CHICAGO — The earth cracked under Urban Meyer one year ago, leading to a tsunami that crashed his coaching career onto the shores of early retirement.
Last July 24 at Big Ten media days, Meyer addressed reports of domestic violence against Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith, whom Meyer had fired one day earlier when the allegations of abuse surfaced.
We know what happened next. Meyer’s answers were questioned, a wave of controversy ensued and, after an investigation, the university suspended him for three games.
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Sifting the collateral damage took months, but eventually turned up a retirement — Meyer’s. A combination of coaching stress, health issues and fallout from the suspension had taken its toll. Meyer stepped down on Jan. 1, and the Buckeyes elevated offensive coordinator Ryan Day.
Fast forward to Thursday afternoon, where Day answered questions that rated a 2 on the difficulty scale of 1 to 10. Unlike Meyer’s Big Ten media session that felt like a hammer to the head, Day’s most challenging moment arrived about halfway through his one-hour news conference.
As Day answered a reporter’s question, a second reporter interrupted with another question before Day had finished.
“Wait a minute,” Day told the interrupter before returning to his original answer.
OMG. Someone call Brett McMurphy.
Day knows tougher days are coming, but so far he has been flying in calm air with little turbulence. When your biggest problem is not knowing if your five-star quarterback will be good or great …
“When dealing with so many people in such a high-profile situation, there will be things that come up,” Day said, explaining that the key is being able to withstand the storm. “There will be fires along the way. Try to be as strong as you can and work through them and trust the guys around you.”
But as Meyer learned, trusting too much — or failing to act quickly enough when trust is broken — can have unfortunate ramifications.
How will Day handle it when the storms of controversy come, as they always do? My hunch is he deals with chaos better than his predecessor. Or at least in a healthier manner. Meyer is wound tighter than a solenoid. He’s learning better how to “let go,” but it’s going to take time. Let’s see how he holds up during his first season away from the sideline since leaving Florida in 2011.
Day, meanwhile, seems more measured. It may be a generational thing; Meyer’s methods strike me as more old-school, which makes sense given his age (55) compared with Day's (40).
It also could be that Day’s upbringing — as a 9-year-old, he took responsibility for helping raise his two younger brothers when their father committed suicide in 1988 — prepared him for any coaching chaos that might come his way.
“I think back to when Chip (Kelly) sent me that text: ‘You were built for this.’ That’s kind of my life,” Day said. “I’ve gone through some of those type things, and being steady when adversity hits is when you find out what people are.”
What is Day? Maniacally competitive but also patient with people not named Ryan Day; extending grace to himself is a work in progress.
“You have to fail first before you can succeed,” he likes to say.
That may not give all Ohio State fans peace of mind — their expectation each season is to succeed without ever failing — but Day also isn’t conceding defeat. My favorite quote of his so far is when someone asked what happens if he does not win big enough?
“Well, what if I do?” he fired back.
Confident. And smart. As Day left his presser, I asked what he thought of Jim Harbaugh’s Thursday comment about Meyer: “Controversy follows wherever he’s been.”
“No, no,” Day said, smiling as he exited.
No comment? What a difference a year makes.