Urban Meyer wasn’t the only person attending his first Ohio State football game Saturday after being suspended.

The game against Tulane also marked the return of athletic director Gene Smith, who was also punished for his role in the Zach Smith saga. Gene Smith wouldn’t discuss that case, but he did shed light on his decision to anoint Ryan Day as acting head coach.

It was a surprise that Day got the nod, considering that he had never been a head coach. Many figured that defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who had been the head coach at Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would be the choice.

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“We’d given him a three-year contract,” Smith said of Day. “I just felt he had a demeanor I really liked and enjoyed. I felt confident that the way Greg and (offensive coordinator) Kevin (Wilson) operate, they would lend their head-coaching experience, and we had an opportunity with a quarterback I thought was pretty special.

“With Ryan running the show and Dwayne (Haskins Jr.) doing what I thought we could do, we got blessed. We just got blessed. That was it really — the ability to just let this offense roll.”

When Schiano wasn’t appointed acting coach, some thought it might be related to the allegation, flimsy as it is, that Schiano’s experience as a Penn State assistant when Jerry Sandusky was there might have been an issue. Smith defended Schiano last November after his expected hiring as University of Tennessee coach blew up after protests among some Vols fans.

“That had nothing to do with it,” Smith said. “It was all about what I felt this offense could do (with Day). I felt with him at the helm, this thing could explode. I didn’t have a crystal ball, but we’ve become a different offensive team. I wanted him in that seat for that reason. That was it.

“It had nothing to do with Greg’s background. (Defensive line coach) Larry Johnson is another one we could have gone to. It was about football. It was about what this team’s capacity is. That’s how I think. He’s done a marvelous job of letting this thing roll.”

Day was in demand after last season before deciding to stay to Ohio State and receiving a major bump in salary and job title.

“He’s going to be a head coach one day,” Smith said. “He turned down one (college) head coaching job last year. He turned down the Tennessee Titans. All of those things came in to my mind about putting him in that seat. Hopefully, he stays with us because of this.”

Smith said he did not ask Meyer’s opinion about appointing Day but said the coach was supportive of it. As for Meyer’s statement that he intends to be more of a “game manager” on game day, Smith said he was enthusiastic about him assuming that role.

“How about that?” he said. “That’s what we talked about when he was out. You’ve got a staff like this, you become a CEO. You let them do their thing. That’s what he has elevated himself to: Let Ryan and Kevin do their thing, and he’s always let Greg do his thing. Focus on the special teams. Focus on the fundamentals and focus on the motivation and emotions of the team and all that.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch