Out of the dark, into the light
The transformation of the Ohio State head coach’s office in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is almost complete.
Some pictures have yet to be hung, and the shelves aren’t all full. Otherwise, Ryan Day’s office looks like his and not as if he still occupies Urban Meyer’s digs.
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The centerpiece of the remodel is a fireplace on the far side of the office. In a way, it’s a fitting symbol of Ohio State’s changing of the guard.
No offense to Meyer, but it’s hard to picture a fireplace in his office. Day has a warmer personality, and he wants people to feel at ease in his office.
“I think you sit in here in the winter and the fireplace is on, and it’s comfortable,” Day said. “If we say it’s a family environment in terms of the players, the coaches and the staff, you have a home and our home is the Woody, and this is kind of like the living room.”
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Day was named to succeed Meyer on Dec. 4. It has been a whirlwind since then, but on the eve of his first game as head coach — excluding the three as acting coach last year — Day seemed settled and, well, at ease as the opener against Florida Atlantic approached.
He knows the job, like the season, will have adversity. It is as unavoidable as it is unpredictable. During his coaching career, Day has done much self-reflection and self-assessment.
But self-doubt has never really entered the equation. He believes he is ready for this job, and he vows not to tiptoe into it.
“I've never been somebody who, when it comes to competition or comes to this type of environment, ever had a lot of self-doubt or was scared or tentative,” Day said. “I've always been very, very aggressive. You could see that a little bit last year.”
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Yes, you could. Of all the play calls Day made last year as offensive coordinator, one 11-yard gain might serve as the best proof of that.
Ohio State was tied 45-45 in overtime with Maryland when it faced a fourth-and-1 after Dwayne Haskins Jr. was stuffed on third down. The Buckeyes decided to go for it, but Day didn’t call with a predictable play. Instead, he had Haskins throw a short slant to backup tight end Rashod Berry, a former defensive player who’d caught only six passes last season to that point.
His explanation was telling. Maryland had stacked the line of scrimmage, so running inside would be tough. That left the Terrapins vulnerable to a pass in the flat.
“We knew it was the right call,” Day said. “And at that point, you have to trust the guys who are in the game because if it's on the call sheet, and you've trusted it and you worked on it and practiced that, you’ve got to call it.”
The Buckeyes had worked on that play during the week and put it in the game plan.
“If that's what we said on Wednesday, you've got to go with it,” Day said. “Because in that moment, you had a clear mind. There was no crowd. There was no emotion. At that moment, you said to yourself, ‘This is the best play for this moment.’ You have to make that call. And I think some guys struggle with that (in pressure situations).”
Day doesn’t pretend to be impervious to pressure or fear.
“To say I have no fears — everybody has fears,” he said. “That’s unrealistic. But what about the guy you’re playing against? Let him worry about it. Let him be tentative. Let him have the anxiety, because that doesn’t help you when you’re competing.”
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Day has always been ultra-competitive, and that drives some of his aggressiveness. But there’s another component to it. As passionate and driven as he is in football, he realizes it is only a game. Losing a game isn’t a tragedy. He experienced real tragedy when he was 9 and his father died by suicide. Day had to grow up quickly to help raise his two younger brothers.
“I think when you go through that when you’re at a young age, it’s like, ‘OK, what are they going to do to me now? What’s the worst that can happen?’” Day said. “Understanding what a loss means around here, don’t think I don’t understand that. I do. But asking why I have that approach — that probably has something to do with it.”
Day believes his three-game stint as acting coach served as great training wheels for the job. He didn’t try to be Meyer. He could be himself and do fine.
Buckeyes players and coaches say the transition this year has gone smoothly. Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson coached under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. He said Day resembles Stoops in that he easily connects with people and can be direct and clearly in charge without micromanaging.
“I've been unbelievably impressed with his attitude, his energy,” Wilson said. “I've also been impressed with him just trying to be himself. I think he's got a lot of great strengths, and he's going to do an outstanding job this year and in the future.”
Meyer set a standard that would be difficult for anyone to match, let alone a first-time head coach. But Day embraces that high bar.
“I've always had the mindset of ‘Why not me?’” he said. “Why would it have to be somebody else?”
He said he said the same thing to his team. He told them there’s no reason they can’t repeat as Big Ten champions or win the national championship.
“We just have to make up our mind that we're going to do it,” Day said. “That's kind of been my philosophy in coaching, too. When you put the work in with recruiting and you build a reputation for yourself, and then you put the work in understanding schematics and how to teach and how to coach and how to motivate, you want your opportunity. And here we are.”