I promise this is not going to be another ‘Ohio State needs to fire Ryan Day’ article. I said he should be on the hot seat back in October, and while all my points from that piece still stand, I understand the Buckeyes are not going to search for a new head coach this offseason. Still, I cannot get past people blindly defending Day for his 56-7 record, because while that is an impressive mark that nearly every school in the country would be happy with, a peek behind the curtain shows why those seven losses outweigh the 56 victories.
Ohio State is one of the premier programs in the country, bringing in some of the nation’s best talents year over year and entering every season with the realistic goal of winning a national title. As the head coach of the Buckeyes, and by Day’s own admission, the team has three goals each year:
- Beat Michigan
- Win the Big Ten
- Win a national title
Over the last three seasons, Ohio State is 0-9 in accomplishing those goals. This latest loss to Michigan brings Day’s record to 1-3 against the team’s biggest rival, the Buckeyes previously having not lost to the Wolverines since 2011. He has just two Big Ten titles in his five-year stint at the helm, with the last one coming in 2020. Sure, he has avoided the odd loss to a Purdue or an Iowa like Urban Meyer would occasionally suffer, but in his last five years Meyer won three Big Ten titles AND a national championship, on top of his perfect 7-0 record against Michigan.
Aside from his struggles against TTUN, Day has not performed well against the better teams on Ohio State’s schedule. He is 1-6 against teams ranked in the top five of the College Football Playoff rankings, including a 1-3 mark in the CFP itself. The Buckeyes have lost games to a No. 12 Oregon team (at home), had two blowout losses to Michigan in 2021 and 2022, and very easily could have lost to Notre Dame this season if not for 1-yard touchdown on the game’s final play. While Day is lauded as an offensive-minded aggressive coach, that all seems to evade him when the opposition isn’t at a massive talent deficit.
Day is a flawed head coach, but Ohio State is not going to move on, especially with Gene Smith set to retire this summer. It is incredibly strange to see Day go away from the mesh concept offense that were wildly successful and led to some of the Buckeyes’ best offenses, even more so given the fact the the wide receiver talent is way better than it was when that was the game plan. I don’t understand why Day is trying to re-invent the wheel, and it is clear that talks of giving up the play-calling to Brian Hartline this season never came to fruition. The head coach is making life harder on himself by both going away from what worked best and by trying to do the work of several people at once.
You cannot be the CEO of the roster, the head coach during the week AND the primary play-caller on game day. It is too much to put on one man’s plate, and even the areas that Day is known for like a high-powered offense and elite quarterback play have taken a massive hit because of it. He has to start delegating some of these tasks, starting with giving up the play-calling — for real this time — heading into next season. On top of that, there are a number of tough decisions Day will have to make this offseason in regards to his coaching staff in order for Ohio State to even have a chance to win anything of substance with him at the helm.
The first, and most obvious, coaching move is to dump the waste of space colloquially known as Parker Fleming. Having a special team’s coach as one of your 11 allotted full-time coaches is stupid, especially when it results in only four defensive assistants on a team with an offense-oriented head coach and an atrocious special teams unit. It is not a shock that Ohio State’s defense has let them down in the games that matter most, showing glaring issues at linebacker in some of the biggest matchups — the group that does not have a full-time position coach. The Buckeyes also had one of the worst special teams in the country in all facets, from punting and kickoff returns to areas as simple as getting lined up correctly.
I wouldn’t trust Fleming to bag my groceries, and he should have been gone a year ago. In his place, Ohio State should promote James Laurinaitis, who is already on staff as a graduate assistant, to full-time linebackers coach. The promotion would both give him more of a hands-on role in developing the position, as well as allow him to get on the road as a recruiter, where I believe he could have a huge impact in bringing in some real difference makers on the trail. Fleming isn’t recruiting anything, sucks at his job, and is wasting a coaching spot. All of this is easily rectifiable, and should have been done already even before Ohio State learns what meaningless bowl game it will play in this season.
Secondly, it is time to fire Mickey Marotti and finally bring the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning program into the 21st century. For the past three seasons, Ohio State has spent half the year missing key players seemingly out of nowhere with avoidable soft tissue injuries and other bumps and bruises that would be fewer and farther between if the Buckeyes were training to be football players rather than bodybuilders. Marotti is constantly making guys add or lose weight to fit some made up specification for whatever position they play, regardless of how it impacts their abilities — see: Jack Sawyer. His methods are wildly outdated, and Ohio State is lacking behind other top competitors as a result.
Thirdly, and this may be more of an unpopular opinion, but it is time to move on from Larry Johnson. I understand that he is a legend in his respective area and he has produced some truly elite players during his time in Columbus, but his room has fallen off since Chase Young left in 2019. The recruiting is still largely okay, but Ohio State has gotten abysmal production from its defensive lines over the last few seasons relative to the amount of five-star talent along that unit. The Buckeyes ranked 12th in the Big Ten this season with 22 sacks despite having a pair of five-star ends in J.T. Tuimoloau and Sawyer. That isn’t going to cut it.
On top of the issues with Johnson’s unit himself, his open feud with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has been ridiculous from the start, and Day should not have allowed it to continue on into the season — let alone all the way through. Johnson has refused to let Knowles incorporate his ‘Jack’ position, which has been a staple of Knowles’ defensive schemes, and instead has stuck to his antiquated four-down front. Ohio State has had issues getting to the quarterback and stopping some of the better rushing attacks it has faced, and something resembling a MINT front would fix a lot of those issues, but Johnson has gotten in the way. You don’t have to outright fire him, but a mutual parting of ways or letting him retire would improve the defense as a whole.
I was critical of Knowles’ defense on Twitter following The Game, as Ohio State did not force a single Michigan punt in the second half, but after breaking it down thoroughly in the aftermath of the loss, I think he did about as well as he could with virtually one arm tied behind his back. Knowles was put in a position to fail by not having a full-time linebackers coach and having a defensive line coach that refused to let him run one of the most important parts of his scheme. Even despite those massive hinderances, the Ohio State defense was really good this season, which I think is more of a testament to Knowles’ coaching ability than anything else.
Elsewhere, it would probably help to bring in a real quarterbacks coach to try and at least take some of that work off of Day’s plate. Corey Dennis tricked us into thinking he was good at his job when Ohio State had elite quarterbacks on the roster like Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud, but Kyle McCord did not show any sort of development this season as he finished the year looking like the same QB in Week 12 as he was in Week 1. Day will likely still maintain a hands-on approach at the position, but having an assistant that is actually qualified for the job rather than just being a family member of Urban Meyer would go a long way in making sure things continue to run smoothly when the head coach has other responsibilities — maybe even one that can assist in play-calling as well.
The rest of the staff seems pretty good. People want to blame Justin Frye for Ohio State’s poor offensive line play, but he was given a raw hand with the barren room he inherited from Greg Studrawa — again, Day’s fault for letting a bad coach stick around too long. I’m willing to give him another season. Perry Eliano and Tim Walton did a great job in the secondary, Brian Hartline is obviously tremendous at what he does, and Tony Alford is largely inoffensive. The Buckeyes’ rushing attack hasn’t been truly elite for quite a bit, but I don’t know how much of that falls on Alford. I can take or leave Keenan Bailey at tight ends coach, who seems mostly fine even though blocking at that position has been lacking.
There will obviously also have to be some tough personnel decisions to be made on the field heading into next season. Ohio State should not guarantee the starting quarterback job to McCord again, and it should be an open condition between himself and Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz and even incoming freshman Air Noland. The Buckeyes should be aggressive in the transfer portal, looking to add potential impact players along the offensive line, in the running backs room, and anywhere on defense where an outgoing player may leave a potential hole. Day whiffed in the portal last year when it was clear Ohio State needed offensive linemen, and he cannot afford to do so again in key areas.
While I’m not sure I trust Ryan Day to win anything of substance at Ohio State after watching him turtle against Michigan three years in a row, and I definitely don’t trust him to make the necessary moves mentioned above, I know we will be going into next season with him at the helm once again. If things remain status quo, the Buckeyes will fall short of their ultimate goals, even if they are still good enough to make what will be a 12-team College Football Playoff. The Big Ten is only going to get tougher with the additions of Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washignton, and Day cannot afford to hamstring his team with poor decision making, bad coaching staff construction, and a lack of aggression both in the transfer portal and on the field.