Ohio State football: AD Gene Smith had options if Ryan Day had said 'no'

Rob Oller
Ohio State Buckeyes athletics director Gene Smith pats offensive coordinator Ryan Day on the shoulder beside head coach Urban Meyer during a press conference to announce Meyer's retirement and Day's hiring as head football coach at Ohio State's Fawcett Center in Columbus on Dec. 4, 2018. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Ryan Day was always the first choice to replace Urban Meyer as Ohio State football coach — and may have become the emergency choice midway through the season if needed.

But OSU athletic director Gene Smith said on Thursday that he had three other candidates in mind just in case, including one from the NFL.

“One pro coach, but the other two were head (college) coaches,” Smith said. “I had a couple more. One was out of coaching. I had a bigger list but it came down to three that I was comparing (Day) against.”

The list never moved from paper to in-person interview, because Smith was so confident that Day was his man, even if the 39-year-old has never been a head coach except for three games at the start of this season while Meyer was suspended.

“That’s the risk,” Smith said. “Some of the people on that list have done it, but they haven’t done it here. I look at those guys and say, ‘He did it there, but the record is not that great there.’ ”

Smith and Ohio State settled on Day, who on Tuesday was named the 25th head coach in the program’s history. Meyer, who has compiled an 82-9 record in seven seasons, announced his retirement because of health reasons and other factors.

His final game coaching the Buckeyes will be Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl. But the timetable for replacing Meyer might have moved up significantly, Smith said, if Meyer’s health issues had not stabilized the second half of the season.

“He went down on one knee,” Smith said of the Buckeyes’ game against Indiana on Oct. 6. “That’s medical. That’s bad, to the point where the following week I had a meeting with about six people around him, saying, ‘We have to have a management strategy, because if you go down again I have to take you out.’ ”

Smith met with a group including strength coach Mickey Marotti, director of football operations Brian Voltolini, player-development director Ryan Stamper and deputy director of athletics Diana Sabau on Oct. 12, the day before a home game against Minnesota, to establish ground rules concerning Meyer.

“I said, ‘Look, we have to have people on the sidelines reminding him to keep his headset on, because it keeps the noise out,’ ” Smith said. “The noise is a stimulant for the headaches.

“I had the doctors there and asked, ‘What’s the stimuli that causes this?’ They said it was intensity, so that’s what we watched. When he started to scream, (Voltolini) would hit him, tap him. Most people didn’t notice that.”

Had things gone south, Smith was secure in having Day stepping in, largely because he had done it to start the season.

“Ryan has the familiarity with the administrative things that he’s responsible for leading,” Smith said, referring to factors including academics and compliance.

“I had no second thoughts,” he continued. “If I had trepidation or wasn’t sure about Ryan Day, I probably had three people I would have gone to quickly. I don’t know if I would have got them.”

But Smith suggested that none of the other candidates stood out so much that they made him question his decision to go with Day.

“Literally, I had a sheet of paper at home. My wife (Sheila) used to coach, so she’s a part of my brainstorming,” he said. “It’s got names and profiles, because you can Google everything in this world, and I knew a couple of them, so I’m doing my pros and cons.

“What you’re trying to do is evaluate your risk, because nobody is certain (though) Urban was probably certain. So what you’re trying to do is mitigate the risk. The guys we were looking at, good human beings and good coaches, but (we also consider) our standards of operation, things that we expect to be done the way we expect them to be done. Ohio State is a complex place.”

In the end, Day checked all the boxes.


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