As Ohio State has prepared for the 2019 football season, Ryan Day’s first season as the Buckeyes’ permanent head coach, two new mantras have been heard regularly around the Ohio State football program and seen regularly in hashtags on the Buckeyes’ social media channels.
We’ll start with the “Tough Love” mantra, which combines two core philosophies that Day has talked about regularly in his first offseason as Ohio State’s head coach.
Day wants his Ohio State football program to have a familial culture, where players feel loved and supported by their coaches and teammates and feel comfortable approaching them about any issues they might be having, whether on or off the field.
That shouldn’t be mistaken, though, for Day and the rest of the Buckeyes’ new coaching staff taking it easy on their players. While Day comes across as having a more laid-back, easy-going personality than many head football coaches, he and other coaches have preached the importance of building toughness throughout preseason camp. But they want to do so in a way that their players know their goal is to build them up rather than break them down.
“We have to be tough physically, mentally, emotionally. We have to be tough on the field. But also loving our coaches, loving our players, loving our teammates and making sure that there is that relationship because we want to motivate through love,” Day said while discussing his tough love philosophy at Big Ten media days. “And making sure that it's a positive environment, where guys love coming to work every day and bringing energy, and then if they put so much into it that there's no way they're going to in the fourth quarter give up because they've put so much into it.”
Winning remains a priority for the Buckeyes, and several Ohio State players have said this summer that any concerns about Day not coaching them hard enough are unfounded.
“He’s a cool guy outside the football field, but when he’s on the football field, it’s like he’s zoned in,” said Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford. “He wants the best for us, and he wants us to go hard, and he wants us to fight every time, every play. And if we don’t do that, he will get on us, for sure.”
From the first day of camp, Day has repeatedly talked about the importance of building toughness, because he believes that will determine how successful Ohio State ultimately is this year – not necessarily more than any other year, but simply because that’s a crucial quality for a football team to have.
“This is a tough, tough game,” Day said Wednesday. “In the end, it's going to come down to toughness. There's going to be tough games on the road. There's going to be tough spots. Maybe it's really hot out. Maybe late in the season, it's a cold game in the rain. How tough are we really going to be? Because I know we're athletic and I know we’re fast, but in the end, we've got to be tough.”
That message hasn’t only been delivered to the players by Day, but from other staff members throughout the program, as well. One example of that came during the portion of practice that was open to the media on Wednesday, when assistant strength and conditioning coach Chris Fenelon gave a pre-practice speech to the Buckeyes that also focused on toughness.
“What does it mean to be tough?” Fenelon, who is in his first year on staff, asked the players. “That first play of the game, you knock somebody out, you think you’re tough? You’re not. Do it again, and do it again, and do it again, and do it again, till they don’t want no more smoke.”
“I know we're athletic and I know we’re fast, but in the end, we've got to be tough.”– Ryan Day on the importance of toughness
That emphasis on toughness goes hand in hand with the Buckeyes’ other mantra going into this season, “Fight to the End.” That phrase comes from the Ohio State fight song Buckeye Battle Cry, but it’s also indicative of the mentality that Day and his staff want to instill in their players.
#FTTE has been seen on Ohio State’s social media videos throughout camp, and related imagery has often been seen this month on the screen that sits above the Buckeyes’ indoor practice field, as well.
Graphic on screen at Ohio States Woody Hayes Athletic Center today. pic.twitter.com/fwrCAJqLfr— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 4, 2019
Ohio State typically gets every opponent’s best shot each week, which means the Buckeyes will face challenging moments in games throughout the season, even though they are more talented than most other college football teams. And because Ohio State has a new head coach in Day, as well as inexperience at quarterback and five new assistant coaches among other changes, opponents could enter the season with optimism that the Buckeyes will be more vulnerable this year.
What Day hopes the Buckeyes’ preseason preparation will foster, though, is a determination throughout the team to continue battling no matter what trials they are faced with along the way.
“This is a new staff, new team and we need to prove ourselves,” Day said. “When you're a heavyweight boxer, you got to fight every day. Someone’s trying to knock you out. And you have to come swinging. You can't show up without your hands up. You got to be ready to roll, right from the first snap. And then you also got to learn how to take a punch. Somewhere along the line, when you go into a fight, you’re going to take a punch, and how do we handle that? Are we able to handle adversity, and not flinch when something goes bad?”
Team mantras have become commonplace at Ohio State, especially during the Urban Meyer era; perhaps most famously, the Buckeyes’ mantra was “The Chase” for multiple years leading up to their national championship season in 2014. In subsequent seasons, “The Grind” and “The Edge” were mantras that could be seen throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Other Meyerisms like “4 to 6, A to B” and “E + R = O” can still be seen in the Buckeyes’ team meeting room today.
Ohio State’s mantras for Day’s first team, though, are a bit less abstract. Day wants the Buckeyes to love each other like family, but when they put their pads and helmets on and take the football field, he wants them to be ready to fight for each other and continue that fight until the end of the practice or game, no matter how tough that fight might be.
“We've been carrying that message, trying not to change it, trying to stay focused on those, and I think the guys are embracing it,” Day said. “I think we’re tougher than we were practice one, and we've got to keep building on it.”