PASADENA, Calif. – After Clemson shut out Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, embarrassing the Buckeyes with a 31-0 show of dominance, Urban Meyer made a declaration, he made changes, then he got results.
"We will become a good passing team, we will. Next year,” Meyer said after the loss.
So, he replaced Tim Beck and Ed Warinner with Kevin Wilson, a former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and Indiana head coach, and Ryan Day, an up-and-coming offensive mind who had most recently worked as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator in the NFL. Meyer hoped Wilson and Day could revolutionize an offense with a seemingly floundering passing attack.
It's hard to imagine he had any idea one of the men he hired would eventually replace him as head coach. Day, who had never been a head coach and had never been an offensive coordinator at a higher profile college program than Boston College, helped transform the offense, though, and became Gene Smith’s pick once Urban Meyer told him he intended to retire.
Less than two years after being named co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and less than a year after earning a promotion to offensive coordinator, Day officially became the 25th head coach in program history at midnight following Ohio State’s 28-23 victory in the Rose Bowl.
“It's an amazing feeling. It is,” Day said in the locker room after the victory. “To be the leader of such a special place, special group of men, this program, Buckeye Nation, it's an honor.”
If he’s feeling the pressure of following one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time, he hasn’t shown it.
Having served as acting head coach throughout fall camp and during the first three games of the season, Day has no misconceptions about the job. He knows what he got himself into. The expectations. The pressure. The intensity of the job. Meyer felt like reminding his successor again a couple days ago.
“I told (him) at the press conference with Ryan Day: Here's your job,” Meyer said on Monday. “You beat the rival. Every other game you have to win as well. Every player has to get drafted in the first two rounds. No off-the-field issues, and never lose to that rival. And, by the way, your classroom, you're dealing with 31 ACTs on the average. And I looked at him and I said: 'Go get it, tiger.' That's what it is.”
There hasn’t been much time for Day to step back and let the moment consume him.
He hit the recruiting trail right away, visiting multiple states the night of the announcement that he could become head coach. He signed a 15-player recruiting class during the early signing period and began preparation for the Rose Bowl. Day hasn’t had the time to worry or imagine himself in Meyer’s office.
Even during the game, the moment he was waiting for never came. He had to wait until after the clock hit zeroes.
“Because the game was hanging on there at the end, I never quite had that moment,” Day said. “I thought maybe I would. We were just hanging on there at the end to win. I wanted to make sure we won the game. But then afterward, being on the field was special.”
On the stage after the team’s 13th victory of the season, Meyer was presented with the Rose Bowl trophy, and Dwayne Haskins and Brendon White were honored for their performances. Day, who took in the postgame festivities, wasn’t on the front podium with Meyer and his family. It wasn’t his time. That came later in the locker room.
The transition became unofficially official when Meyer gave his whistle to Day, who called it a “really special moment.” Without missing a beat, Day gave his first speech to the team as head coach.
“When I stepped into that role in August, we had a group of players and a group of coaches who had to step up their game,” Day said in the locker room to the team after Meyer gave him the whistle. “Remember in that first meeting, we said we said we all have to raise our game up, and everybody in this group did. And we wouldn't be standing here today if everybody in this room didn't step up. We wouldn't be there today if the culture that Urban Meyer built here wasn't the way it was.
“And so now we're going to keep moving this culture forward with the group here. And the reason why we can do that is because we can stand on the shoulders of the guys that have come before, the coaches that have come before, the administrators that have come before and the players. The seniors who are leaving here have left a legacy, and I'm proud to be charging this forward. I'm proud to be part of this group. And let's go get 'em. Go Bucks.”
The 25th football coach of The Ohio State University."— Eleven Warriors (@11W) January 2, 2019
Urban Meyer hands off his whistle to Ryan Day. pic.twitter.com/4xdbIYf0Wt
Day, 39, has coached at Ohio State for just two seasons and has no experience as head coach outside of the early season stint during Meyer’s suspension. Both Meyer and Smith think he’s ready, though, and Day’s players believe in him, as well.
The job began when he fly all over the country recruiting in early to mid December, but he didn’t have the head coach’s office quite yet. With Meyer’s retirement official, it’s Day’s turn.
“Celebrate it tonight, and then go about the business tomorrow,” Day said.
If nothing else, he has the Meyer-isms down already.