As Ohio State’s Ryan Day journeyed through his first experience as a head football coach the past four weeks, he said he received several text messages from a former boss that steeled him for the task.
Day played quarterback for Chip Kelly at New Hampshire in 1999, and worked for Kelly as an NFL assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (2015) and San Francisco 49ers (2016). Now the head coach at UCLA, Kelly offered Day encouragement via texts from 2,500 miles away.
“ ‘You’re built for this.’ That’s what he told me,” Day said Monday as he met the media for the first time since being appointed acting head coach while Urban Meyer serves a three-game suspension.
“That’s the thing I keep going to every morning when I wake up, is that I’m built for this. Because there is no script, there is no game plan. My goal was never to make it about me or try to replace (Meyer). It’s all about the players and the coaches. That’s what my instinct has told me and so that’s what we’re going with.”
Day was elevated to replace Meyer in a phone call from athletic director Gene Smith on the afternoon of Aug. 1. Ohio State had placed Meyer on administrative leave while it investigated how he handled allegations of domestic violence brought in 2015 by Courtney Smith concerning her husband at the time, OSU assistant Zach Smith.
>> Read more: Complete coverage of the Urban Meyer investigation
The university announced last Wednesday that Meyer will be on full suspension until Sept. 3, including Saturday’s season-opener against Oregon State, and that he cannot coach on game days on Sept. 8 (Rutgers) and Sept. 15 (at TCU).
So the next few weeks will mark the first three games of Day’s head-coaching career, but during early August, all the 39-year-old knew was that he would be running the team at least through the heart of preseason camp. Suddenly he wasn’t just an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach anymore.
“It’s kind of learning by getting thrown in the fire,” he said.
He said he leaned heavily on the advice from football performance coordinator Mickey Marotti, along with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Schiano and Wilson had been head coaches, and though it was mildly surprising that Gene Smith didn’t elevate Schiano, the team’s associate head coach, Schiano said he didn’t hesitate to support his younger protégé.
“What we have done as a staff I think is what’s special,” Schiano said. “Ryan is certainly qualified to do this.
“Kevin Wilson, myself and the rest of the staff, guys like (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson, have done this a long time. We all said we have to step it up. We’re missing our leader, we’re one down right now, and I think the staff has done that and I think in turn the players have followed our lead.”
Day stressed several times Monday that he simply is filling in until Meyer’s return. But Schiano pointed out that preseason camp is the key team-building part of a season, that leadership from the head coach is critical in that period. He noted when Day hit his stride.
“I think it was the third day that he spoke with the team,” Schiano said. “The first two days he was trying to do the organizational, perfunctory things. When he spoke to the team, he spoke from his heart that third day, and from then on that’s the way he has been running the football team.”
Schiano added, “I’m so impressed. … Observing him over the last whatever it is, 25 days, he’s got the ‘it.’ ”