The Ohio State football team had a team meeting at 7 a.m. last Thursday, about 10 hours after the university announced that head coach Urban Meyer would be suspended for the Buckeyes’ first three games of the season.
That was one of the only times this preseason that interim head coach Ryan Day noticed the off-field drama surrounding the program having an adverse effect on his players.
“They looked a little tired there,” Day said of Thursday morning’s meeting. “I think it wore on them a little bit.”
It’s been a tumultuous month off the field for Ohio State, as Meyer was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1 – two days before the Buckeyes began fall camp – and has been away from the team ever since, as his suspension came at the conclusion of an investigation by the university into how he handled domestic violence allegations against and other misconduct by former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
For the most part, though, Day believes the players he is currently in charge of coaching haven’t let that affect them on the field, as he likes what he’s seen from the team in preseason practices leading up to Saturday’s season opener against Oregon State.
“It was amazing,” said Day, who is also Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, of the Buckeyes’ performance this preseason. “Guys were flying around in practice, the energy was good, the coaches kept this thing going. And so I would say 98 percent of the time, from when this started to right now, it's been great.”
Greg Schiano, Ohio State’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator, was also impressed by what he saw from the Buckeyes in practices throughout the month.
“I thought we had an outstanding camp,” Schiano said. “I really do. And it's a testament to those players; our leadership, first, and the whole squad.”
Adversity can be a powerful motivator, and Day and Schiano both believe it has been for the Buckeyes, as they have seen the team’s players – particularly their veteran leaders – step up in Meyer’s absence.
“In our conversations, what we have talked about is how adversity can reveal character,” Day said Monday. “And if we are an average team, the adversity will crush us. If we're a good team, then we can survive it. But if we're a great team, then we can actually get better from it. And I can sit here and tell you over the past few weeks our team has gotten stronger.
“The team, the players and the coaches have gotten stronger. We were down a man. When we first met, the first team meeting, we talked about how everybody in the room has to step their game up. And they have. The leaders and the coaches.”
“I thought we had an outstanding camp.”– Greg Schiano on Ohio State's preseason performance
That’s not to say the Buckeyes have blocked out what’s happened off the field entirely, or only talked about football. Asked Monday whether he has used this past month as an opportunity to talk to the players about their core values, specifically respecting women, Day said that’s something they’ve talked about every day.
“Our core values here are talked about on a daily basis, and I can't imagine there's one day that goes by where we don't talk about our core values. And one of them is the respect for women,” Day said. “And so we talk about that all the time. We talk about how especially in this time period, all of our guys are in a fish bowl, and so they have to be really careful too who they are with and where they spend their time. So yes, that's addressed consistently with our guys.”
What the Buckeyes have tried not to do, however, is dwell on the past or worry about what they can’t control. The Buckeyes’ mantra throughout the month, as seen on their social media channels, has been to “win the moment,” so they’ve tried to keep their focus on the task at hand whenever they are on the field.
“One of the things we talk about all the time around here is keep the main thing the main thing,” Schiano said. “Stick to what we’re here to do. And you can't do anything about some of those other things that are happening outside right now, but what you can do is really grow as a team and grow as a player.”
Despite the controversy that has surrounded the program for the past month, the Buckeyes will still be putting on the scarlet and gray and taking the field at noon on Saturday to play in front of a large crowd of fans at Ohio Stadium. And Day believes that has been the ultimate motivation to keep the team performing at a high level.
“Two of the things that's been our motivation: one is the brotherhood, playing for the guy next to you, playing for the team. That when we're in this meeting room we're playing for the guys in this room,” Day said. “And the other one is because of the tradition of Ohio State. We wear the scarlet and gray, we take that serious. And we know what that means to Buckeye Nation. We know that the people of Ohio, the blood runs thick with scarlet and gray. And so we work every day to make them proud, and we can't wait to get back in the Horseshoe this weekend and go win a game together.”