Urban Meyer won 90 percent of his games and a national championship at Ohio State, ending his career with the third highest winning percentage all-time amid college football head coaches.
Given Meyer’s accomplishments, it’s no surprise that first-year head coach Ryan Day would grin and take a sip of coffee when asked about the expectations he will face as the new program ringleader at the 2019 Big Ten Media Day.
Despite the inevitable comparisons lofted at him, Day said he is not trying to be Meyer’s carbon copy.
“I think the easy thing to do is to ask how are you different than Urban Meyer, and that’s not something I really like to answer because first off, you don’t replace a legend,” Day said. “You don’t replace one of the best football coaches in the history of the game.”
For Day, who gained his first head coaching experience in Ohio State’s opening three games this past season due to Meyer’s suspension, finding an individual voice and learning how to be himself in the head role has been a “daily grind.”
However, at his first Big Ten Media Day as a head coach, Day displayed an improvement over his predecessor in one regard.
Whereas Meyer ignited a firestorm of controversy with his comments on Zach Smith’s domestic abuse allegations at Media Day in 2018, Day had hardly a newsworthy comment in his roughly 75 minutes in front of a mic in Chicago.
Day’s opening statement was a fraction of the length of Big Ten coaches like Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck and Maryland’s Michael Locksley, who regaled the audience with personal anecdotes and insights on their programs’ progress. Day was even tight-lipped about injury updates, declining to comment on the status of senior safety Jordan Fuller, the Buckeyes’ leading tackler in 2018 who missed spring practice.
So large is the shadow that Meyer’s legacy has cast on college football that even Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was asked about the former Buckeye coach at Big Ten Media Day.
“I’ve got two hands, and I think [Meyer] only lost eight times,” Dantonio said.
But even the 13-year Big Ten head coaching veteran said he was impressed with Day, who he described as down to earth and charismatic.
Day takes over the program in a markedly different circumstance than Meyer.
After two years away from coaching, Meyer took the post at Ohio State in 2012 following its worst winning percentage since 1988. Meyer went undefeated in his first year, and by his third he brought the first national championship back to Columbus since 2002.
Day inherits the machine that Meyer built, and a team that lost only one game in a 13-1, Big Ten Championship winning season last year. It would be easy for Day to stay complacent and not make changes to a formula that has maintained the Buckeyes’ as an elite football powerhouse.
However, Day said he won’t coast on the laurels of those who came before him.
“This team’s got a lot to prove,” Day said. “This coaching staff, as a new coaching staff, has a lot to prove. The offense, we lose seven guys, really eight including Mike Weber leaving as well. It’s going to be a new quarterback under center.”
Not only will the offense look different, but Day said one of his biggest dissensions from Meyer is the defensive coaching overhaul. With four new hires on that side of the ball, Day will try to improve a defense that gave up the most yardage per game in program history.
Given Meyer’s status as assistant athletic director at Ohio State, Day said he’d be “crazy if he didn’t” continue to utilize Meyer’s experience in the foreseeable future.
“He’s taken multiple phone calls from me just looking for advice on how to handle certain things,” Day said. “And that would have been the case if I was anywhere else because of our relationship, but being at Ohio State and being right across the street, he’s an unbelievable resource and he’s been a huge help, and he’s going to continue to do that throughout the fall.”