LOS ANGELES — The reins — and the whistle — have been passed from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day.
Meyer entered coaching retirement after Ohio State’s 28-23 victory Tuesday over Washington in the Rose Bowl. In the jubilant postgame locker room, Meyer spoke to his players one more time. He thanked them for handling the adversity of a turbulent season.
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“When I needed you the most, you gave me your very best,” Meyer told them.
Then he took the whistle from around his neck and gave it to Day.
“It was a special moment,” Day told reporters afterward. “It was really cool.”
The program is his now. And his first move came Wednesday night. Day named Mike Yurcich as passing coordinator and quarterbacks coach, essentially the role that Day served in the past two seasons. Yurcich, a Euclid native who spent the past six seasons at Oklahoma State, received a two-year, $950,000 contract.
In an ESPN radio interview Wednesday morning, Day said he would be cautious in making any kind of overhaul.
“We have a great program intact here,” he said. “I’m going to be very careful about changing too many things just to change them. I’m somebody that’s pretty confident in my own skin. I understand there are things in place here that have been here for a reason.
“I’ve had the opportunity over the last two years to recognize what makes Ohio State great. I want to keep those things going so reestablishing all those philosophies and core values and making sure it has my fingerprints all over it and my personality.”
Some decisions will have to be made soon, starting with deciding which assistant coaches he wants to retain. Several underclassmen players must decide by Jan. 14 whether to enter the NFL draft and that will affect how many players Ohio State can pursue for the February signing day.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. is the headliner among those weighing whether to leave. As the likely top quarterback prospect, he is expected to declare for the draft but did not tip his hand after the game.
Linebacker Malik Harrison said he will return for his senior year, and cornerback Damon Arnette said he was leaning toward leaving. Safety Jordan Fuller, cornerback Kendall Sheffield, offensive lineman Michael Jordan and wide receiver K.J. Hill are among others who could depart.
If Haskins leaves, Ohio State’s quarterback situation will become quite intriguing. Redshirt freshman Tate Martell made it clear on Rose Bowl media day that he believes he will be the starter next year, assuming Haskins’ departure.
True freshman Matthew Baldwin, who redshirted this year while he recovered from a torn knee ligament, said after the game that he is ready to compete for the job.
“I’m very confident,” Baldwin said. “Coach Day didn’t recruit me to come here and sit down and watch other guys. That’s my mindset.”
Then there’s the wild card of a transfer, specifically Georgia freshman Justin Fields, a five-star prospect last year. Fields is expected to announce his intention to leave the Bulldogs after putting his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Ohio State is reportedly at or near the top of his list of desired destinations.
Adding Yurcich could be part of that play. At Oklahoma State, he directed offenses that ranked fifth nationally in passing yards per game (315.9), 11th in touchdown passes (179), seventh in total yards (478.6) and sixth in scoring (38.0).
Assembling a coaching staff, continuing to recruit and eventually sorting out the quarterback position are just a few of the decisions Day will face.
On Tuesday, though, he took a moment just to appreciate the job he now has.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “To be the leader of such a special place, a special group of men, this program, Buckeye Nation — it’s an honor.”