In the winter of 2008, coach Jeff Jagodzinski of Boston College met up with young assistant Ryan Day on a recruiting dive into the South.
“We were driving around Atlanta on our way to a visit, and I told Ryan, ‘You know, you’re going to be really successful someday in this profession,’ ” Jagodzinski recalled last week.
Ten years later, Day’s situation says it all.
When Ohio State placed Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave while a committee investigates what he knew of domestic-abuse allegations by Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of fired assistant coach Zach Smith, Day was named the acting head coach.
>> Read more | Complete coverage of the Urban Meyer investigation
There has yet to be an explanation why school officials elevated Day, 39, one of the offensive coordinators but never a head coach in his 17-year career, rather than defensive coordinator Greg Schiano or the other offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, both of whom have been head coaches. But Jagodzinski thinks Day is up to the challenge.
“Ryan has moved up the ladder, he has paid his dues,” Jagodzinski said. “Now, getting the Ohio State job, that’s a pretty big step, you know, for anybody. But I’m sure he’s got guys around that are supporting him and they’re going to be pretty good. Urban’s got a bunch of good guys on that staff.”
As challenging as things are for the Buckeyes, it is a major break for Day, no matter the duration. Longtime New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell agreed. But he also believed in Day as a coach in 2002, giving him his first job.
Day, a Manchester, New Hampshire, native, had been a star in high school and a record-setting quarterback in college under McDonnell and offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, who has since gone on to coaching fame, tapping Day for help a couple of times along the way.
“Ryan had been a three-sport star in high school — quarterback, basketball player, a catcher as a baseball player,” McDonnell said. “When Chip and I recruited him, the same things kept coming back to us: 1. smart; 2. competitive; 3. winner.
“We redshirted him that first year, then he got a chance to start. … He was always as competitive as all get-go, and we loved him.”
McDonnell gave him a full-time coaching spot right out of college.
“He had been such a cerebral player and leader, we had him for a year here coaching tight ends and he did a terrific job,” McDonnell said. “He just knew it. It was in his blood. When he was a player we had great conversations about the game, just great rapport between him, the head coach and offensive coordinator.
“We saw while he was here that if he stayed in the profession, he was going to be pretty good.”
Day jumped on the ladder, as Jagodzinski called it, and started climbing, first to Boston College as a graduate assistant in 2003 and ’04, then to Florida where he joined Meyer’s first staff there as a graduate assistant in 2005, then to Temple as receivers coach for a year. It was back to BC in 2007 as receivers coach, where he served two years under Jagodzinski and three under Frank Spaziani.
“Obviously I had him as a young coach, and I thought he was very diligent in his approach, a really good recruiter,” Jagodzinski said.
Day went back to Temple in 2012 as an offensive coordinator under former Meyer assistant Steve Addazio, then followed Addazio back to BC for 2013 and ’14.
The link back to Kelly came in 2015 as quarterbacks coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly and the staff were fired the end of that season, but Kelly was hired by the San Francisco 49ers and took Day with him, that gig also lasting just one season. The NFL experience had value, though.
“The thing that I really wanted to do when I had the opportunity to go to the NFL with coach Kelly was spend all my time on the pro passing game and all my time studying quarterback play, so that I felt like I had some sort of expertise … because in the NFL you have a little more time that way,” Day said. “Every year you just try to learn from somebody new and make it your own.”
It was Day’s connection with Kelly and his uptempo offense that caught Meyer’s eye when he looked to make a change at quarterbacks coach after the 2016 season at Ohio State. Meyer brought on Day, who made immediate improvements in the passing game.
When Mississippi State showed interest in Day as head coach, then the Tennessee Titans came calling with the offensive coordinator job, Meyer promoted Day to offensive coordinator, the same title as Wilson, and gave him a raise to $1 million, second among Ohio State’s assistants to Schiano’s $1.5 million.
But to hear Day tell it, Meyer didn’t exactly have to twist his arm.
“We love Ohio State,” Day said. “This place is unlike any other place. Great players … this is a great place to work. … We’ve got a great group of quarterbacks to work with here. My family loves Columbus. It’s the best place to work in America, and I really believe that.”
And now, even if it does have “acting” in the title, he holds the highest-profile job in the state.