As hard as we’ve tried to push the global pandemic out of our collective consciousness as sports fans, it has begun to rear its ugly head far more often than many of us would like to admit over the past few weeks. Multiple games from nearly every conference of college football have been canceled for this weekend, and some programs have seen their rosters decimated by infections. Despite all of our hopes that increased testing and Draconian punishments would limit spread amongst teams, it ain’t happening, especially as the wider community continues to act as if the virus is not a problem severe enough to worry about.
For the first time, the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes had a game canceled this week due to COVID-19 concerns within the program of their previously scheduled opponent, the Maryland Terrapins. So, while we would generally like to ignore the real-life ramifications of sky-rocketing infection rates, it is probably smart to start thinking about what might happen should the coronavirus directly impact the Buckeye program at some point this season.
A month ago, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost told reporters that he had a plan for if he had to miss games due to COVID, and it got me wondering what would happen (Woody forbid) if OSU head man Ryan Day had to miss a game or two down the stretch of the 2020 season.
Frost says if he tested positive for COVID, they know who would handle the temporary head coaching duties, but he doesn't want to announce publicly who would take over.— Tom Orr (@TomOrr4) October 19, 2020
So, I am going to weigh the pros and cons of four of the most likely candidates (in alphabetical order) to take over for Day, should he have to miss time due to a positive test.
Now, keep in mind, if Day does have to miss any time this season, there is still the possibility that he could work remotely, helping with film breakdowns, game plans, and more. So, it might not be like 2018 when he completely took over for three weeks from a suspended Urban Meyer.
But, that’s tough to bank on in these hypothetical exercises, so, I am just going to pretend that the interim coach will be handling all head coaching responsibilities for this theoretical week.
Tony Alford | Assistant Head Coach for Offense / Running Backs Coach
There is a reason that Tony Alford’s title includes “Assistant Head Coach for Offense,” and it’s more than just a way to give him a pay and title bump after he flirted with the Colorado State job that ultimately went to another former Urban Meyer assistant Steve Addazio.
Alford is a trusted voice on the offense, and given his AHC responsibilities might be a good option to help keep things running as smoothly as possible on that side of the ball. He wouldn’t necessarily have to take over calling plays — perhaps Kevin Wilson would do that — but I am sure that he would capable of doing so if need be.
There is no question that Ohio State is going to succeed this season on the strength of their offense, and the running game will likely need to become a bigger part of that at some point, so having Alford at the helm — even temporarily — might make sense.
However, if the interim coach were to come from the offensive side of the ball, I do think that it should be someone with more of a finger on the pulse of the passing attack, the straw that so obviously stirs the drink for this team.
Kerry Coombs | Defensive Coordinator / Secondary Coach
I think that this would be the popular choice amongst fans. Coombs has the passion and excitement to rally the troops while the head man was out, so it make sense as an energizing stopgap for a week or two until Day returns. Coombs has been an integral part of the Ohio State program since 2012, and even with his two-year rumspringa to the NFL, it is hard to imagine few people as Buckeye as Kerry Coombs.
However, I think it might not be in the best interest of the team to have Coombs take over the head coaching duties for even a short window this season, as he is working with an inexperienced secondary that is still struggling to find its footing and rotation.
Currently, the OSU offense is running incredibly well, while the defense has been a bit more spotty, especially in the back end. So, while I love the Silver Fox, I think it might be best to allow him to focus on his regular responsibilities and continue to coach those DBs up.
Larry Johnson | Associate Head Coach / Defensive Line Coach
For years, Larry Johnson was considered the coach-in-waiting at Penn State, but that never happened for him there — much to the eternal gratefulness of Ohio State fans. So, there is no doubt in my mind that Coach Johnson would be an excellent candidate to take over for Day if a situation required it.
He is respected not only throughout the program, but throughout the entire industry, and you know that — despite his fairly low profile — he has to be a charismatic and inspiring figure, given the bonds that he builds with recruits and players.
After all, he is the team’s associate head coach, so it would make sense that he would be the “next man up” should Day be forced to step back. This is an option that I would be incredibly comfortable with as an Ohio State fan, and to be honest, I think that a coach like Johnson, who has given so much of his life and career to his players, deserves the opportunity should it ever present itself.
My only hesitation in thinking about Johnson being the interim head coach is how involved he is with his defense line during games. One of the staples of his units is the constant rotation to get fresh players into the game, and to give offenses as many varied looks as possible.
I don’t know if that can be achieved with Johnson overseeing the entire operation, or if he turns over those duties to someone else for a week or two. But, even keeping those facts in mind, I’ve gotta say that interim head coach Larry Johnson is my sentimental favorite. The dude just deserves it.
Kevin Wilson | Offensive Coordinator / Tight Ends Coach
While Johnson might be my sentimental pick, to me, Kevin Wilson is the most viable option for a temporary, fill-in head coach. Not only is he the only OSU assistant to have legit, Division I head coaching experience (even if it didn’t end so well), but it would also require the least amount of shuffling in terms of game day opportunities. Wilson, as the OC, is best equipped to take over calling plays in Day’s stead.
He’s not the flashiest option on staff, but in terms of experience and continuity, I think that Wilson makes the most sense, especially for a short-term option. Now, if the worst-case scenario happens and Day is potentially out for the remainder of the season, then perhaps you go with Johnson or Coombs, but if you are just looking for a bridge for a week or two, I think the former Indiana head coach is the best option.
If Ryan Day is forced to miss a game or two, who should OSU’s interim head coach be?
This poll is closed
Bring Urban Meyer out of retirement (I’m just kidding, this isn’t a real option, I’m trying to delete it).
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!