An online story surfaced Saturday that Ohio State is discussing naming Ryan Day a coach-in-waiting, which would make the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator first in line to replace Urban Meyer.
On Sunday, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith issued a statement splashing cold water on the report by The Athletic.
Smith posted on Twitter: “We obviously are appreciative of Coach Day’s great work, and hope he continues to be one of our offensive coordinators for a long time, but we are more than confident Coach Meyer will be our head coach for quite some time.”
That’s called a non-denial denial. Smith did not rebut The Athletic story as much as he tried to assure Buckeye Nation that Meyer is not leaving anytime soon.
Contacted Monday by The Dispatch, Smith declined to comment, even conceptually, about coach-in-waiting arrangements.
From a recruiting standpoint, Smith is smart to say nothing. While Day, 39, is popular among recruits, any suggestion that Meyer may exit sooner rather than later is a negative that could be exploited by other schools. Day is growing as a coach, but Meyer already is The Man.
The Athletic story set no timetable for Day’s promotion or Meyer’s departure. Meyer, 54, could leave after this year (doubtful) or in four more seasons (his contract runs through 2022). But when it happens, OSU wants Day on staff, ready to step in.
Last year Day turned down the Mississippi State job and also pulled out of the running to be the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator, which helps explain why Smith chose him to stand in during Meyer’s three-game suspension. It also likely explains the unusual (for an OSU assistant) three-year deal Day received before this season, and also the $487,000 bonus he collected for guiding OSU to a 3-0 start as acting head coach.
“Hopefully, he stays with us because of this,” Smith told The Dispatch on Saturday.
Meyer wanted no part of addressing the coach-in-waiting report on Monday.
“Ryan is an exceptional coach, but I haven’t given any thought to that,” he said.
Other coaches have thought on it, and agree that coach-in-waiting scenarios get sticky.
“They don’t wait long, not enough to suit you,” chuckled Bobby Bowden, who was the head coach at Florida State in 2008 when Seminoles offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher was named head coach-in-waiting. “I was about halfway in favor of it. I was fixin’ to step out and I tried to get one more year and they didn’t want me to have it.”
Fisher took over in 2010 when FSU essentially forced Bowden into retirement, and the Seminoles won the 2013 BCS national championship. You could argue the tactic worked in that instance, at Bowden’s expense.
In 2009, Texas made defensive coordinator Will Muschamp coach-in-waiting under Mack Brown to keep other schools from poaching Muschamp. But what was hailed as an innovative idea went to seed when Brown stayed another five seasons, until 2013. By then, Muschamp was long gone, having taken over at Florida in 2011.
“I don’t think it works,” Brown said on Monday, suggesting such an arrangement splits the staff and the fans. “Just check the situations where it has been put in place.”
Indeed. Over the past decade, things turned ugly at Maryland when James Franklin was passed over to replace Ralph Friedgen and bolted to Vanderbilt, and went poorly at West Virginia, when Dana Holgersen took over for Bill Stewart. Kentucky (Joker Phillips for Rich Brooks) and Purdue (Danny Hope for Joe Tiller) tried it, too, and though both of those succession plans went smoothly, neither ultimately brought success. Chip Kelly stepped in seamlessly for Mike Bellotti at Oregon and Barry Alvarez did a successful hand-off to Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, but those were exceptions.
Ohio State need not dip its toe into the coach-in-waiting pool. The program is successful enough it can hire almost any coach it wants.
Pay Day now, but promise nothing later. That is being fair to both him and Meyer.
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