In Day’s new world, change is good for OSU football

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ryan Day, the head coach in waiting, speaks to media during a press availability in advance of the Rose Bowl game against the Washington Huskies in Los Angeles on Dec. 29, 2018. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

We knew more change was coming to Ohio State than just Shelley Meyer’s kitchen routine.

“I might have to cook dinner every night now, and I haven’t had to do that for a long time because (Urban) always had training table,” Meyer said after the Rose Bowl. “I’m going to ask if he can still go to training table.”

What we didn’t know was how Ryan Day, freshly minted as the new man in charge of OSU football, would serve up his staff realignment.

Now we do. Day has made several hiring and firing decisions that show Buckeye Nation he is his own man, and that saying thank you does not preclude him from also saying goodbye.

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The latest move came Monday, when, after watching what statistically was the worst defensive season in school history, Day hired Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison and San Francisco 49ers secondary coach Jeff Hafley as co-defensive coordinators. They replace Greg Schiano, who (along with Alex Grinch) was responsible for the defensive scheme that failed far too often. The Buckeyes yielded a program-worst 25.5 points per game and ranked 72nd in yardage allowed.

Schiano is a pro, but for whatever reason he insisted on sticking with an aggressive defensive strategy when the Buckeyes lacked the talent to make it work. He also actively has been looking for college head-coaching jobs, which is not the kind of all-in, focused attitude you want from an assistant coach under contract.

Still, Day could have kept Schiano, rationalizing the decision by chalking up the defensive drop-off as an aberration. After all, Ohio State’s defense under Schiano ranked ninth in 2017 and sixth in 2016. Plus, the Buckeyes lost defensive end Nick Bosa for all but three games this season. With him, who knows how things would have gone, although OSU did get gashed for long-yardage plays in games in which Bosa appeared.

It would have been easy to justify staying with Schiano, especially since Day leaned on him during preseason and as interim head coach during Meyer’s three-game suspension. But doing a favor for a friend can be dangerous business — we saw that with Meyer and former receivers coach Zach Smith — and Day did not let his personal feelings stand in the way of doing what was best for the program.

Day also might have wanted to create some separation from Meyer, who is good friends with Schiano. Similarly, Day could have elevated quality control coach Corey Dennis, who is Meyer’s son-in-law, to quarterbacks coach. Instead, he brought in Mike Yurcich from Oklahoma State to work with the Ohio State QBs.

Which brings us to the final big change of Day’s week. The Mr. Nice Guy move would have been for Day to hand the starting quarterback job to Tate Martell, who has paid his dues waiting for Dwayne Haskins Jr. to hurry up and leave for the NFL.

Well, Haskins made it official Monday, announcing he will enter the NFL draft, where he is expected to be the first quarterback taken.

Day, however, has not handed the keys of the Horseshoe kingdom to Martell. Instead, he recruited Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who was the No. 2-rated QB in the 2018 class behind Trevor Lawrence of Clemson.

Was wooing Fields being unfair to Martell? Not if you expect to compete against Alabama and Clemson. I wrote last year after the College Football Playoff championship game that Meyer would not have benched J.T. Barrett at halftime of such a huge game, the way Nick Saban replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa in Bama’s win against Georgia.

Would Day do such a daring — but effective — deed? Time will tell, but he is off to a nice beginning.


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