Comparing Ohio State Head Coaching Success in Year One As Ryan Day Takes the Reins

By Chris Lauderback on May 30, 2019 at 11:05 am
Ryan Day has high hopes for his inaugural season as Ohio State's head coach.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Day is just the sixth head coach to guide Ohio State's football program since Woody Hayes arrived in Columbus way back in 1951, and one of those, Luke Fickell, did so on a one-year interim basis. 

Where Day's first year will stack up against his predecessors remains to be seen. Despite a lack of head coaching experience, he's proven himself to be an offensive wiz and the early returns on recruiting indicate he's up to the challenge. While Day did serve as acting head coach for the first three games of the 2018 season, being the permanent head coach is a different beast. 

The inaugural seasons turned in by the likes of Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, Fickell and Urban Meyer span from heinous to within one win of a national title while their full tenures at Ohio State range from Fickell's one year to Hayes' 28 seasons. 

There's not much to glean from the success, or lack thereof, of past Buckeye head coaches in Year One as it relates to what Day might be able to do but for the sake of perspective, here's a look at the results turned in by each head coach dating back to Woody in their first year at Ohio State. 


Replacing Wes Fesler, who went 21-13-3 over four seasons, the hiring of Woody Hayes didn't exactly resonate with a fan base that felt the school turned down much better options, notably former head man Paul Brown. 

Hayes arrived via Miami University, bringing an assistant named Bo Schembechler with him, along with a run-heavy T-formation offense. 

The Buckeyes started 1-2-1 and eventually limped to a 4-3-2 overall record including a 2-3-2 mark in Big Ten play featuring a 7-0 loss to Michigan. The disappointing season saw Ohio State average 12.1 points per game and score 10 points or less in six of nine contests. 

Of course, Woody would right the ship winning a national title three years later before racking up 205 wins, five national titles and 13 conference crowns before his dismissal in December of 1978. 


After Woody's firing following a right hook to Charlie Bauman in the Gator Bowl, Ohio State turned over the keys to former Hayes assistant Earle Bruce. 

Bruce posted a 36-32 record as Iowa State's head coach before moving back to Columbus as the university found itself looking for head football coach for the first time in 29 years. 

Taking over Woody's roster stocked with names like Schlichter, Marek, Murray, Donley, Williams and Bell, Bruce led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and 11 straight wins overall before falling to No. 3 USC in the Rose Bowl

A win would've given Ohio State no worse than a share of a national title but the Trojans, behind Charles White, upended the Buckeyes 17-16 in Pasadena. 

The Buckeyes played just two ranked teams before the Rose Bowl, winning at No. 17 UCLA in September before defeating No. 13 Michigan in the Big House but still sat at No. 1 entering the season finale. 

Season One was easily Earle's best in Columbus as he reeled off six-straight 9-3 seasons before a 10-3 mark in 1986 followed by a 6-4-1 campaign in his final year at the helm capped by an emotional 23-20 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Over his nine-year tenure Bruce tallied an 81-26-1 mark with three top-10 finishes and four Big Ten titles. 


With Bruce's ouster announced during the week leading up The Game, which accompanied the resignation of athletic director Rick Bay, new athletic director Jim Jones eventually went outside the Buckeye family in tabbing John Cooper as Ohio State's new head coach on New Year's Eve, 1987. 

Most fans weren't excited about an outsider leading the Buckeyes even if his Arizona State squad had beaten Michigan in the Rose Bowl roughly 12 months earlier. 

Those fans were even less excited when Cooper couldn't get a team stocked with "slow white guys" to perform in his inaugural season. In Cooper's defense, he was right in that he inherited a largely bare cupboard as the Buckeyes went 4-6-1 overall including a 2-5-1 mark in conference play. 

The season highlight came in week three as Cooper's squad roared back from a 13-point deficit against LSU with under four minutes to play to win 36-33 in one of the most legendary finishes in the history of Ohio Stadium. 

Blowout losses dotted the schedule as Ohio State fell 42-10 to unranked Pitt and 41-7 to also-unranked Indiana in one of the darker on-field days in program history.  

Cooper's Buckeyes did give No. 12 Michigan a game before falling 34-31 in the Shoe to cap a seventh place Big Ten finish. 

To his credit, Cooper would eventually attract big time talent to Columbus and field some elite teams although his 2-10-1 record against Michigan will always be the first bullet in his OSU bio. 

Over a 13-year tenure, Cooper's teams went 111-43-4 with three Big Ten titles and five top-10 finishes. Off-field issues and on-field shenanigans reached a head in 2000 as the Buckeyes capped an 8-4 season with an undisciplined 24-7 loss to unranked South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Always of note when discussing Cooper, his 1998 team remains unofficially the best Buckeye squad to fall short of a national title. 


Another hire that didn't exactly blow the doors off most OSU fans, Tressel arrived at Ohio State via Division 1-AA Youngstown State after athletic director Andy Geiger's search first churned up sexier names like Jon Gruden (lol), Bob Stoops and Mike Bellotti. 

Even Tressel's detractors however could appreciate his approach to the gig and love for the Ohio State football which was captured beautifully at halftime of Ohio State's basketball game against Michigan shortly after his hiring. 

Year One was far from perfect however as Tressel's squad went just 7-5 overall and 5-3 in conference play though four of the five losses were by seven points or less. A 26-20 win over No. 11 Michigan in Ann Arbor – a game Ohio State entered as 11-point underdogs – paved the way for increased optimism even after a 31-28 loss to No. 14 South Carolina in, you guessed it, the Outback Bowl. 

Tressel would go on to post a 106-22 record in 10 seasons with one national title, seven Big Ten crowns, eight top-10 finishes and a 9-1 record against Michigan. 


The saga ending Tressel's tenure far earlier than anyone could have predicted led to a transition year under Luke Fickell but considering he wasn't destined to stay in Columbus after a 6-7 season as the interim head coach, we'll fast forward to Ohio State announcing Urban Meyer as Ohio State's head coach on November 28, 2011. 

Facing a postseason ban, Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season and a No. 3 ranking in the final AP Poll. Ohio State's offense racked up 50+ points four times at least 30 points seven times on the way to a 37.2 points per game average.

Ohio State won six of its games by a touchdown or less including a 26-20 decision over No. 20 Michigan, the first of seven straight wins by Meyer's teams over the Wolverines. 

Meyer would go on to post a ridiculous 83-9 record at Ohio State including a 54-4 mark in conference action before hanging up his whistle following a 28-23 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl to cap a 13-1 season. 

Recurring headaches and a three-game suspension for his handling of the Zach Smith saga brought Meyer's run to a premature end and ushered in the Ryan Day era at Ohio State. 

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