Ryan Day is on a mission to turn Ohio State into Quarterback U. It’s a tall order — history is not on his side — but the Buckeyes football coach is confident he can deliver the goods.
Given Day’s early success, it is hard to dismiss his goal as wishful thinking. But it’s also a big ask, given how the most successful NFL quarterback to come out of Ohio State was Mike Tomczak. That’s less a slam on Tomczak than an indictment of the Buckeyes’ quarterback talent — or maybe the development of talent — through the years.
It’s not that Ohio State has lacked top-shelf quarterback play Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Joe Germaine and Bobby Hoying all enjoyed exemplary college careers. But none wowed anyone at the next level, at least not enough to turn the program into anything close to resembling a QB factory.
Day wants to change that, calling "huge" the aim of recruiting and developing quarterbacks into high picks in the NFL draft.
"When I first got here (as an assistant in 2017), it wasn’t something that had been done before. I took it upon myself as a challenge," he said. "We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress in the right direction."
Day is responsible for much of the progress, having worked with Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins Jr. while serving as quarterbacks coach in 2017 and ’18 and as head coach with Justin Fields last season.
Burrow transferred to LSU in the spring of 2018 and went from good to great when the Tigers hired Joe Brady as passing-game coordinator in 2019. Day is careful not to pat himself on the back too much for helping Burrow develop. Most of the credit goes to Burrow, whose smarts, talent and work ethic meshed with LSU’s QB-friendly offensive system to turn the Athens High School product into a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick. But Day definitely helped cement a foundation from which Burrow could build.
Haskins was pretty raw when Day began working with him in 2017. But by the time the quarterback completed his one season as a starter, he had broken nearly every school and most Big Ten passing records. After becoming a Heisman finalist, Haskins bolted for the NFL, where Washington made him the No. 15 pick overall.
Sensing during the 2018 season that Haskins likely would leave early, Day advised then-coach Urban Meyer that OSU needed to find a capable replacement. Enter the NCAA transfer portal, where the Buckeyes found Fields, who this past season earned a trip to New York as the school’s second quarterback Heisman finalist in as many seasons.
Fields is in the mix to become OSU’s first Heisman winner since quarterback Troy Smith in 2006 and is being mentioned as a potential top-three draft pick if, as expected, he elects to leave school early after the 2020 season.
If that happens, Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis will turn to the next wave of recruits — C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller — to build on a burgeoning QB brand.
For now, the Buckeyes will need to settle on being Quarterback High School, because QB U. status belongs to Oklahoma. The Sooners have had three No. 1 overall NFL draft picks since 2010 in Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. All three won the Heisman.
Day remains undeterred. He plans for Ohio State to become the new Quarterback U. And he makes sure his assistant coaches know it.
"If you are known as DB U., then as defensive backs coach you have done your job," he said. "If you’re the quarterbacks coach, then you should be Quarterback U. If you’re the running backs coach, you should be Running Backs U."
No pressure on Dennis, eh? Especially when defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, who used to coach the secondary, helped turn Ohio State into DB U., and defensive line coach Larry Johnson helped develop Nick and Joey Bosa (No. 2 and No. 3) and Chase Young (No. 2) into high draft picks.
"This is Defensive End U. right now because Larry Johnson has recruited and developed at a high level," Day said. "At each position, that should be the goal."
In the Ohio State football program, the headmaster sets the curriculum. Quarterback U. or bust.