"One morning, as Ryan Day was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into the head coach of Ohio State football.
He lay on his back in a scarlet special edition Nike polo shirt and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, that he was wearing pleated khaki pants and white shoes. Ryan found that a whistle had somehow buried itself in between his lips, and when he opened them, a stream of cursing tumbled from his mouth."
No one outside of Columbus is really quite sure what to make of Ryan Day, head football coach.
Ohio State fans and players seem more secure in their knowledge of the dude than the general population. After all, we watched him take the reins of the head coaching gig early on in the 2018 season during Urban Meyer's suspension; the Buckeyes looked good, beat what was, at the time, considered to be a pretty decent team, and Day fulfilled his off the field duties as head football coach as well as or better than anyone could've asked for.
And ultimately for people who live and die for Ohio State football, that's probably all that really matters. As long as Ryan Day wins a butt ton of games, he could show up to every press conference wearing a worn-out flannel onesie and drinking out of a sippy cup and no one would blink an eye.
Personally though, I'm fascinated by the attention that the head coach of Ohio State football attracts nationally and the narratives that spring up around them.
I've felt this way ever since Jim Tressel's firing; here was the most politically-honed coach that the Buckeyes have ever had, a guy whose every waking second in front of the general public is an exercise in calculated moderation, and yet the scandal that surrounded his actions made him out to be some kind of slimy, duplicitous Gordon Gekko-type that had masterminded an elaborate scheme to get his players discount tattoos.
Michigan fans of course jumped at the opportunity to scream that they had been the canary in the coal mine with the dude ("I knew he had to be up to something!"), and the media famously tried to dig up as much dirt as possible on Tressel, eventually culminating in a charge of a rigged raffle, which hurt his reputation so much that now he's the president of a major university.
Anyway, it was weird to watch: the truth is that the real Jim Tressel certainly wasn't as squeaky-clean as his public image suggested he was, but he was pretty close, and the scandal that took him down is in retrospect pretty hilariously tame.
Urban Meyer had his own obvious baggage, and in the future we'll probably come to the conclusion that it had a significant role in his retirement from Ohio State, but that's really just part of the image that was constructed around him. Meyer came to the Buckeyes as a coaching superstar, a ruthless shark that spared nothing and no one around him in the pursuit of victory. Most of this is probably true, but what I'm getting at is that we knew all of this about Urban before he was hired as the head football coach because of the narrative that surrounded him.
Hell, various One-Sentence-Paragraph sports opinion writers (looking at you, Mike Bianchi) have based their entire careers on assessing the mythology around Urban Meyer. He was a household name before he came to Columbus, and the entire cycle will repeat itself again when he inevitably takes on another coaching job in like two years.
So at one of the most important college football schools nationally, the question becomes: what does the wider college world at large make of new Ohio State head football coach Ryan Day?
And the answer comes back: they're still trying to figure that out.
I've written before about how New England feels about their native son, but what I want to know is how Ohio State's various outside observers, rivals, and detractors will attempt to portray a guy who by our estimation here at Eleven Warriors seems like basically a really intelligent, reflective, approachable person.
One Ryan Day narrative that actually seems to be based in reality and not wishful thinking of outright blind hatred towards Ohio State is that as a coach, Day excels at conveying ideas and concepts without completely losing his shit, as noted in this ESPN article from Tom VanHaaren:
[Former Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy] said he recalls the then-coordinator was big on educating players on the game.
"I thought he was very good in the classroom, teaching me the offense and the system, breaking it down and making it very simplistic where I would be able to understand it and translate it to the field," Murphy said. "His strengths really come in the classroom and to be able to teach you and understand the game plan of what you want to accomplish and why you want to get that accomplished so you're successful."
I like this look. "Ryan Day the Professor" or "Ryan Day the Quarterback Guru" is a hell of a lot better than "Ryan Day the Absolute Dumbass" or "Ryan Day the Guy Who Eats Grass." Day as an educator pops up a lot in profiles done of him after the official announcement of his hire in December, and it's hopefully one he can maintain by winning football games.
Ryan Day has never been a head coach. Not sure if you were aware, but just in case I've decided to reiterate it online for the ten thousandth time.
This, by the way, is seen as the great ray of hope for Michigan and Penn State fans. "Surely," they nervously say to themselves, with an increasingly anxious tone, "this Ryan Day kid won't have the chops to do what Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer did (beat our favorite teams with alarming consistency). Now it's Jim Harbaugh's/James Franklin's chance to turn the tables."
Maybe? But also maybe not; to a drowning man, anything looks like a life preserver, and both Wolverine fans (who, by the way, haven't been able to decide who they're pissed at for Mattison and Washington defecting to the Buckeyes) and Nittany Lion fans had better damn well hope that their coaches are equipped to take advantage of whatever weakness they perceive in Ryan Day. If not, underestimating him could very well blow up in their faces.
LINCOLN RILEY REDUX
I'm actually kind of divided on whether this is a compliment of the back-handed variety or not. Riley is obviously a great young coaching mind, but I still think there's a decent amount of skepticism surrounding his long term viability. His teams haven't been viewed as "complete," which is fair because they weren't.
So while in one sense, yeah, it's a nice thing to be compared to him, I also think part of the reason why Ryan Day's name gets associated with Riley's (other than some parallels in terms of how they got their jobs and their age) is that the media at large still hasn't come up with a comfortable storyline to build around the new Ohio State head football coach other than "he coaches quarterbacks."
Ryan Day's story will be built in the coming months and years, and the nice thing for Day about coming into this job as a Faceless Man is that he largely gets to write it himself. It's a tremendous opportunity, and one that Ohio State head coaches haven't had very often.
At the very least, he'll get to keep his rivals and the national media at large guessing.