Young and confident
Ryan Day has never been a head coach, other than serving as acting coach for Ohio State through the first three games of this season.
He is only 39 years old. He grew up in New Hampshire and wasn’t imbued with Ohio football tradition, as most Buckeyes coaches have been.
None of that deterred Ohio State from handing Day the keys to one of the top football programs in the country.
Retiring coach Urban Meyer believes that Day is ready. Athletic director Gene Smith believes he is. Most importantly, Day does, too.
Introduced Tuesday as Ohio State’s next coach, effective the day after the Buckeyes play in the Rose Bowl, Day said he was humbled by the opportunity to succeed Meyer as coach. He signed a five-year contract worth $4.5 million annually.
“The footprint that (Meyer) left here and the infrastructure is strong,” Day said. “And knowing that, and being here for two years and seeing exactly how it's been done, gives me great confidence.”
Day was a surprise pick by Smith on Aug. 1 to fill in for Meyer when the coach was placed on administrative leave and later was issued a three-game suspension for his handling of the Zach Smith accusations. After all, Ohio State had two former head coaches — Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson — on its staff.
But the Buckeyes had believed that Day was special since his arrival after the 2016 season as co-offensive coordinator. His pay was doubled from $400,000 to $800,000 and then to $1 million after last season when he turned down the offensive-coordinator job for the NFL's Tennessee Titans and a head-coaching job for a Southeastern Conference program.
Day’s time filling in for Meyer this season proved to be a trial run.
“He led our program through unbelievable adversity earlier in the year,” Smith said. “He offers us a terrific, terrific skill and talent. We're just so fortunate that he was here.”
Smith said that Day combines intelligence with emotional intelligence in the way he works with people.
“X’s and O’s are no-brainer,” Smith said, “but I watched how he handled the people during that time he was in charge, and he dealt with that masterfully.”
Reports surfaced in September about a possible coach-in-waiting agreement with Day.
“There was no coach-in-waiting deal,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
But serious discussion with Day about the possibility that he could become coach if Meyer retired began three or four weeks ago, Smith said. It wasn’t decided for sure until after Ohio State’s victory in the Big Ten championship game Saturday.
Late Monday afternoon, Day was sitting with Meyer and Smith in Meyer’s office when Smith formally offered him the job.
Smith said of Day’s reaction: “Just happiness. Joy. We slapped hands and hugged one another. He called his wife, and she had to go buy him a suit because he didn’t have a suit.”
Becoming the head coach at Ohio State is a life-changing move, but Day said that he and his family embrace it. Day is married to Christina — nicknamed Nina — and they have three children: R.J., Grace and Ourania.
“I would say Nina, she wasn't sleeping last night, that's for sure,” Day said. “It was a surreal experience. I had some long conversations, and I don't think it's quite really sunk in yet for all of us. We sat together as a family and talked about it last night, what it meant for our family.
“But we understand what Buckeye Nation is. We understand what this means for our family. And we're going to take it very seriously and jump in with two feet.”
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Other than the 2011 season when Luke Fickell served as head coach after Jim Tressel’s forced resignation in the offseason, Ohio State has not hired a first-time head coach since Paul Bixler 72 years ago. The Buckeyes were 4-3-2 in 1946, Bixler’s only season.
“I fully understand the challenges that await me,” Day said. “Being on the same list as Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, it's extremely humbling. But I'm prepared and ready for the task.”
He said every coach who puts a whistle around his neck aspires to become Ohio State’s coach. That was true for him as a boy growing up in New Hampshire watching the Ohio State-Michigan game on TV.
“I remember being on my grandfather’s couch and watching the game,” he said. “And just the respect I had for this place. It was always a dream of mine.”