On Saturday night, just hours after the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes knocked out the Tulane Green Wave and turned the page to focus on Penn State, Ari Wasserman of The Athletic reported that Ohio State officials were in discussions with co-offensive coordinator/quarterback coach—and recent interim head coach— Ryan Day on a plan to make him the football program’s head coach-in-waiting.
The news caused quite the stir on social media on Saturday night, as fans and media alike tried to determine what the report meant in relation to head coach Urban Meyer’s future, the impact on recruiting, and Day’s value on the open market.
That Saturday social media buzz turned into Sunday morning confusion as Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith tweeted what appeared to be a reaction to Wasserman’s piece. The AD made clear that the university expects Urban Meyer to remain the head coach for “quite some time.”
We obviously are appreciative of Coach Day’s great work, and hope he continues to be one of our offensive coordinators for a long time, but we are more than confident Coach Meyer will be our head coach for quite some time.— gene smith (@OSU_AD) September 23, 2018
As I noted in the article linked above, while Smith certainly seems to downplay The Athletic’s report, he doesn’t actually deny its substance. In fact, with slightly different framing, Smith’s tweet could be the opening of a statement actually announcing Day as the school’s coach-in-waiting.
Now, I have no idea if what Wasserman’s source told him is true or not, nor do I know if Smith is currently in negotiations with Day. However, if Day agrees with Smith, and hopes that “he continues to be one of [Ohio State’s] offensive coordinators for a long time,” then the Buckeyes should absolutely make him the coach-in-waiting, and they should do it now.
Recruiting Pros Outweigh Cons
Of course, nearly every coaching move leads to a mix of positive and negative results. And, there would definitely be a downside to making the move, but, in this case, I think the positives would far outweigh the negatives.
First, let’s look at the most obvious negative. If Ohio State officially, and publicly, made this move, Day would be subject to further recruiting restrictions according to NCAA recruiting regulations:
Assistant Coach Publicly Designated as Institution’s Next Head Coach - Football Bowl Subdivision An institution’s assistant coach who has been publicly designated by the institution to become its next head coach shall be subject to the recruiting restrictions applicable to the institution’s head coach.
This would be the obvious downside to naming Day the coach-in-waiting, however, not announcing it publicly would seemingly rob the move of much of its value. Therefore, if Day does in fact plan to stay on staff for years to come, then the announcement would (mostly) render obsolete the inevitable negative recruiting about him potentially leaving to take a head coaching job elsewhere.
Over the years, we have heard of many instances of schools—both in the Big Ten and nationally—attempting to recruit players away from Ohio State by convincing them that Meyer was on the “back end of his career.”
The top-rated recruit out of Ohio in the 2018 class, Jackson Carman, admitted on Signing Day that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s insistence that Meyer wasn’t long for his position played a factor in deciding to go out of state.
However, Meyer isn’t the only member of the staff who has been the victim of these types of tactics. Despite associate head coach Larry Johnson’s repeated statements that he has no intention to retire, other schools continue to tell high schoolers that the legendary defensive line coach has one foot out the door.
If this type of thing is happening with an alleged Johnson retirement, you know that it will happen with a potential Day departure as well; it’s shady, but it would make sense. There is no doubt that many will see Day’s tenure as OSU’s acting head coach as a six-week audition to take over a program of his own for the first time in his career. And, as schools begin to part ways with their head coaches, it would make sense that Day would be at the top of many a wishlist.
However, Day reportedly had an offer to become the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the off-season, but chose to sign a new three-year contract with Ohio State instead of becoming a head man in the SEC. Day also turned down the opportunity to become the offensive coordinator for Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans.
Since arriving in Columbus, Day has talked about wanting to remain in one spot for the first time in his now 17-year coaching career. With three school-age children, the Buckeye play-caller has said that for the first time in his professional career, when arriving at a new stop, he bought a house in Columbus, rather than renting, because he didn’t want to uproot his family while his kids were in school.
Of course, the unusual circumstances of this fall very well might have changed Day’s timetable for becoming a head coach. So, if Day is open to exploring head coaching opportunities at other schools following this season, obviously it would be disingenuous to name him the coach-in-waiting now.
However, Day’s recruiting prowess—especially with quarterbacks— has already been made abundantly clear in his first year and a half at OSU, and given how incredible Dwayne Haskins has looked as the first QB of the “Ryan Day era,” it would stand to reason that many high schoolers would want to pick a school in order to be coached by Day.
So, if Day wants to stay in Columbus for the foreseeable future, and both he and Meyer are comfortable with the designation, then making him the coach-in-waiting feels like the logical, natural extension of this fall’s events.
Coaching is Culture
Throughout his six-weeks running the Ohio State football program, Day said multiple times that his job as the acting coach was simply to maintain what Meyer had put in place.
Day said, “The culture Coach [Meyer] has set here with all these guys, it’s amazing. The locker room and the character, not just with the players, but their families, you know, sticking together, our recruits, the whole thing. So because of that, we’ve been able to come through the back end of this thing.”
When you look at programs in the upper echelon of college football in which Ohio State resides, they almost all have incredible facilities, they almost all have access to world-class academics, and when talking about the elite programs, they all have a track record of putting players in the NFL.
So, what does it often come down to when players pick a school to attend? Coaches and culture. While every player has his own reasons for picking a particular program to commit to, something that we have seen routinely from players pledging to play at Ohio State is the importance of OSU’s dedication to preparing student-athletes for life after football. The “Real Life Wednesday” program that Meyer has created has proven to be the defining and deciding factor in helping take the program to the next level of contending for a national title.
There is no doubt that Smith and other university administrators have noticed that. And, while the ugliness of this fall is likely still at the forefront of their minds, it would seem to serve the program best to ensure that this positive, program-defining culture is maintained moving forward, no matter when Meyer exits.
During Meyer’s six-week suspension, Day represented the program with grace and class.
Chip Kelly said that Day was “built for this,” and Meyer said that he is “elite.” Those sure sound like qualities you’d want in the next head coach of the Ohio State football program, no matter when he takes over.