When Ryan Day entered West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School, a building that Urban Meyer had frequented for years, Lakers head coach Ron Bellamy wasn't sure what to expect.
Day was replacing a living legend who had such a well-respected reputation in high schools across America that Bellamy, like so many other coaches, had a feeling there would be at least some sort of drop-off for Ohio State and the Buckeyes' recruiting.
He was quickly convinced otherwise.
“The scary part about Coach Day is that when he came in, I was like he's a nice guy and, selfishly as a Wolverine, I'm like maybe this is the guy we can beat,” Bellamy told Eleven Warriors in a February interview. “And then I met him, and I'm like, shit, he's just like Urban.
“You're having a conversation with them, and I thought, ‘Oh, he's a nice guy. He'll ride the momentum from Urban.’ And then you sit down and you talk to him, and it was like damn they're the same – in the fact that they're super aggressive, but they're different in their approach.”
When Meyer was the receivers coach at Notre Dame, he recruited Bellamy out of Bellamy's Archbishop Shaw High School in Louisiana before Bellamy chose Michigan. So Bellamy became plenty familiar with how Meyer is on the recruiting trail, and that became doubly true when Bellamy became head coach at West Bloomfield, where Meyer began recruiting guys like Lance Dixon (2019 Penn State linebacker commit) and Donovan Edwards.
Meyer was always very engaging and down to business, and though Bellamy discovered that Day was a little more laid back, their approaches and the conversations they had were still strikingly similar.
“Both guys' approach to the game is crazy,” Bellamy said. “With their vision, not many coaches I've talked to match their vision. You can tell when you sit down with those guys and talk to them they just have that look of ‘Let's go. I want to strap it up and let's go play ball.’”
That vision that both Meyer and Day share is how to get to the level of playing for championships – showing diligence in their approach to the game, being refined on small details, showing commitment to their players and establishing a competitive program.
Most of that was by allowing Mickey Marotti to do what he does best and establish a competitive nature in the weight room. But what also made Meyer's teams successful is the competitive, cut-throat nature of his teams. Day isn't quite on that same level, but it's still very much the boiler plate iron sharpens iron motif.
“You get better, or you get passed up,” Bellamy says.
“You're having a conversation with them, and I thought, ‘Oh, he's a nice guy. He'll ride the momentum from Urban.’ And then you sit down and you talk to him, and it was like damn they're the same.”– West Bloomfield head coach Ron Bellamy on urban meyer and ryan day
That's just one anecdote and one coach's personal experience of having Day in the room recruiting his players, but it illustrates the same type of things that we keep hearing from high school coaches and high school recruits whom we've talked with: Day is a genuine, down-to-earth guy who has the ability to flip a switch and show his competitive side that fellow football coaches have an admiration for.
Because of that, he's gained a massive amount of respect in high schools across the country, and it's one of the biggest reasons why Day has seen such early recruiting success – like landing four players in three days and getting a commitment from arguably the best running back in the nation on Friday night.
Staff-building and circumstance
Arguably the most important task for any head coach in college football to accomplish is surrounding himself with a staff of assistants who are on the same page and who know how to build genuine relationships with recruits.
Therein lies the second-most important reason Day has had this success so early. He has arguably the best staff of recruiters in the nation. The 247Sports top 10 recruiter rankings for the 2021 class has five Ohio State staffers on the list (Day finished No. 10 in the 2018 cycle, his last an assistant) with Tony Alford at No. 1, Brian Hartline at No. 2, Kerry Coombs at No. 4, Larry Johnson at No. 7 and Al Washington at No. 8, and Greg Studrawa sits at No. 24.
Those will shuffle and change as this cycle progresses further, but it's still indicative of how effectively this staff has been recruiting. Even more indicative is that Matt Barnes is not on the list, and he's one of the assistants that a large group of coaches and players has told us has been very impactful in their recruitments and their views of Ohio State.
Day and this staff have done a great job of throwing up fences around the state, and therein lies yet another reason for the early recruiting success.
Day has so often discussed the importance of recruiting the state of Ohio, and almost every new coach of a program will make in-state recruiting one of the keystones in talent acquisition – what Mack Brown has done at North Carolina, for instance, is one prime example of that.
It's one of the simplest things a first-year head coach can do is target the in-state guys. Day has done that, but he's also benefited from fortunate cyclical circumstances in that regard.
In the 2021 class, Ohio has four players in the top 100 (Jack Sawyer, Jayden Ballard, Reid Carrico, Mike Hall) and a fifth (Ben Christman) who is at No. 107 and was a top-50 prospect before a recent slide, who we expect to jump back into the top 100 in the final rankings.
Comparatively, the 2017 class (Josh Myers), the 2018 class (Jackson Carman, Jaelen Gill, Tyreke Smith), the 2019 class (Zach Harrison, Jowon Briggs, Zeke Correll) and the 2020 class (Paris Johnson Jr.) each had three-or-less players ranked in the top 100.
Grabbing early commitments from each of those players in the 2021 class allowed Day and his staff to gain some early momentum by establishing a core group of outstanding local talent. In turn, that group, and others like quarterback Kyle McCord, has repaid Day over and over by becoming lead recruiters in their own right.
Getting those guys involved was crucial, as they've helped in something that almost all of the players and coaches we've talked to have mentioned as being important in those recruitments – the group effort and all-hands-on-deck recruiting strategy.
Day is obviously not doing it all by himself. It would be foolish to think otherwise, and it would be foolish not to realize the Ohio State brand itself and Marotti's nationally known prowess as a developer are other major players here as well.
But the program still needs a great front man, and by all accounts, Day has been the ideal leader of that program. That was none more apparent than through some of the background stories Bellamy shared and one of the final thoughts he provided. One that many other high school coaches have come to believe about Day:
“This guy is a badass.”