First things first. Ryan Day is not a better coach than Urban Meyer. Not yet, anyway.
But Day is the better coach for these Buckeyes. Right here. Right now. Blasphemous? If so, a lot of us are dodging lightning bolts, because I can’t be the only one who believes Ohio State is benefiting from a new face below the headset.
Again, Meyer has three national championships at two schools, ranks third in career winning percentage (.854) behind Knute Rockne (.881) and Frank Leahy (.864) and was 7-0 against Michigan since 2012. Dude can coach. Pretty good as a TV talking head, too. So let’s be honest, the Buckeyes would be 4-0 had Urb stayed. (They might even be 4-0 if Jim Harbaugh were coaching them; well, OK, 3-1. Fickell would have beat him based on his former Ohio State coaching osmosis.)Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
Still, what Day is doing with this team shows a set of fingerprints that Meyer would not have matched.
Begin with the obvious. Day jettisoned most of Meyer’s defensive staff — co-coordinator Greg Schiano, linebackers coach Bill Davis and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson. Alex Grinch, who was brought in by Meyer to co-coordinate the defense, left to become defensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Only line coach Larry Johnson remained.
It must be asked whether Meyer would have fired Schiano and Davis had he returned for an eighth season. Recall that Davis was the best man in Meyer’s wedding, and Schiano and Meyer go way back; great friends, which is confusing considering Meyer once loosely held to a policy of not hiring buddies.
I still think Schiano is a good coach but recently learned that defensive coaches meetings last year were a one-sided confab in which Schiano did most of the talking. There was little discussion or collaboration, which may explain why Grinch grew disenchanted after only one season.
I’m not sure Meyer pulls the plug on Schiano, which means another season of one-way schemes and a likely repeat of last year’s defensive woes, when players appeared confused and lacked the typical attacking mind-set.
Day did not hesitate to upgrade the defensive staff, wooing Greg Mattison and Al Washington from Michigan — and if you watched UM’s woeful defense Saturday in a 35-14 loss to Wisconsin, it makes you think Mattison and Washington are definitely missed in Ann Arbor — and bringing Jeff Hafley in from the NFL.
The changes have brought immediate results. As good as the offense looks — we’ll get to that — the defense is the strength of the team, allowing only nine points a game.
Has Mattison seen staffs where one controlling coach wields a my-way-or-highway attitude?
“You know I have,” he said, grinning. “This staff has no egos. I joke with Jeff (Hafley), ‘You go talk to the media this time. I don’t have to.’ Is there collaboration? Oh my, yes.”
As for offense, Day is calling plays seldom seen in the Horseshoe. In a 76-5 win Saturday over Miami University, the Buckeyes even ran the rare quarterback sneak.
Bill Bender of The Sporting News expounded on what Day has accomplished.
“He has built on last year and enhanced Ohio State’s offensive model with incredible passing schemes where players are running wide open,” Bender wrote me during the game. “This Ohio State team can play with (Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma), and that’s because of the offense.”
The offense scored 42 points in the second quarter, the most since at least 1960 — maybe the most ever; detailed OSU records are spotty before that.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter, not the same (offense) year in, year out,” Day said. “You can’t just say, ‘Here’s the playbook; let’s go run these plays.”
Well, you can say it but you shouldn’t. Day doesn’t, which makes him the better man — the best man — for the job. Right now.