Being an “acting head coach” is seldom a good thing.
It’s your job, but it isn’t. You have that tentative title usually because something bad has happened. In Ryan Day’s case, it’s the saga that resulted in coach Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension.
Day had never been a head coach, so it was a surprise when he, not former head coaches Greg Schiano or Kevin Wilson, was elevated to acting head coach for reasons that have still not been given.
But Day has handled the job with aplomb. He views himself as a steward of an already sturdy ship. And let’s face it, it wouldn’t take a Magellan to navigate the Buckeyes past Oregon State and Rutgers.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Saturday night’s game against TCU in Arlington, Texas, is a different story. The Buckeyes will be away from home for the first time and playing a 15th-ranked team located just down the road from AT&T Stadium. Day will match wits with one of the most highly regarded coaches in the country.
Gary Patterson is in his 18th season at TCU and is considered one of the top molders of defenses in the country. He is known for his in-game adjustments, honed by years coaching in the offense-heavy Big 12.
“They have all the answers,” Day said. “Anytime a defense has been together that long, they have seen so many different things come their way, so they make quick adjustments. They know exactly how you're trying to attack them, and (it’s) a very, very talented group, as well. You're going to have to earn everything that you get.”
Day was courted heavily in the offseason, by both colleges and the Tennessee Titans. He agreed to stay with the Buckeyes and was given a hefty raise and an elevated job title — sharing the offensive coordinator one with Wilson — when he stayed.
Day will likely be in demand again next year, and that would be enhanced by a victory against TCU before Meyer’s suspension ends Monday. He has been candid about the adjustment to being responsible for the entire team.
“There's a learning curve there,” he said. “You're learning things for the first time. Some things you do well and other things you don't so well. You just try to regroup at the end of the day and try to figure out how you get better the next time do you it. You do something for the second time, you feel a little more comfortable in that role.
“It's been a huge learning experience for me just going through it on a day-to-day basis, but one more week here and then kind of back to normal.”
Both he and players credit the Buckeyes’ culture, which is based on training to overcome adversity, for the way the team has galvanized as a result of the Meyer suspension.
“I think he’s been really good, but it’s a credit to coach Meyer,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “The culture here is what he does. It’s coach Meyer’s thing. He comes in and creates a culture and hires the best people in the country.
“When you lose him, it’s still the same thing because everybody is so bought in to the culture, and coach Day has done an amazing job of keeping the culture the same.”
But Day hasn’t had to make a critical call in Ohio State’s first two games, which the Buckeyes have won by a total margin of 85 points. Chances are, the TCU game will be close enough that his game-day decisions will matter.
The Buckeyes are a 12-point favorite over TCU, but neither team has been challenged. That’s why there’s so much anticipation about this game. With quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. off to a dazzling start and an imposing defense, Ohio State believes it has the makings of a special team. Bosa invoked the 2014 national championship team in describing the current team’s potential.
But he acknowledged that TCU will help reveal whether that optimism is well-founded.
“We haven’t really had a true test yet, so I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Bosa said. “After this game, I’ll be able to really give you a feel on how I feel the team will play the rest of the season.”