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Column: Ohio State isn’t going to fire Ryan Day, but they should

I’ve seen just about enough.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, Ohio State’s season has effectively ended after an embarrassing loss at the hands of their biggest rival — this time at home, something that hasn’t happened against the Wolverines since the year 2000, and the first time the Buckeyes have lost The Game twice in a row since 1999-2000. While losing by far the biggest game of the year in consecutive seasons is cause for concern enough, Ohio State’s issues extend far beyond that, and the majority of the blame can be cast squarely on the shoulders of head coach Ryan Day.

Now, you may think this is simply an overreaction to another upsetting loss, but this is not the case. I have been skeptical of this coaching staff ever since the 2020 National Championship loss to Alabama, and the way these last two seasons played out led me to believe nothing of the contrary. The defenders of Ryan Day will say that he is 45-5 as the head coach for Ohio State, that the recruiting is still near the best in the country, and that he has made the College Football Playoff in three of his five seasons as the headman in charge. All undeniable facts, yes, but I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t good enough.

When it comes to his record, losing only five total games across five seasons, sure that looks good on paper. But how many actual losable games does Ohio State play in any given season? You and I could probably coach this team to wins over teams like Rutgers and Indiana. The talent gap is simply far too wide for the Buckeyes to really get tested in the vast majority of its regular season games, regardless of who the head coach is. I’m not giving any coach across the country credit for beating up on the dregs of their conference, so I’m certainly not doing it in the Big Ten, which features about 2.5 real teams.

The reality is, Ohio State has had a total of six games against real competition during Day’s tenure: Clemson (2019), Clemson (2020), Alabama (2020), Oregon (2021), Michigan (2021), Michigan (2022).

Day’s record in these games? 1-5. The Wolverines he beat in 2019 were a four-loss team. You can give him credit for wins against Penn State, but Ohio State has won 10 of the last 11 games in that series and would be a perfect 11-0 if not for a blocked field goal, so once again, talent gap.

Notre Dame this season? Meh. That one win over Clemson in 2020 was a game that was planned for over a full-year’s span. The results in big games just have not been there, and Day has been at fault in a number of these losses.

The recruiting is a valid point, but how hard is it really to convince the best players in the country to an already established elite brand like Ohio State? I will give him credit when it comes to quarterback recruiting, as the Buckeyes have seen an unprecedented run at the position since he took over in Columbus, but that is really it.

Outside of that, and of course the wide receiver talent courtesy of Brian Hartline, the recruiting is basically status quo. If anything, defensive recruiting has started to see a downtick, especially in the secondary, and offensive line recruiting has remained a problem. Sure they’re getting five-star guys at some of these positions of need, but most come from in-state. Recruiting on a national scale is starting to lag, at least by Ohio State’s standards.

Which brings me to his staff hires. Both the recruiting efforts and on-field play are largely impacted by your assistant coaches, and Ryan Day has made a number of poor hires or simply failed to replace coaches that are holding the program back. The last two years it was Kerry Coombs and Al Washington, and this year it’s been Tim Walton and Mickey Marotti.

Walton inherited a cornerback room with a freshman All-American in Denzel Burke and a proven veteran in Cam Brown, plus a handful of former high four-star recruits. Burke and Brown both regressed significantly, and none of the young guys seemed to have a clue on the field. All year we saw corners fail to turn around and make awful plays on the football in the air, and when all the guys are doing the same exact thing, it’s probably a coaching issue. I still think Jim Knowles was a good hire, even though his game plan against Michigan was horrendous and his defense actually let up more points to the Wolverines than Coombs did, but he got no help from the cornerback play, which he would have needed for that scheme to work.

On the strength and conditioning side, the Urban Meyer holdover in Marotti has cost Ohio State dearly for several years now. On the strength side, his entire philosophy of bulking guys up seemingly for the sole reason of looking bigger with no regard to actual football performance has made several players slower and worse. On the conditioning side, Ohio State didn’t have a single player get injured this season that ever recovered. Jaxon Smith-Njigba got injured in the first quarter of the season opener and never played another meaningful snap. Both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson never fully recouped from early-season injuries. Matthew Jones played injured all year. The list goes on and on.

So, Day’s ability to prepare for big games and his staffing hires have both been awful, but surely his play-calling has been great right? Wrong! So wrong!

Ohio State still managed to put up great offensive numbers this season on paper, but that can purely be chalked up to talent advantage, as everything positive that happened offensively this season was basically in spite of Day’s in-game coaching. His obsession with using the field horizontally, whether it be via stretch runs or bubble screens, severely hampered the Buckeyes’ effectiveness all season long. Gone were the quick slants and mesh routes that made Ohio State’s passing attack so lethal.

His obsession with proving that his group was tough and not just a finesse team caused nothing but problems, and he never learned — which ultimately cost the Buckeyes their season.

Bringing me to another one of my biggest gripes with Ryan Day: the lack of any ability to self-scout. Day came into every game this season with a clear game plan, and never strayed from it regardless of how poorly it was going until at best late in the third quarter.

Every week Ohio State seemed like it was banging its head against a wall trying to get one particular aspect of the offense to work, when — in reality — the Buckeyes could have just utilized its spectacular vertical passing attack whenever it wanted to put up points. The middle of the field was seemingly always open, but Day refused to go there. It was like he was always trying to prove that he could do things the hard way and outthink the opposition when instead he was just overthinking and handcuffing his offense for no apparent reason other than to look like the big tough guy that Michigan said he wasn’t.

So what are we doing here? How many seasons can go by where Ohio State is shooting itself in the foot due to the ego of its own head coach before they have to call it quits? This year the College Football Playoff was ripe for the taking, with no dominant team in the way of a national title.

Instead, the Buckeyes’ headman in charge turtled up and played terrified en route to another huge loss against their rival — something we’ve now seen in almost every single big game he’s had to coach in. You can say Ohio State fans are jaded for wanting more, but that is the reality of the world we live in. Ohio State plays in a conference it should dominate and should be competing for a national title every year. Right now, they are not even close to doing either of those things.

Day isn’t going to be fired this offseason, unfortunately, but there need to be massive changes made in order to avoid this exact same fate next year in Ann Arbor. For starters, the staff needs to be turned over. Mick Marotti, Tim Walton, and Kevin Wilson should all be fired and replaced with people who actually know what they are doing. Parker Fleming should be fired and his staff spot dissolved and replaced with an actual important coaching spot, whether it be another offensive or defensive staffer. People will probably get mad at me for calling for specific guys’ jobs, but so be it. These dudes all make millions of dollars and will be just fine in life. You can get fired at any other job for not performing adequately. If you want to play with the big boys at this level, you either walk the walk or take a hike.

Secondly, Ryan Day has to give up the play-calling. I’m just fine with him designing the offensive passing attack alongside Hartline while continuing to coach up the QBs. But, there is no reason for the head coach to have to be the play caller. Replace Wilson with a real offensive coordinator who Day can provide ideas to, but ultimately Day should not be the one calling shots on game days. He has no feel for situational football and cannot make any sort of adjustments on the fly, and he clearly doesn’t have even the slightest idea on designing a run game. Bring in a play-caller who can work alongside Day, Hartline, Tony Alford, and Justin Frye. Everyone can give their ideas and input, but at the end of the day one guy needs to put those ideas together to make it all work, and it obviously is not Day.

This is a critical time for this Ohio State program. We are long removed from Meyer’s dominance against Michigan, and next year’s game won’t be any easier on the road. Not to mention, Ohio State will have to travel to Notre Dame early next season. The Buckeyes’ reign atop the sport feels like it is in jeopardy, but it can very easily return to form if they make the clear and obvious changes to right the ship. There is simply too much talent on this roster to fail year in and year out. Will Day make the necessary hirings and firings this offseason? Will he finally give up play-calling for the betterment of the team? I’m very skeptical that he will, and if he doesn’t, his last game on the sidelines as Ohio State’s head coach will be next season in Ann Arbor.