Ryan Day already had a lot on his plate for the upcoming Ohio State football season.
Having been promoted to offensive coordinator this offseason, while already being the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks coach, Day was arguably Ohio State’s most important assistant coach, as he was tasked with rebuilding and leading Ohio State’s offense around a new quarterback.
Now, though, Day has even more responsibility on his plate after being named the Buckeyes’ acting head coach on Wednesday, when Urban Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave while Ohio State investigates what he knew about domestic violence allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
Should Meyer ultimately be reinstated as Ohio State’s head coach, that additional responsibility could be for only a few weeks. Still, that’s valuable time in preseason camp that Day will have to spend overseeing the Buckeyes’ entire team and less time to focus on coaching Dwayne Haskins, Tate Martell, Matthew Baldwin and the rest of his quarterbacks.
The next month is a crucial time for Day and Ohio State to figure out how they will rebuild their offense around Haskins, their new starting quarterback and a player who Meyer previously said would "change how (the Buckeyes) attack defenses." It’s also a crucial time to figure out how Martell could potentially factor into the offense, potentially as more than the typical backup quarterback, and for all of Ohio State’s quarterbacks to develop and prepare for the season.
Day won’t be able to focus solely on any of that, though, so he’ll need to work together with his assistants – perhaps particularly, fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and recently promoted senior quality control coach Corey Dennis, who already worked closely with the quarterbacks – to ensure that the quarterbacks get the attention they deserve and that the offense is built to operate around them successfully.
Every coach on the staff will be expected to step up in one way or another in Meyer’s absence, and that could have an effect on the development of other positions, too. That could be especially true at the wide receivers position, where interim wide receivers coach Brian Hartline – who has never been a full-time assistant coach before – was expected to get plenty of help from Day, who was already slated to spend more time with the wide receivers this year even before Smith was fired, and Meyer, who was a wide receivers coach himself earlier in his coaching career.
Going into fall camp now, though, Meyer won’t be around while Day might have too many other responsibilities to spend significant time with the wideouts.
If Meyer’s leave of absence continues into the season or if the university moves on from Meyer altogether, it’s presumable that Day will continue to be the interim head coach into the season, which could create additional challenges. In a season that was expected to be Day’s opportunity to put his stamp on Ohio State’s offense, much like Tom Herman did in the run-up to a national championship in 2014, Day could now be in a position where he is overseeing all three phases of the game.
The good news for Day and Ohio State, though, is that even if Meyer doesn’t return, he’ll still have plenty of coaches to help him. Wilson was the primary offensive play caller last year, and he’s capable of taking over those responsibilities once again if needed. Both Wilson and defensive coordinator/associate head coach Greg Schiano are former head coaches themselves, so they can certainly help Day learn the ropes of managing a team. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson and running back coach Tony Alford are both experienced assistants who also bring leadership to the staff, and every other assistant coach on the staff outside of Hartline has been an offensive or defensive coordinator at either the collegiate or NFL level.
Day has never been a head coach himself, but it was expected to be only a matter of time before he became one, as he turned down a potential opportunity to become a head coach in the SEC after last season. He wasn’t expected to be the head coach at Ohio State this season – and even if the Buckeyes move on from Meyer, they still might look to bring in a more experienced coach for 2019 – but he is a rising star in the industry who has drawn praise from his colleagues and players for his coaching abilities, and appears to have the qualities needed to be a successful leader of a program.
Entering a preseason in which expectations are high for Ohio State’s offense, it would surely be ideal from a football perspective for Meyer to still be the Buckeyes’ head coach and Day to be able to focus solely on the improvement of his quarterbacks and the offense. He still has the coaching ability and the talent to work with to make that happen, though, and there’s no reason Ohio State’s offense – with Haskins at quarterback and plenty of talent around him – can’t still potentially be one of the best in the country in 2018.
Day’s ability to balance substantially increased responsibilities, however, will be put to the test as he now enters fall camp – and faces the possibility of entering the season – as both Ohio State’s head coach and offensive coordinator, all the while leading a group of quarterbacks who have never started a single game for the Buckeyes.