Ohio State has evolved tremendously from last season. Ryan Day? Not so much. But it’s not what you think. Day never passed through the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon stages of coaching development because he never needed to, having arrived already modernized.
Even as the Buckeyes’ offense has advanced from college-themed jet sweeps to pro-style double-tight end sets, and even as the defense has developed into a powerhouse presence after spending 2018 as a lifeless blob, Ohio State’s coach has not changed a bit.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
To hear players and coaches tell it, Day is the same competitive guy — and efficiency fanatic — as when he arrived as Urban Meyer’s quarterbacks coach in 2017.
“He’s the same as the first day I got here,” said defensive co-coordinator Greg Mattison, who joined Day’s staff in January. “Nothing has changed about him. It shows me he was the guy who was meant to do this.”
It sure seems that way. I was among those who, while not criticizing Day’s hiring, thought athletic director Gene Smith should have conducted a national coaching search. Turns out Smith knew what he had in-house.
Day may not be a guy who lights up the room — or maybe he is and chooses to hide that part of his personality from the media — but he definitely stars in meeting rooms.
“When we have meetings, it’s a business meeting,” said Mattison, a veteran of both college and the NFL who has worked under good and bad coaches. “You’re in, what Ryan wants done gets done, and then you go out and get going on what you need to do to make this team the best it can be. There’s no wasted time. And that comes with confidence.”
As evolution goes, Day did not need to reinvent the wheel. Meyer set things on a tee for his preferred replacement. But the transition would have been bumpier with a first-year coach who wasn’t ready for the klieg lights.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley presents an obvious comparison, but even Riley suffered an upset loss to Iowa State in 2017 five games into his first season with the Sooners, before leading them to the College Football Playoff in 2017 and 2018.
Day is 7-0 this season and 10-0 overall, counting last year’s 3-0 record as Meyer’s stand-in.
On Saturday, Day faces his biggest test since the Buckeyes played TCU on the road in Week 3 last season. I asked him to reflect on his progress since that 40-28 win in Arlington, Texas.
One thing you should know: Most coaches hate reflecting. They think only of the next opponent. Still, Day offered a tiny glimpse into his transition.
“That does seem like a long time ago. A lot of things have happened since then,” he said. “Again, the more you do something, the more normal it becomes. You find your voice. But then more importantly, you get a feel for the guys that you’re with: the staff, the players, the leaders.”
Day is no easy read — still waters run deep in this native New Englander — but he reads others quickly. That said, it took time to grasp the personality quirks of his team. His biggest growth has come in getting a handle on the daily challenges of dealing with college-age men.
“Sometimes you really get that feel midway through the week — here is what the team is feeling, what they need at that time. You go from there,” Day said. “That’s something I really got a good feel for and rhythm as time has gone on.”
It also is why I don’t see the Buckeyes stumbling into a shocking loss this season. With Day, steady as she goes.