A Year Without Winter

By Ramzy Nasrallah on April 17, 2024 at 7:20 pm
Mar 7, 2024; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day watches players run during spring football practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Off-seasons rarely get hotter than this.

Ohio State's two most-prominent men's sports programs have forfeited their downtimes as the 2023-24 academic year draws to a close. Football never sleeps, but it's not sitting still as summer approaches.

Men's hoops? The fellas haven't been this interesting in a looooong time.

Disappointing doesn't quite capture how their respective seasons went - we all know that we're committed to a football culture where winning 11 straight games prior to losing two in a row feels worse than going 2-11. At least we get gallows humor and healthy self-loathing when our team is bad bad.

Typically, underperforming Ohio State teams respond by grinning through it and waiving some variation of a we're still Ohio State flag. Up north they kept calling themselves Leaders and Best while they were eating shit for two decades. We do the same thing but with different colors.

But rather than leaning on contrived social media noise, clichéd battle cries, an inexhaustible supply of tradition, roster passivity or lukewarm temperature moping, the WHAC has discharged an aggressive and productive sense of urgency since the team returned from its first-ever loss in the state of Texas.

Words are fleeting. We're talking about actions. Manufactured pride is taking the summer off.

Nepo babies, staleness and outright failures were either sent packing or given unsubtle messages about their future advancement. They were replaced with higher-ceiling coaches across the board - it was as shocking as it was welcomed. Ryan Day finally demonstrated he would rather get this OSU football thing right than be proven right. So he changed, finally.

Add some hot recruiting - with assists from NIL optimization and Alabama head coach Nick Saban's retirement - along with strategic use of the transfer portal and executive management finally getting serious about fully weaponizing a program which should never, ever, ever install self-imposed limits on what's possible - and this should be one of the hottest summers on record.

It's still April, but this feels like August. Spring should not feel this hot.

The basketball team always has a lower bar. But what it's doing is unconventional and exhilarating - its season was canceled on its behalf on Valentine's Day when Chris Holtmann was finally removed after too many seasons holding the basketball program hostage from respectability.

Surprising timing, given the remainder of the season but the initial response was it was acceptable to sacrifice a season going nowhere - again - to get a jumpstart on the future. Except a funny thing happened to that canceled season after Holtmann's departure.

His orphaned team started winning games it always lost, knocking off the B1G champs and eventual national runners-up under a then-interim coach. Then the Buckeyes ended a 17-game slide in East Lansing by beating Michigan State in its own house.

This was a program which hadn't won a game as the visiting team anywhere in over a year. It won two roadies after Holtmann was fired. Jake Diebler brought more than a dead-cat bounce.

OHIO STATE MEN'S BASKETBALL IS TRYING TO become and stay nationally relevant for the first time since Thad Matta could pick up a clipboard without wincing.

Ohio State made nice runs in both the conference tournament and NIT, all while gaining commitments from a couple of five-star commitments - that's two more than Holtmann secured during his entire seven-year tenure. It got different, quickly. Good different.

After several seasons of losing streaks and looking completely unserious after New Year's, Ohio State men's basketball is at least making overtures in the direction of wanting to become and stay nationally relevant for the first time since Thad Matta could pick up a clipboard without wincing.

Both teams employ first-time head coaches. Diebler didn't quite inherit what Day did.

As for hot springs, even the non-sickos among us take a little vacation from the Buckeyes to rediscover their families, hobbies, fitness, careers or themselves once the college kids have a break from playing sports. But football and men's basketball went out and chose rarified intrigue in the same damn offseason.

You cannot draw a solid line between Ohio State having a new president and athletic director to the urgency from both programs, but you can draw a dotted one. Michigan's run in football after being in hell for two decades can definitely get some credit. The only acceptable clichéd battle cry in Columbus is Enough is Enough and that appears to be the case for both sports. Print the damn shirts.

Prior to Saturday's scrimmage, when we last saw the football team it was deploying a strategy called We Don't Trust Our Offensive Line at All against Missouri. It was a grab-bag of bullshit from start to finish that was so pathetic and inexcusable that some of us got mad online.

We've never cared more about a game we didn't care about at all. It became a turning point.

The memory of Missouri winning the dumbest four hours any Ohio State team has participated in since 2011 has faded quickly, but Michigan completing what had been an exclusive Ohio State achievement of canceling Alabama and running the PAC 12 champion off the field will stay fresh until the Buckeyes regain their pre-pandemic footing.

Entering the 2024 season with a veteran all-star team at most positions makes quarterback and offensive line questions more intriguing than agonizing. This type of retention and upgrade normally requires regime change (Coop-Tressel, Tressel-Meyer, Meyer-Day) in order for activation.

And yet football pulled it off without a coup. Basketball required one, but the dividends paid out while the coaching search was barely underway. That was the first good surprise the program has delivered in years.

Once the games resumed, they simply stopped puckering in 2nd halves. The team began leaning on its stars instead of, uh, whatever the basketball equivalent is of pulling them off the court on 4th and short and allowing Parker Fleming's unit to take over.

And they even beat the shit out of Michigan on Senior Day to end the regular season. The football team hasn't done that since 2018. Six years later, they'll have another opportunity to restore order, and it appears both programs are finally getting serious about doing so. It takes more than angst, will and vengeance to get back what was forfeited.

Two programs finally figured out hot summers are much cooler than the hotseat. If they make this level of urgency and investment an annual custom, we'll never have another cool off-season again.

View 44 Comments