After leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 regular season and the Big Ten championship game, Day is the first Ohio State coach so honored since Earle Bruce in 1979.
John Cooper didn’t win it. Nor did Jim Tressel. Not even Urban Meyer.
Not since 1979 had an Ohio State coach won Big Ten’s coach of the year honors. Earle Bruce won it in his first season as OSU coach after succeeding Woody Hayes and taking the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season.
That head-scratching streak ended Tuesday when Ryan Day was named the conference’s top coach in the media voting. Like Bruce, Day replaced a legendary coach in Meyer. Like Bruce, Day led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season.
Ohio State is 12-0 and No. 1 heading into the release Tuesday night of the next-to-last College Football Playoff rankings. The Buckeyes play Wisconsin (10-2) on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game.
Buckeyes coaches have been slighted because coach-of-the-year honors often go to the coach whose team has unexpected success. At Ohio State, success is expected.
Even this year, Day didn’t sweep the award. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck got the honor in voting by the league’s coaches.
Unlike Bruce, the 40-year-old Day had never been a head coach before taking the Ohio State job, except for the three-game stint at the start of last season when he served as acting coach during Meyer’s suspension.
Day was named head coach Dec. 4, 2018, after Meyer retired. Immediately, Day faced challenges. He had to hold together the Buckeyes’ recruiting class and won some late battles on that trail. Day also had to decide which coaches to retain and let go. His hires on the defensive staff have worked out superbly.
Day also had to resolve the quarterback situation. Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s success last season prompted him to leave early for the NFL. Day pounced on quarterback Justin Fields when the Georgia quarterback entered the transfer portal, and the sophomore has been even better than his lofty billing.
From the start, Day tried to take the best of the Meyer era — he kept Meyer’s top right-hand men, Mickey Marotti — while gradually establishing his mark. One small, but telling detail: He had his office remodeled to include the installation of a fireplace to create a warm, cozy feel where players and recruits could feel at home.
“Coach Day, he’s a great dude, just personally,” senior receiver Austin Mack said Tuesday. “As a man, he loves to just sit down and talk to me and open up. His office is always open. He says, ‘Come in and hang out. You don’t even need to talk to me. I want to be able to be with you guys.’ ”
As an offensive coordinator and play-caller, Day long has been known as being a superb tactician, skilled at molding his playbook and game plans to his personnel and finding vulnerabilities in defenses.
As head coach, he has preached the importance of toughness.
“He’s a fighter,” Mack said. “That’s been his motto all year. You can see the passion and joy in his eyes (especially) after this past win (Saturday against Michigan).
“I love being able to play for this guy. He’s a great coach.”