PASADENA, Calif. — The first thing you need to know about Kevin Wilson is that he was an offensive lineman in college. And offensive linemen are used to being overlooked. It is their lot in football life to go unnoticed, until they move before the snap or get flagged for holding.
Being mostly inconspicuous, it is ingrained in every O-lineman to put self second, which goes against the all-too-human propensity to trumpet me over we.
Knowing that, it makes sense how Wilson is dealing with a storyline that goes: a once-heralded offensive coordinator slips into the shadows while the hotshot new guy — Ryan Day — gets praised as an offensive guru and promoted to Ohio State coach at age 39.
Wilson is nearing 60. He wants to be a head coach again. But the clock is ticking. Or as he put it: “You is 57. You is getting old. How much time do you got?”
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As media day rolled out at the Rose Bowl and reporters flocked to Urban Meyer and Dwayne Haskins Jr. — and especially to Tate “I’ve-got-something-to-say-and-you-better-believe-I’m-going-to-say-it” Martell — Wilson sat alone. Mostly unnoticed.
I sauntered over to the Buckeyes’ co-offensive coordinator, who wants to remain on staff under Day, but like most of the assistant coaches is not certain he will be retained.
Me: “Do you work well with Ryan Day?”
Wilson: “I think some of my strengths complement some of his, so collectively we have different views and visions, but he is a very good coach without a huge ego, and I’m the same way.”
A little about egos. They are like balloons, needing to be properly inflated to achieve full effect, but damaged goods if overblown. Day is supremely confident without seeming arrogant, but the temptation when taking over a program is to put your stamp on the staff by bringing in new blood. You work your whole career to reach the top, you want to enjoy the perks that come with the job.
Wilson gets it. He has enough assistant coaching stops on his resume — North Carolina, Miami University, Oklahoma and Northwestern — and one head coaching job at Indiana, to understand how things work. But he also knows if it works, why change?
“I hope I’m going to be a positive part of (this) team,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve done anything to deserve to regress.”
Quite the contrary. The Ohio State offense, especially the passing game, has been spectacular with Day calling plays from the sideline, Wilson and other assistants chiming in from the press box and Haskins making it work on the field.
Wilson offered an inside look at how the offense operates. Day handles the specifics, bouncing ideas off and receiving feedback from the offensive coaches upstairs, with Meyer jumping in with reminders.
“It might be, ‘Hey, remember I like this pass or this run,’" Wilson said. “Everyone talks about halftime adjustments; well, we’re making little adjustments between drives.”
Would Wilson want to be the head coach with final say? A part of him leans that way, but he is loathe to draw attention to his play-calling abilities, which at one time were hailed as among the best in football.
“As a lineman, it was always ‘us.’ As a coaching staff, it’s ‘us.’ And I’m trying to be a positive part of ‘us,’ ” he said.
All Wilson asks is that his effort be appreciated. He need not be the star, but also does not want his work sucked into a black hole.
“You trust that the job you’re doing doesn’t get swept under the table, because you are an integral part of something that is very good,” he said.
My view? Keep Wilson on staff in some capacity. Program continuity is a big reason Day was chosen to succeed Meyer, who is stepping down after the Rose Bowl on Tuesday. Wilson brings toughness, experience and maybe most importantly a healthy dose of humility. It’s simple: Don’t fix what isn’t broken.