Day brings new leadership style to Buckeyes

Bill Rabinowitz
Athletic director Gene Smith raves about coach Ryan Day's emotional intelligence, or "E.Q." [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State in 2011, no one questioned his leadership chops.

Meyer was an experienced head coach who had already won two national championships at Florida. His direct, no-nonsense personality left no doubt who was in charge.

Meyer’s successor doesn’t have his track record. Except for the three-game stint filling in last year during Meyer’s suspension, Ryan Day has no head coaching experience.

Ohio State is no entry-level job. Coaching the Buckeyes is more like running a complex corporation, and nothing but close to perfection is deemed acceptable.

That may sound like a nearly impossible job, but those around Day, and the coach himself, are undaunted by the leadership questions he faces. In fact, after seven years of Meyer’s ultra-intensity, Day might represent a nice change.

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“He’s driven, but he’s not as heavy a driver,” athletic director Gene Smith said. “He still has the standard of excellence. There’s no difference there. It’s just a different style. People are not on edge as they were with Urban. It’s just a different style, and they both work.”

Day is more gregarious than Meyer. Smith raves about his “E.Q.” — emotional intelligence — in relating to people.

“He’s more of a positive-energy guy,” running backs coach Tony Alford said. “He doesn’t browbeat. Expectations are very, very clear and concise. If you’re doing it right, he champions that effort. If you’re doing it wrong, he’ll get after that effort, too. So it’s very consistent.”

Day comes across as highly self-confident but not cocky. Though he hasn’t been a head coach, he imagined and prepared himself for this role.

“I’ve always tried to keep good notes,” he said. “I’ve been around great leaders and learned from them. I’ve always had in my mind this is how I’d do things. I’ve had a plan all along and then I’m using coach’s footprint, and what he’s done with the program, to keep this thing going.”

As for whether he agrees his personality and style will be welcomed after Meyer’s complacency-is-the-enemy approach, Day wasn’t sure.

“We’re different, but we share a lot of the same philosophies,” Day said. “The standard hasn’t changed. We have to put a product on the field. We have a lot of responsibility along the way to make sure our kids are doing a great job in the classroom and off the field and that we are winning games. That is really, really important.”

Meyer said last month that he knew a year ago Day should be the one to succeed him as coach, though he didn’t know when. He doesn’t doubt Day’s leadership capabilities.

“There’s so much to him,” Meyer said. “It’s not being a good play-caller. It’s not being a good recruiter. It’s not being able to manage people. It’s all of the above. That’s a hard, hard quality to find.”

He said the job of a leader is to “inspire, motivate and discipline, and get people to do the ‘unthinkables.’ ”

Mentoring a passer as gifted as Dwayne Haskins Jr. is fun, Meyer said. Motivating players to do things like embrace running at full speed on kickoff coverage into violent collisions is the bigger test.

“That’s the hard, that’s the nasty, but that’s how you win,” Meyer said. “Very few really understand that, but the great ones do. And he understands that.”

Meyer said that Day working under coaches such as Chip Kelly and Steve Addazio before his arrival at Ohio State reinforced Day’s own innate work ethic.

“He’s been in very like-minded organizations,” Meyer said. “There are no shortcuts. There’s only one way to get something done, and that’s to roll up your sleeves and go to work and work really hard at it.”

Day understands that he could do everything correctly according to leadership guidelines, and it won’t matter much if the victories on Saturdays don’t pile up.

“Anyone’s leadership style comes down to results,” he said. “I really want to empower the coaches and empower the players and create an accountability and a responsibility to the program. When that happens and you’re self-motivated and you own that, the ownership and the accountability is at a really high level.”

How exactly that will look is something not even Day knows for sure.

“As time goes on, guys will have a better feel for my leadership style,” he said. “But we’re only a few months into it. We’ve got a long way to go.”


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