SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Television viewers of a certain age will recall the Unknown Comic, who during the mid-1970s wore a brown paper bag over his head while telling above-average jokes that attracted below-average applause.
Instead of a bag over his head, Mike Yurcich performs with bags under his eyes. Such is the sleep-deprived life of an assistant coach. But like the comic, the Ohio State quarterbacks coach has done an above-average job while receiving below-average credit.
Yurcich is largely responsible for turning Justin Fields into a Heisman Trophy finalist even though the sophomore never started a college game before this season.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“Mike’s done a great job working with Justin to bring him along,” Day said on Thursday. “And that’s a very fragile thing. We have a really talented quarterback, but how much do you put on him? When you’re introducing a play, you can give him everything or you can give him a little bit. That’s the art of coaching.”
Jeff Hafley, who as OSU defensive co-coordinator has watched Fields’ progress from across the ball, said Yurcich deserves credit for developing the Georgia transfer.
“Justin has gotten better every single week,” Hafley said. “That’s Justin and that’s Mike. And that’s huge.”
It also may be over. Several reports have Yurcich getting hooked by the ’Horns, leaving after the season to become Tom Herman’s offensive coordinator at Texas, which would give the Longhorns three former Ohio State assistants working in Austin.
Herman was OSU’s quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014 under Urban Meyer. Chris Ash became UT’s defensive coordinator on Dec. 15 after Rutgers fired him on Sept. 29, replacing him with another former OSU assistant in Greg Schiano. Ash served at OSU as defensive co-coordinator in 2014-15.
Yurcich, who reportedly also is Washington coach Jimmy Lake’s first choice to take over as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator, told me “No sir” when asked if he had interviewed at either Texas or Washington.
“It’s the rumor time of year,” he said. “Our focus is on beating Clemson.”
Stay tuned. Coaching interviews are stealthy operations dripping in semantics. Agents serve as go-betweens, so it’s quite possible Yurcich has communicated with potential suitors without having been contacted directly.
Washington seems less risky than Texas, where heat is turning up on Herman after seasons of six, four and five losses. Lake’s grace period with the Huskies is just beginning.
Or maybe Yurcich stays at Ohio State, where if things fall right he could become offensive coordinator. Current OC Kevin Wilson confirmed he was a candidate for the Colorado State job that recently went to Steve Addazio. It makes sense that Wilson will continue to seek head coaching openings.
If Yurcich does exit Columbus he would join Hafley on the one-year-and-done train; Hafley accepted the head coaching position at Boston College on Dec. 14, but will remain with the Buckeyes through this season.
Day is aware of other schools showing interest in Yurcich, but made clear that it has not been a distraction as Ohio State prepares to play Clemson on Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl.
“When you have the success we’ve had, something comes up,” Day said. “We know this is going to happen.”
Does Yurcich want it to happen with him? The former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and play caller is too much of a professional to “pump my own tires,” as he put it, with the Buckeyes preparing for their biggest game of the year, but I can’t blame him if he wants more ownership in the offense.
For now, however, he is saying the right things.
“I’m here to serve. When you have an assistant coach tag, your job is to assist,” he said. “Sometimes people forget about that.”
Sometimes people forget about the assistant, too. But no joke, stay or go Yurcich has proved his worth.