Even though he is now Ohio State’s head coach, Ryan Day plans to continue calling offensive plays for the Buckeyes this fall.
Day, who was Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season before being named as the Buckeyes’ new head coach in December, confirmed Wednesday that he is still planning to be the offensive play caller, though he will give offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and new passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich opportunities to test their play calling abilities this spring.
“My inclination is that I am going to call plays next year,” Day said. “That’s my preference for the first year, then kind of go from there. Probably let the guys do it this spring, kind of see how that goes and assess that, but my plan is to call them next fall.”
Following the Buckeyes’ first spring practice on Wednesday, Day acknowledged that he had to force himself to make sure he was walking over to the defensive side of the ball and working with those players in practice, because he’s used to spending most of his time with the offense.
After promoting defensive line coach Larry Johnson to associate head coach and hiring Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley as co-defensive coordinators, Day said he is going to “trust them to do their job.”
Much like former head coach Urban Meyer, Day is planning to take a hands-on approach to coaching special teams – where he also hired Matt Barnes to be special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach – and said he has been in the room for all special teams meetings. During the open viewing window of Wednesday morning’s practice, Day was seen working directly with the punt team at the same time Yurcich was leading the quarterbacks in individual drills.
Day recognizes that it is important for him to be involved in more than just the offense.
“I think special teams allows me a chance to be around the guys on defense, and then being down there and spending time with them even when we’re not on the field is important,” Day said.
All of that said, Day is planning to continue working closely with the quarterbacks as well, especially this spring as the inexperienced group of Justin Fields, Matthew Baldwin, Chris Chugunov and Danny Vanatsky – none of whom have ever thrown a pass in a game for Ohio State – develops in preparation for the 2019 season.
He isn’t sure exactly yet how he will strike the balance between being integrally involved in working with the quarterbacks and delegating to Yurcich so he can work with other groups, but said that will be something he figures out over time.
“I think it’s a feel,” Day said. “It’s like anything else. When you start something new, you trust your gut on it. You figure out every day where you think you need to be and how things are going and where you spend your time.”
While the reality that Day likely will spend a majority of his time with the offense and more time with the quarterbacks than any other position group will be questioned by some, it’s not unprecedented for a head coach – particularly one who specializes in offense and quarterback play – to spend a significant amount of his time working with one side of the ball and one position group.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has done so to great success over the past two years, leading quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to back-to-back Heisman Trophy campaigns (and potentially No. 1 overall NFL draft picks) and the Sooners to back-to-back College Football Playoff berths while also serving as offensive play caller and quarterbacks coach.
As a first-time head coach, Day will have to figure out over time whether a similar balance will work for him and Ohio State, or whether he needs to change his approach. Day feels like he has a pretty good idea of how to run the program, though, because of the two months he spent leading the program on an interim basis while Meyer was suspended last August and September.
“We got into a rhythm there those two months, so we kind of jumped right back into that,” Day said. “Along the way, there’s different changes here and there and over time, those little changes add up. But for me to come in and just start making crazy changes just to say it’s mine, I’m not going to do that.
“The kids in the program came here for a reason. They love this culture, they love the program, they love the people around the program, and so we just keep assessing it. And every team takes on a different personality. So as things go and the journey to this 2019 season happens, we make adjustments from there, and then my thought is that maybe in a couple years, there’s quite a few changes. But the infrastructure and what’s here is not going to change.”