Over the past two decades, as Ohio State football fans, we’ve developed an expectation of invincibility, mainly because the team has been damn near invincible itself. So any time that the team loses, it is a shock and causes extreme reactions from all corners of Buckeye Nation. But not all loses are created equal. Some — though maddening — you can chalk up to circumstance; an underdog has the perfect game plan or personnel to exploit the small, specific cracks in Ohio State’s otherwise impenetrable armor.
Then there are others in which the Buckeyes are so thoroughly beaten in a way that defies logic that those losses have the power to shake — and potentially redefine — the entire trajectory of program. I am hoping that last Saturday’s defeat at the hands of their rivals is just that kind of loss.
Following the Oregon game earlier this season, I shared my thoughts on the systemic failures of Ryan Day and his coaching staff that led to that early season loss. Throughout the season, I would mention these themes again — especially on Twitter during the games — but I didn’t feel the need to return to the topic here on the site; not because I thought that the changes that the staff had made in the interim were sufficient to fix all that had gone wrong, but because we were seeing progress, and Day and company deserved the opportunity to see those overhauls to fruition.
However, with a second loss that — in my opinion — should never have happened, it is long past time for Day to honestly evaluate how he is running his program. There is no doubt that he has had one of the strongest starts to a career that any coach has had in recent memory; 33–4 overall, 23-1 in the Big Ten, two conference titles, three division titles, two playoff berths, and much more.
It is difficult to expect anything else out of the first three seasons from a first-time head coach, but believe it or not (and I can’t believe that I am actually about to type this) in his postgame press conference last weekend, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh actually made a coherent point about the Ohio State program and head coach that I — in principle — agree with, even if Jimbo stumbled backwards into it in a traditionally clumsy Harbaughian attempt to unnecessarily insult his coaching colleague.
The TTUN coach — who is now 1-and-5 against Ohio State, by the way— when asked about the “trash talk” coming from the OSU program (presumably the leaked “We’re going to hang 100 on them” comment from a year ago) snidely said, “Some people were born on third and think they hit a triple.”
Screech Powers’ cousin was attempting to imply that Day had gotten a bit too big for his britches and that he had been riding Urban Meyer’s successes during his first three seasons at the helm and wasn’t nearly as good of a coach as he thought he was.
Now, to be clear, I don’t agree with any of that. I think Day’s britches are the exact right size, and while no one — including Day — would deny that the foundation that Meyer left in Columbus has been vital to Day’s early success, the new OSU coach has proven himself to be just as good — if not better — of a coach and recruiter than his predecessor was in the final years of his tenure.
But here’s where I think the Michiganiest Man backed his way into an astute observation. I do think that Day has been neglectful of some of the most important duties that a head coach has, and they have led to this potential fulcrum in his program’s future.
It’s not that I think Ohio State’s head coach has gotten complacent, on the contrary, I believe that he is incredibly diligent and dedicated to the success of his team, but I do think that in his first three seasons at the helm, he has shown that comfort is important to him; perhaps more so than it should be for the head coach of a major college football power.
As I wrote in the article linked above following the Oregon game, after his initial staffing decisions, Day has taken the path of least resistance when it comes to hiring assistant coaches; promoting from within, bringing back a beloved former staffer, keeping on colleagues whom he had worked with under Meyer, etc.
That familiarity seems to have been important to him; it’s comfortable for him to tread the road more travelled, not having to do a full and exhaustive search, not having to grapple with changing the ways that he does things, not having to confront the shortcomings of the program that he is building.
And I get it. There are just so many different things that a head coach has to do on a daily basis that if you have an easy and obvious answer at the assistant coaching ranks (even if it’s not the best answer), it is very tempting to take it so that you can get back to recruiting, practice prep, film study, etc.
But here’s the thing — and take it from a guy who tries to avoid anything even approaching difficult at any and all opportunities — the easy way out is rarely the best way out, but that’s how Day has approached far too many challenges over the past three years when it comes to staffing. You could also argue that it took the loss to the Ducks for him to see the value in playing talent (regardless of age) over seniority and experience, but that’s another topic for another column.
This is not the time for timidity. I believe that if Day wants his program to correct the issues that have been painfully evident over the last two seasons and to take the steps to ascend in the college football world to where their recruiting indicates that they should already be, he absolutely must make major and decisive moves on his coaching staff, even if they happen after the early signing period.
I generally don’t like to call for people’s unless they do something absolutely abhorrent, but with appreciation for what they have done for the school, program, and players, I would like to see Day part ways with at least three — and as many as six — assistant coaches (you can make your guesses about which ones I’m talking about in the comments below).
While there are some on staff that I think could benefit the team in redefined roles, that still feels too safe for what the situation requires of Ryan Day. In my opinion, nothing short of an overhaul of the defensive coaching staff can have the impact that it has to have this offseason, and to be honest, there are a few moves I’d make on the offensive side as well.
Will Day do it? Is he willing to get outside of his comfort zone enough to make the changes that his program needs? I don’t know; I hope so, but frankly, I’m not too optimistic that he’s capable of it. He might just be too nice of a guy to pull the trigger on getting rid of his friends on staff (a trait that is an unfortunate holdover from the Meyer era).
And while I do still hold out some hope that Day will make significant and substantive changes on his coaching staff, there is another change that I think that he needs to make but have almost zero hope that we will see any time soon, and that is him hiring someone else to serve as the offensive play-caller.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that Day is an excellent offensive mind and is as equally adept at game-planning as he is at play-calling, but here’s the thing, head coaches at the blue-blood level don’t make good play-callers, at least not longterm.
I know that there are exceptions, so miss me with your Lincoln Rileys and Mike Leaches (although those two aren’t exactly sterling examples of head coach’s making it work longterm). There just seems to be a natural dip when it comes to head coaches calling plays — especially on offense — and it generally happens around the third season.
Try as they might, former offensive coordinators turned head ball coaches simply don’t have the time to study film, keep up with offensive innovation, or game plan like they did when that was their primary job.
Head coaches are in charge of everything, so instead of drawing up fun formations in their meeting room, they are running the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company, and attempting to maintain their connection to the fun thing that they used to do, honestly just hurts their other responsibilities and drags down the rest of the team.
Look, I understand, when you are elite at something — like Day is as a play-caller — it’s tough to give it up. You love it, you get an unbridled thrill from it, it makes you feel alive; welp, sorry, you should have thought of that before you accepted that fancy new title, moved into that gigantic corner office, and cashed the first check of that $6.5 million raise.
As a rule, I don’t think that head coaches should call plays, and when they do, there is always a very obvious shelf life in terms of effectiveness; and anyone who watched Ohio State’s assumedly historic offense struggle against even competent defenses this year understands exactly what I’m talking about.
Look, I love Ryan Day and I hope he's the OSU coach for a long, long time, but if it worked on defense, maybe it's time to give someone else a shot at calling plays. pic.twitter.com/MROA5fbo9r— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 6, 2021
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Michigan is a 10.5-point favorite over the Iowa Hawkeyes to win the Big Ten Championship tomorrow night. Without taking away anything from the ass-whooping that the Mitten State Weasels put on the Buckeyes last weekend, the Buckeyes should be in Indianapolis right now favored by three touchdowns.
But, they’re not, and the reasons why they’re not can be traced directly back to where the Buckeyes stop, and that’s at the desk of the head coach.
Ryan Day needs to prove to fans, to his players, to recruits, and perhaps even to himself that he is fully equipped and prepared to make the difficult decisions that his job requires, because thus far in his tenure, everything has been fairly easy for him, almost like he was born on third base.