While January is the first month of the college football offseason, new Ohio State head coach Ryan Day isn’t going to be able to take much time off.
As Day officially takes over head coaching responsibilities for the Buckeyes, his work over the next month will be crucial to setting his program up for success for the 2019 season and beyond.
First and foremost, Day must assemble his inaugural coaching staff. A head coach’s success is largely dependent on his ability to build a strong coaching staff around him, so choosing which coaches to retain and which coaches to add to the staff will be Day’s first major test in his first month on the job.
On Wednesday, Day’s first official day as head coach, he already made his first major hire, hiring Mike Yurcich away from Oklahoma State to be the Buckeyes’ new passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
On the surface, Yurcich appears to be a strong hire. His last two offenses at Oklahoma State ranked in the top 10 nationally in total yards per game, and his last four offenses with the Cowboys ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing yards per game, so he’s more than qualified to take on the responsibility of leading Ohio State’s passing offense. He’s also a native of Euclid, Ohio, giving him a combination of both local roots as well as experience in the Southwest that should make him an asset to the Buckeyes in both in-state recruiting and national recruiting.
Now, though, Day has tougher decisions to make.
While Yurcich simply fills the vacancy on the coaching staff opened up by Day’s promotion to head coach from his previous roles as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Day must now which of Ohio State’s other assistant coaches – coaches who have been his colleagues for the last year or two – to replace with new coaches.
So far, the only one of those coaches who is guaranteed to be back is wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was promoted from his previous role as interim wide receivers coach in December. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, running backs coach Tony Alford, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson are all under contract for the 2019 season, but that doesn’t guarantee that any of them will be back, though it would be a big surprise if Larry Johnson was not retained.
That said, all of Ohio State’s other defensive coaches – defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, linebackers coach Bill Davis, Taver Johnson and Grinch – could potentially end up on the chopping block after a down year for the Buckeyes’ defense. It also remains unclear whether Alford, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa will be retained.
Ultimately, it now falls on Day – in his first-ever head coaching job – to determine who the best possible candidates to fill each of the 10 assistant coach spots on his staff, whether they are currently on the staff or not, and put together a cohesive group of coaches that can deliver championship-caliber results both on the field and recruiting trail.
Speaking of recruiting, Day also must put the finishing touches on Ohio State’s 2019 recruiting class. While Day and the Buckeyes already signed 15 players during the early signing period in December, and aren’t planning to sign a full class of 25-plus players this year, they will still be looking to add a few more quality prospects to the fold on National Signing Day, which takes place on Feb. 6 this year.
With only nine scholarship seniors departing the team this year, how many more recruits the Buckeyes sign – and what positions they target – will ultimately depend on how many players choose to join Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones and Mike Weber in declaring for early entry to the 2019 NFL draft, as well as any players who choose to transfer out of the program.
Day’s most important recruitment of the month, though, might not be of any high school player or of a coach, but of a quarterback. If Dwayne Haskins ends up deciding to enter the 2019 NFL draft, Ohio State will need to add another quarterback for next year’s roster, and while the Buckeyes could try to add an unsigned high school quarterback late, the more likely option seems to be a transfer – and potentially not just one to be a backup, but one to come in and compete for the starting job immediately.
The top target, of course, appears to be Georgia’s Justin Fields, and if rumors that the No. 2 overall recruit from the high school class of 2018 could transfer to Ohio State ultimately come to pass, that could be the biggest moment of the entire month as Day begins his head coaching career.
Either way, Day must be prepared to make adjustments on the fly and act quickly on the recruiting trail to fill out his roster as players make decision on their futures over the next month.
All together, Day’s first month on the job could set the tone for his entire first year as Ohio State’s head coach – and potentially longer – as it will determine who will fill out the Buckeyes’ roster for the 2019 season as well as who will be coaching the players on that roster, the two most important facets of a football program.