Everyone wants to argue these days, but at least we can agree on this: Ohio State is bigger than any single coach.
Doesn’t matter if it’s Woody, Earle, Coop, Tress or Urban. You can change them all out — and with the exception of Meyer, the Buckeyes have done just that — and still this would be a winning program with millions of fans who chant O-H-I-O regardless of who is running the show.
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It’s not that the coach isn’t important. He sets vision and establishes standards of recruiting that are the lifeblood of consistent success. But let’s not get carried away with how essential a coach is to the big picture. The Ohio State brand dwarfs all, and that includes — not to sound blasphemous — the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Archie Griffin already understands this, which is largely why he is adored. Arch never puts himself ahead of the scarlet and gray.
Even in the smaller picture that includes specific important wins and painful losses, the coach often is overvalued. Not always; without Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama would not have won five national championships the past nine seasons.
At Ohio State, Meyer’s .901 winning percentage is fairly amazing, and he is 6-0 against Michigan. Jim Tressel was 9-1 against the Wolverines. That’s great coaching. Both coaches also guided the Buckeyes to one national title each, which affords them automatic legend status.
Yet we also know dumb luck can trump smart coaching. The Buckeyes don’t reach the playoffs in 2014 without J.T. Barrett at quarterback, but they also don’t win the national title without Barrett suffering a broken ankle against Michigan, which opened the door for Cardale Jones to become the guy who never again has to buy a beer in Columbus.
Look at it another way. Earle Bruce doesn’t measure up against Tressel and Meyer, right? But in his first year coaching the Buckeyes, Bruce had OSU within 83 yards of defeating Southern California in the 1980 Rose Bowl, which would have earned the Buckeyes at least a share of the ’79 national title. Instead, Trojans tailback Charles White gained 71 of his 247 yards on USC’s winning drive that ended with a 1-yard dive with 1:32 left.
Bruce came oh-so-close to becoming Ohio State royalty. John Cooper had his moments, too. If Shawn Springs doesn’t slip against Michigan and a punt doesn’t bounce off Nate Clements against Michigan State, the Buckeyes maybe win two national titles under Cooper. Of course, we can play the “what if” game all day; the point is that a coach can only do so much on game day.
If I am Ryan Day, I take comfort in that. Day will add “fill-in head coach” to his normal duties as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach through the first three games as Meyer serves his suspension.
Day seems like a sharp guy. He handled himself well Monday while addressing the media. But face it, a two-headed goat could wear the white windbreaker and whistle against Oregon State on Saturday and Ohio State still would come away with the “W.”
That’s not a knock on Day as much as on the Beavers, who last season may have been the worst team in FBS. The mismatch allows Day to ease into his role without overly worrying about the outcome. The same situation applies next week against Rutgers, where the Buckeyes need only show up to win.
Things get a mite stickier Sept. 15 against TCU in Arlington, Texas. The Buckeyes should still come away with a win against the Horned Frogs, but you’re not wrong if you see similarities between these first three games and the first three in 2011, when OSU began 2-0 in its only season under coach Luke Fickell — with wins against Akron and Toledo — before getting thumped 24-6 at Miami.
Fickell also had two “easy” games to adjust before the tougher road game against a Power 5 opponent, but he and the Buckeyes melted under the lights in Miami.
The comparison between then and now is not perfect. This team is much more talented than that one, and even though the Buckeyes are breaking in a new quarterback, as they did with Joe Bauserman in 2011, I have a feeling Dwayne Haskins Jr. won’t be throwing passes into the stands.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has walked the sideline as a head coach at Rutgers and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He thinks Day will do just fine, in part because Meyer already has done the more difficult foundational work of charting vision and providing leadership.
“But you can’t (underestimate) game day, either,” Schiano said, adding that in-game decisions are critical. “You do all that work for those 12 Saturdays, and then hopefully the 13th, 14th and 15th. … It can come down to that fourth-and-1.”
If so, I advise Day not to run the quarterback. Leave that tired stand-by for the guy following you.