Ohio State's Ryan Day reflects on Harry Miller's mental health battle: 'Keeps you up at night'
The football coach at Ohio State always has a lot on his plate. It’s the nature of the job.
Ryan Day was dealing with much more than was known last season. In addition to his normal duties and making an in-season change in responsibilities on his defensive staff, the Buckeyes’ coach faced a life-or-death situation with one of his players.
In announcing on Twitter his medical retirement from football last week, offensive lineman Harry Miller revealed that he contemplated suicide last season.
“Prior to the season last year, I told Coach Day of my intention to kill myself,” Miller wrote.
Miller appeared on the Today Show on NBC on Monday. On Tuesday, Day was asked by reporters about Miller telling him his suicidal thoughts.
“You can imagine how emotional that is,” Day said. “It's something that keeps you up at night, for sure.”
Day was 8 when his father died by suicide, so the issue is personal to him. He and his wife, Nina, have made adolescent mental health their main off-the-field project. Under Day, Ohio State’s football program has added a dedicated staff of psychologists to help players with mental health issues.
“I am grateful for the infrastructure Coach Day has put in place at Ohio State,” Miller said. “…If not for him and the staff, my words would not be a reflection. They would be evidence in a post-mortem.”
Day deflected praise for his role and praised Miller for his willingness to share his ordeal.
“I try not to make it about me,” Day said. “It's about Harry, and this is about his journey. I just see the courage to go step out and do that because you're very vulnerable when you do something like this. You're a football player, and somebody who's 6-5, 320 pounds and valedictorian of his high school, you think everything's real easy. It's not that way. There's a lot that goes with that. And so to see him do that has been great.”
Day said he’s proud of Miller for seeking help but even more for sticking with it.
“He certainly wasn't where he is right now a year ago,” he said. “He did the work. What we did is put structures in place to help him and to help all our players. Just like if somebody tears their ACL or sprains their ankle. They need physical therapy. There are guys who need some work in the mental area, and that's really what happened.”
Day has coached in the NFL, where relationships tend to be more businesslike. He enjoys the personal relationships he can form with college players.
“When you take on the responsibility of recruiting someone and bring them into your building and say it's a family, you have to take on some of the some of the stuff that comes with that,” Day said. “And that's OK. That's part of the job of being a family. You don't always agree. There's arguments. There's hard feelings. There's different things that come up along the way. But you try to work through them the best you can. You try to help people the best you can and treat them the same way (as) when you recruit them.
“I think the old-school way was once they were in the building, it changed. That's not the way we do it here. We treat them the same way when they're here as when they were recruited. There's a lot that comes with that, but that's the job. If there weren't problems, we wouldn't have jobs. Part of being a coach is to solve the problems and try to help people. This is just one example.”
Day understands that mental health is an ongoing battle and that Miller’s remains a work in progress. Day said Miller wants to remain involved with the football program, though a role hasn’t been determined.
“He certainly has a lot to give,” Day said.