Ryan Day doesn’t have the typical background of an Ohio State head coach.
Paul Brown was from Massillon. Woody Hayes grew up in Newcomerstown. Earle Bruce grew up in Pennsylvania, but played at Ohio State. Jim Tressel was born in Mentor and went to high school in Berea. Urban Meyer grew up in Ashtabula.
Day, on the other hand, grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and had never lived in Ohio until he was hired as the Buckeyes’ co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017.
Even so, the opportunity to be Ohio State’s head coach is one he says he has dreamed of for a long time.
“Every coach who ever put a whistle around their neck strives to be the head coach at The Ohio State University,” Day said after being introduced as the 25th head football coach in school history on Tuesday. “I fully understand the challenges that await for me. And being on the same list as Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, it's extremely humbling, but I'm prepared and ready for the task.”
Day said his visions of one day being at Ohio Stadium date back to when he watched Ohio State’s annual rivalry game with Michigan as a kid.
“Probably when I was growing up and watching the Buckeyes play on TV and watching them play The Team Up North,” Day said when asked when he first thought about being Ohio State’s head coach. “I remember being on my grandfather's couch and watching the game. And just the respect I had for this place, and it was always a dream of mine.”
So when Day was offered the opportunity this week to succeed Meyer, it didn’t take him long to say yes.
“I would say Nina (Day’s wife) couldn't quite – she wasn't sleeping last night, that's for sure,” Day said. “It was a surreal experience. I had some long conversations, and I don't think it's quite really sunk in yet for all of us. We sat together as a family and talked about it last night what it meant for our family. But we understand what Buckeye Nation is. We understand what this means for our family. And we're going to take it very seriously and jump in with two feet.”
“Every coach who ever put a whistle around their neck strives to be the head coach at The Ohio State University.” – Ryan Day
If Meyer hadn’t made the decision to retire as Ohio State’s head coach after this season, Day probably could have gone on to be a head coach elsewhere, if he wanted. Meyer said that Day “had a chance to go become a head football coach at a pretty impressive place” last offseason; Meyer didn’t specify where, but Eleven Warriors confirmed Day was a candidate at Mississippi State, and he also reportedly had an offer to become the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, meanwhile, described Day on Tuesday as “a talented and gifted guy that many others wanted to interview him and potentially hire.”
Day, however, turned down those overtures last offseason to stay at Ohio State, which set up the opportunity for him to potentially become the Buckeyes’ future head coach, as well as to serve as acting head coach for the first three games of this season while Meyer served a suspension. He signed a three-year contract with a $1 million salary when he was promoted to offensive coordinator last offseason, and has repeatedly said over the past year that he was appreciative of the opportunities he has been afforded at Ohio State.
"We love Ohio State," Day said in March. "This place is unlike any other place. It’s a great place to work. Got a great group of quarterbacks to work with here. My family loves Columbus. It’s the best place to work in America, and I really believe that. So my family loves it here, and I love it here."
Day’s loyalty was rewarded on Tuesday, when he agreed to a five-year contract worth $4.5 million for 2019 to become Meyer’s successor.
While some people felt that Ohio State should conduct a national search for a new head coach instead of simply promoting from within, Smith decided that was unnecessary because of the belief he has in Day’s ability to get the job done.
“He has proven that he's ready for this challenge during this last two years,” Smith said. “He understands our higher purpose, which is the total student-athlete development strategy. He appreciates the profiles of the student-athletes we need to recruit. And the reality is we have a strong infrastructure in place that I know that he has embraced and will continue to embrace.
“He has confidence, passion. He has the perfect demeanor for our environment. He shares the values that we hold so dear: Integrity, education, excellence, people-first, respect and tradition. His diversity and his background and his experiences have uniquely prepared him for this opportunity. He's a good human being, good family man and we're blessed to have him as our next head football coach.”
Now, Day has the opportunity to lead the Ohio State football program even though he is just 39 years old and has never been a full-time head coach before.
That’s a steep trajectory to climb so fast, and Day knows he has a huge responsibility and huge shoes to fill. But he’s not taking the opportunity lightly.
“We all are part of something special here at Ohio State. And the culture that Urban Meyer has created here is strong,” Day said. “And my pledge to the players is that our staff is going to give you every opportunity to maximize yourself as a football player, as a student in establishing your career after football.
“To Buckeye Nation: You have my word that I'm going to give everything I have to continue the tradition of excellence and winning that this program has enjoyed during its storied career.”