Ryan Day’s demeanor on Wednesday was about as laid-back and cheerful as you’ll see him at a press conference. In fact, the only times he seemed this way throughout last fall and winter were following the Michigan and Penn State games and during the early signing period on Dec. 18.
This time, he stood at the podium and told Jerry Emig, the football program’s sports information director, and reporters about how this media availability wouldn’t be nearly as long as his last one on Jan. 16 – his first press conference following the Fiesta Bowl loss – in which he answered 59 questions in a 42-minute span.
“I’d take the under on that,” Day said, referring to those 59 questions. (He ended up answering 30 on Wednesday's National Signing Day.)
Part of Day’s relaxed demeanor is because it’s the offseason (he’s even been starting to get much more active on Twitter the past couple of weeks). There’s less of a need for the fully locked-in, all-business personality he displayed when answering questions about how to prepare for opponents like Wisconsin or Clemson.
“I think we're still trying to adjust the calendar. I think we have to be careful about making any more adjustments until this gets settled and we figure out what this model looks like here.”– Ryan Day on adjusting the new recruiting landscape
But there was another reason on Wednesday: Ohio State's recruiting class of 2020 was complete with almost zero drama.
Clark Phillips flipped to Utah, and that’s an impactful loss. But outside of Phillips, the Buckeyes got everyone they expected to. Even though there was some drama going into January after Cameron Martinez opted to put off his signing until February, it never truly felt like he would be anything but a Buckeye, and Ohio State finished 25-for-26 in cycle. Pretty good shooting percentage.
Much of that is because Day had already had Kerry Coombs lined up for a while, which almost immediately alleviated any sort of tension that the other defensive backs (Ryan Watts III, Lejond Cavazos or Lathan Ransom) would flip following Jeff Hafley’s departure to Boston College.
“I had no relationship with (Coombs) before,” Watts said. “I’ve known of him, and I knew he had left before. Really, my first relationship with someone here would be Coach Hafley. After he left, we knew about Coach Coombs coming in about two weeks before everybody else so I was able to get into contact with him and start building a relationship. Ever since then, I’ve really learned from him so far.”
But perhaps the biggest reason for Day feeling so calm and carefree is because outside of recruiting Martinez, there wasn’t really any work left to be put in for the 2020 class the moment Dec. 18 hit.
The staff had already exhausted itself because of how recruiting has changed and how the early signing period has affected the entire process.
“Signing day is very different now than it used to be,” Day said. “We were just laughing about it as coaches. We had one guy sign today (Martinez), which is just – the landscape of recruiting has changed a lot.”
For all the relief there can be in January, or on days like Wednesday, there are downsides to the early signing period that Day doesn’t like, and it's clear he doesn’t believe the good outweighs the bad.
Asked if he feels like the early signing period should be changed to late July, or at least a different time than in December, Day said he agreed.
“I think what (the early signing period) has done, it's just changed a lot of things,” Day said. “I think any time you make a change like that, the ripple effects, you don't know them until about four or five years out. So I think we're still working through that. And so then, what it did was with the early signing days, that moved official visits to the spring. And then what that did is it took a little pressure off of January. Put a ton of pressure in December, I mean, an unbelievable amount of pressure.
“I think with you playing a (conference) championship game and you have one week to go out on the road as the head coach, and one of those or two of those are going to be some of those award nights, and you have to go see 14 midyear guys from coast-to-coast when you recruit nationally like we do, it's almost impossible. So I think that's very hard. But what it's done is it's taken a lot of pressure off of January, and what January has become is what old spring recruiting used to be.”
And then, Day cautioned against any sort of knee-jerk reactions or changes.
“I think we're still trying to adjust the calendar,” Day said. “I think we have to be very careful about making any more adjustments until this kind of gets settled and we figure out what this model looks like here, and really a five-year window is my opinion.”
It has to be said, though, that being that busy in December is inherently a good thing. If you're 13-0 or 12-1, coming off a Big Ten title and preparing for a College Football Playoff, it's only going to help your recruiting pitches in the long run. That's something we talked about two months ago, discussing the Buckeyes trying to balance winning in December while also making an impact on the recruiting trail.
At the time, Day labeled that impact as being "huge."
"This week everybody is on the road. We're not," Day said on Dec. 3. "Talking to recruits this week and last night, 'I apologize, we're not going to see you this week.' Almost everyone to a person says, 'No, that is a good problem to have, coach. We're glad you're playing in that championship game. We get it.'"
Day and the rest of his staff will have to keep having that mentality. The early signing period doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Having 90 percent or more of your class signed by mid-to-late December will be the norm for the foreseeable future, and that's going to keep leading to boring, ho-hum signing days in February.
But sign a second straight top-five recruiting class next year, and Day's demeanor next December and February won't change. Neither will the final words of his latest press conference.
"When you look at the kids coming into this program, when you look these guys in the eye, they're beautiful kids," Day said. "They're made of the right stuff and have the right work ethic, the right families. And we're getting ahead in recruiting right now. And it's exciting to be part of Ohio State, which in that case it's fun to be the head coach."