When The Best Damn Band in the Land played “Hang on Sloopy” before the beginning of the fourth quarter of each game at Ohio Stadium, Urban Meyer would take a moment to reflect on how fortunate he was to be Ohio State’s football coach.
Ryan Day expects that moment to hit him just before games begin, when he leads the Buckeyes out of the southeast tunnel and onto the field.
“When I'm with the team in the tunnel, looking up to see the Horseshoe and everybody that supports Buckeye Nation, how cool that is; take it in, take a deep breath, because you can go through a whole game and not even recognize anything that's going on because you're so caught up in the moment,” Day said.
Day has led the Buckeyes out of that tunnel before, when he served as Ohio State’s acting head coach for the first three games of last season while Meyer was suspended. He was on the Buckeyes’ coaching staff for Meyer’s final two seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, so he knows what it’s like to coach in Ohio Stadium and in front of the 100,000-plus fans who populate the stands for each home game.
Now, though, the Ohio State football program is officially his, and he bears the responsibility for how the Buckeyes perform both on and off the field
Even though he’s a first-time head coach, the expectations that Ohio State will compete for Big Ten and national championships haven’t gone anywhere, and Day is well aware of the pressure to win that comes with that.
“The nerves and anxiety, that's not going to go away,” Day said. “Understanding what's at stake every time you step on that field, that's part of it. So it doesn't matter if I'm game one or game 300, it's always going to be that way because there's an expectation here. And I get that.”
That said, Day’s mostly just feeling excited as he goes through the final days of preparation for Saturday’s season opener against Florida Atlantic.
“Even when you say that, it fires me up,” Day said when asked about his preparation for the first game. “I can't wait for the season to start. I can't wait for these guys to start playing to kind of see where we're at. I can't wait to run out of the tunnel.
“I'm excited to get going. Run out of the tunnel and go play. What an unbelievable opportunity this is. It's an opportunity to be around a great group of players, great group of coaches at an unbelievable university. So time to start playing some games.”
Day hasn’t made many changes to how the Buckeyes will operate on game days from how they did under Meyer – he said this week that he does not want to deviate from any of the traditions that Ohio State fans have come to know and love – and taking on the head coach’s responsibilities for the beginning of last season has helped him prepare for this season.
“At night, you know what to expect,” Day said. “You've walked through it before. We've gone through pregame. We've gone through Friday. We've gone through the skull session. We've gone through the pregame. We've run out of the tunnel. We've done all those things together, other than a few of the freshmen. So we've walked those shoes already. So that's good to know. It's a little comforting that way.”
“I can't wait for the season to start. I can't wait for these guys to start playing to kind of see where we're at. I can't wait to run out of the tunnel.”– Ryan Day on his excitement for Saturday
Day also recognizes that it’s a new season with new challenges now, and ultimately, he will be judged as a head coach by how well his team plays on Saturdays. He believes that the hard work they’ve put in over the past eight months, though, have prepared him and his team for the challenges they will face in his first season as a head coach this fall.
“You go on a journey with a bunch of guys, a bunch of coaches, staff members and then players, and it’s fun,” Day said. “Because when you go lock arms together and go play somebody, it’s all the work you’ve put in up to that point. And if you trust the training, if you trust everything you’ve done in the offseason, if you trust everything you’ve done in preseason, if you trust all the preparation you’ve done in meetings, then you have confidence and you can go play with speed and toughness. Because it all goes back to how you train. Because once you get into a game, you’re gonna fall back to the level you’re training. So you have to have confidence in that, and we will.”