and completion percentage under then-head coach Chip Kelly.

The next season, Day became the tight ends coach under Kelly at New Hampshire, and followed Kelly later to the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

There were positional jobs at Boston College and Temple along the way, but Day’s resume is notably missing one thing: head coaching experience.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith doesn’t think this is a problem. Smith thinks Day can develop into something better than what is being left to him from the Meyer era.

“We’re fortunate to have had Ryan in our presence to be able to develop that. He has proven that he’s ready for this challenge during this last two years,” Smith said. “He has confidence, passion. He has the perfect demeanor for our environment. He shares the values that we hold so dear: Integrity, education, excellence, people-first, respect and tradition.”

Day is the first Ohio State head coach to start his tenure without any head coaching experience in 72 years, with Paul Bixler’s 1946 run being the most recent.

Luke Fickell did not have head coaching experience before 2011, but was never named head coach, filling in as interim head coach for the Buckeyes between Meyer and Jim Tressel.

“A head coach position, as I’ve learned over the last 17 years, is very complicated. It’s management of people,” Meyer said. “Once those players know that you have that genuine love and care for them they’ll move mountains for you. And I saw that with Ryan Day.”

Day brings a young face with a bright future in the eyes of both Smith and Meyer, much like Lincoln Riley did when he took over for Bob Stoops in Oklahoma’s head coaching vacancy.

But what Day also brings is Meyer. Day said he plans to keep the ball rolling from where Meyer left off, moving in the same footsteps as the coach who, with a win against Washington in the Rose Bowl, will leave with the second-highest win percentage in Ohio State history.

Day holds the highest win percentage at 1.000 from his 3-0 stint as interim head coach while Meyer was suspended at the beginning of the season.

“Very humble to be taking over for Coach Meyer and what he’s done here,” Day said. “The footprint that he’s left here and the infrastructure is strong. And knowing that and being here for two years and seeing exactly how it’s been done gives me great confidence.”

Looking at the history, Day does not fit into the prototypical mold of an Ohio State coach. He lacks the experience at head coach, he is one of the youngest the program has ever hired and has only four seasons as an offensive coordinator under his belt.

But to Smith and Meyer, none of that matters. What they’ve seen in Day’s short time at Ohio State has proven to them he’s the guy of the future.

“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.”

Meyer remains head coach until Jan. 2, but Day’s promotion has already begun.

The same day as the press conference, Day was in Springfield, Illinois to visit a three-star offensive tackle with offensive line coach Greg Studrawa.

Day is a hire unlike any Ohio State has done in seven decades, but he is the guy for the foreseeable future. The Meyer era is a few weeks from concluding, but Day is already fitting into the footprint.

“After we get done here, it’s going to be a sprint to get out and get in homes and get around some of the families. Obviously a lot of relationships that are already built there,” Day said. “To Buckeye nation: You have my word that I’m going to give everything I have to continue the tradition of excellence and winning that this program has enjoyed during its storied career.”

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