Pain from Fiesta Bowl lingers for Ohio State coach Ryan Day

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave (17) and Jaylen Harris sit dejectedly as confetti falls following Clemson’s 29-23 win over the Buckeyes in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 28. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Ryan Day watched the College Football Playoff championship game Monday night with a range of emotions.

The Ohio State coach felt pride and happiness for LSU’s Joe Burrow, the former Buckeye who capped a Heisman Trophy-winning season with a national title. But that was about the only pleasant aspect of watching a game that Day fully expected to coach in. Ohio State believed it had a team capable of winning it all.

Instead, Day was a spectator at home.

“That was hard to watch,” Day said Wednesday in his first availability with the media since a 29-23 playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. “I'm not going to lie. It was very difficult.”

Which was kind of the point. He told his players he wanted them to watch, as well, for motivation.

“How bad do they want to get back into that game next year or (earn their way) back into that situation and get to that game?” he said. “And then, what are they willing to do and sacrifice to get back there? That's what I was thinking when I was watching that game.”

Day said he has gotten past the anger — at the officiating, at the missed opportunities — that he expressed right after the game. But the memories of the defeat remain all too fresh, though it is slowly starting to subside.

“Probably as opposed to every second, every other second, especially when the game was played Monday night and just right there front and center,” Day said about how much he thinks about the Clemson loss. “It's hard to let go. I'm just telling you, it's hard. And we're not going to let go.”

Day wants to balance moving on with allowing the pain to serve as fuel.

“And that’s the way it should be,” he said.

But Day doesn’t want his team’s accomplishments to be forgotten, either.

“When you go 13-1, you win your conference championship, you win the rivalry game (against Michigan), that's a hell of a season,” he said. “Doesn't matter where you are, hell of a season. But, again, we didn't reach all of our goals. So that keeps us wanting more.”

The Buckeyes are expected to contend for the national title next year, with the return of quarterback Justin Fields a major reason.

Day had mostly downplayed Fields’ sprained knee late in the year. On Wednesday, Day said that the injury, suffered at the end of the Penn State game, limited Fields’ ability to practice, especially before the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.

“It's a tribute to how tough he is and his ability to work through things,” Day said.

As for how healthy Fields was against Clemson, Day said, “Without getting into too many details, it wasn't something that was catastrophic, but he wasn't 100 percent.”

Day declined to say whether Fields needed a procedure on his knee, citing privacy issues, but The Dispatch has learned that Fields did not have surgery. Day said the injury won’t affect him in the future.

The most pressing item on Day’s agenda is hiring a replacement for defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley, who is now Boston College’s coach.

The Dispatch has reported that former Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs would return. Coombs is secondary coach of the Tennessee Titans, who play in the AFC championship game Sunday.

Day deflected questions about Coombs.

“We haven't hired anyone yet,” he said. “Still going through it all. I'm not going to go through that right now.”


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