Exactly one year ago Wednesday, Ryan Day was announced as Urban Meyer’s successor as Ohio State’s football coach.
It has been an eventful and successful 365 days.
Day has made a seamless transition from offensive coordinator to head coach in leading the top-ranked Buckeyes to an undefeated record. His hair remains jet black — no tinges of gray hastened by the stress of the job.
But with Ohio State preparing for Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game Saturday, Day’s focus is on the present, not the past year.
“I really didn't want to reflect on this until we get through that finish line, because I just don't think that's the right thing to do at this point,” he said during his noon news conference Tuesday. “I'm looking forward to reflecting on it — everything that's gone on this year — but I don't think now is the time. I really want to get this team and coaching staff ready to go win this game.”
Later Tuesday, Day accomplished something no other Buckeyes coach has in 40 years. In voting by the media, Day was named Big Ten coach of the year. Not since Earle Bruce, another first-year Buckeyes coach, won it in 1979 has Ohio State won that award.
“It means a lot,” Day said on the Big Ten Network. “More importantly, it means our players have done an unbelievable job and our coaching staff has done an unbelievable job. I’m honored and humbled, but really deflecting the praise (to others).”
For now, his attention is devoted to Saturday’s game.
The Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin 38-7 on Oct. 26 in Columbus, but it was a 10-7 game early in the third quarter. Ohio State is a 16-point favorite to win its third straight Big Ten championship.
Still, Day is wary. He respects Wisconsin (10-2), and he knows the challenge of having to beat a team twice.
"It'll be really tough,” Day said. “This is a very, very well-coached team. I think coach (Paul) Chryst is one of the best coaches not only in the Big Ten, but also the country.”
Wisconsin is led by running back Jonathan Taylor, who has run for 1,761 yards this season, and a defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest yards in the country.
“They've gotten better as the season has gone on,” Day said. “It's going to be a big challenge. It's going to be hard. (We’ll have to) go all the way to the fourth quarter.”
Ohio State remains No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. To remain so, they might need another strong performance to fend off LSU and avoid a likely semifinal matchup against defending champion Clemson.
The Buckeyes got that kind of effort last weekend in a 56-27 victory at Michigan. On Tuesday, Day acknowledged the pressure he felt trying to continue Ohio State’s dominance in the rivalry.
Asked if his primary emotion was relief or happiness, Day didn’t hesitate.
“Relief, and it’s not even close,” he said. “To say that I didn't internalize a lot of emotions that week, leading up to that game, would not be accurate. A lot went into that. It's not just me. It's my family, it's the staff, it's this team.”
Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley pointed out to Day the wall dedicated to the rivalry in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and how painful it would have been to look at it after a loss.
“I said I don't even know what that would be like,” Day said. “There's so much that goes into that. We play it year-round. To get that win the way we did means a lot.”
This time of year, even the elation of victory over Michigan doesn’t last long. On the caravan back home from Ann Arbor, Day’s thoughts turned to what’s ahead.
“There was a sigh of relief, but it didn't last long,” he said. “Once we crossed the border back into Ohio, it was on to the next game. That has to be the focus here.”