This week, Land-Grant Holy Land writers will be comparing current facets of Ohio State teams and comparing them to those of the past: Comparing THIS year’s Buckeyes to those of THAT other time. Welcome to LGHL’s “This or That.”
When you look at Ohio State over the last half-century, they are pretty much like the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to head coaches. The Steelers have had just three head coaches since 1969, while the Buckeyes have had just six head coaches since Woody Hayes took over in 1951. Ohio State’s coach counter doesn’t include Luke Fickell, who was the interim head coach in 2011 after the firing of Jim Tressel, and before the hiring of Urban Meyer.
Back in 2018, there looked like there might be an opening at head coach for the Buckeyes after Urban Meyer announced that he was retiring at the end of the season. Thankfully Ohio State did the smart thing and named Ryan Day as the successor to Meyer. Day had already coached the first three games of the 2018 season after Meyer was suspended once knowledge of Zach Smith’s domestic violence accusations came to light.
Day has been spectacular as Ohio State’s head coach since take over following the 2018 season, posting a 31-4 record after Meyer’s retirement. The 2021 season saw Day lose regular season games for the first time in his head coaching career, dropping games to Oregon and Michigan. Even though you could count the number of losses Day has had to deal with during his head coaching career on one hand, it feels like that isn’t good enough for some Buckeye fans, who are pining to get Urban Meyer back as the head coach of the Buckeyes.
I am not one of those that is wishing Meyer was back patrolling the sidelines for Ohio State. I’ll admit that Meyer did some great things in Columbus, including winning the first College Football Playoff. Honestly though, there should have been at least one or two more championships that were won by Meyer’s Buckeyes. Instead, Meyer’s stubbornness kept Ohio State from winning titles when they clearly were the best team in college football. I’ll never understand how Meyer screwed up the 2015 season when the path to back-to-back national titles was so simple.
What I couldn’t stand about Meyer was some of his terrible assistant coach hires. The only reason Zach Smith was hired was because Meyer did it as a favor to Earle Bruce years ago. Even though Meyer was comfortable working with Smith, it was quite obvious that Smith was doing subpar work. Just look at the talent Ohio State had a wide receiver and how much they underachieved. Brian Hartline, who replaced Smith, has been amazing as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach, bringing in talent that Smith wouldn’t have been able to land for the Buckeyes.
Another terrible hire that Meyer was was of Billy Davis to be linebackers coach. Even though Davis had tons of NFL experience, it was clear he wasn’t anything special as a head coach. Davis did have a couple stints as defensive coordinator with NFL teams, but he was rarely with an organization more than two or three years. He was only hired by the Buckeyes because he was the best man at Urban Meyer’s wedding. It become obvious pretty quickly that Davis wasn’t all that good at his job when you see how bad the Buckeye linebackers played during his time in Columbus.
Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Day doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to his loyalty to assistant coaches. The defense was definitely an issue heading into the 2021 season, yet Day decided to roll with Kerry Coombs as the defensive coordinator. It was obvious early on in the season that Coombs wasn’t the answer, but Day didn’t have a plan to fix the issue aside from giving secondary coach Matt Barnes more responsibility. Putting all the defensive eggs into Coombs’ basket essentially cost Ohio State a College Football Playoff spot.
If there is anything good to come out of the debacle that was Kerry Coombs’ return to Columbus, it made Day think big about who was going to run the defense in 2022. Prior to the Rose Bowl, it was announced that Jim Knowles was being hired as Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator. Knowles built one of the best defenses in the country at Oklahoma State — a feat that is even more impressive considering some of the offenses in the Big 12. Seeing Day make a move like bringing in someone that caliber of Knowles is huge, especially since the Buckeyes already were a title contender even with a subpar defense.
What I do love about Ryan Day is he already has plenty of experience not only working with quarterbacks, but working with NFL quarterbacks during his coaching career. You can see just how much more advanced Ohio State’s quarterbacks have been lately, with the late Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields being first round NFL Draft picks, and C.J. Stroud in the conversation as being the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
What has been great about Ryan Day is it feels like he adjusts what he does on offense to the strengths of the quarterback, where it felt like Urban Meyer tried to make his quarterbacks adjust to the offense. We all knew Dwayne Haskins didn’t really want to run the football, yet there was a couple games late in his only season as starter when Haskins had 10-15 carries. It almost felt like Meyer was trying to turn Haskins into J.T. Barrett when it was quite obvious the two were very different quarterbacks.
There are many that still want to believe that Urban Meyer is still a top-tier coach. I am not one of those believers. I feel that the game has passed Meyer by. Not to say that Meyer couldn’t be an effective coach, I just feel he’d be more like Les Miles later in his career, where it was obvious he was just there to collect a paycheck.
If Meyer would surround himself with some smart, young assistants it would go a long way in helping him be successful if he was to return to college football. Instead, he’d probably think that hiring his son-in-law was the only young energy that he needed to infuse in a program, The rest of Meyer’s hires would just be of chummy “yes men” that would tell Meyer what he wanted to hear just to earn an easy paycheck. We haven’t even mentioned the new NIL element of college football, which would likely make Meyer’s brain short-circuit.
It’s no secret that I don’t care much for Meyer. While he was great in taking the reins of the program after the firing of Jim Tressel, after a while he couldn’t get out of his own way. It became obvious before the 2018 season that a change for the Buckeyes was coming sooner rather than later if they wanted to stay competitive. Thankfully, Ryan Day was already in Columbus. Who knows what would have happened to the program if someone like Matt Campbell was hired, but I highly doubt we would have seen Campbell post as many wins in the first three years as head coach as Day has.
Now we just have to hope that Day doesn’t head to the NFL anytime soon, since with the quality recruits coming in, it looks like Ohio State is building something that could be special. Hopefully Day has taken note of some of the mistakes Meyer made in Columbus, because if he did then he could become a more beloved coach than Meyer was at Ohio State.