In turning over play-calling duties to new offensive coordinator Brian Hartline this spring, Ryan Day hoped to take more of a holistic approach to presiding over his team.
But that doesn’t seem to have lasted very long.
The longtime quarterbacks coach, play-caller and offensive guru said he tried to take a step back from the offense during the first spring practice, but quickly found himself gravitating back to his bread and butter.
“The first half of practice I was, and then before you knew it I was down there where I was most of the year last year,” Day said with a laugh after the first practice. “But yeah, I'm trying to do more of that the best I can and see it all. We actually have some technology where we're able to watch practice on a little bit of an iPad and then kind of watch it. And I was able to do a little bit of that and kind of bounce around a little bit. So the more I can do that, I think the better right now in spring.”
Given that the Buckeyes are holding a quarterback competition to replace two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year C.J. Stroud, it’s only natural that Day wouldn’t stray too far from the position group this spring. Especially considering the Buckeye coach said last month he hopes to determine a starter by the end of Ohio State’s spring practice schedule.
But it sounds like he’s trying to resist the urge to always be with the quarterbacks, at least to some extent.
“You have a bigger lens on everything and you're able to see from a big-picture view,” Day said. “But it doesn't take long before I'm running over there and coaching up the quarterbacks.”
After the 2022 season, Day admitted that between running the program in totality and concerning himself with the finer details of the offensive game plan and play calling, there’s a lot on his plate by the time the most important games of the year roll around.
“I would say that Coach Day is still Coach Day. We're elite because of what Coach Day brings to the table, so don't want to steer too far from what he's been continuing to do.”– Brian Hartline
That, along with the departure of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and the continued ascension of Hartline as one of the top assistant coaches in the country, informed Day’s decision to allow Hartline to call plays for the Buckeye offense – at least for the spring.
“I think when you, year after year, you sit down and you evaluate everything in the program, and certainly evaluate where college football is and demands of the job the way it is now as opposed to two years ago and four years ago … I have to look at time management,” Day said in February. “I think that during the offseason, no problem at all. Beginning of the season, you know, pretty good. As we get to the middle of the season, end of the season, I feel like there's times where I have to manage my time a little bit better and make sure that as the head coach, there’s enough presence going around the building late in the season. And so trying to figure out how to best remedy that.
“Just making sure that I'm evaluating myself as the head coach the right way. And there's a lot of different things that are changing on a daily basis. And so whether that's giving up the play calling and letting Brian do it or not, we'll decide that here in the next few months, probably. But just trying to figure out how to do a better job of that.”
Day said he won’t decide who will actually call plays during the 2023 season until after he sees how things go with Hartline in the driver’s seat this spring. At the time, Hartline said he’d be “pretty comfortable” if given the full-time play-calling responsibilities, citing the “surrounding party” he has at his disposal.
“I think that Coach Day has always done it at an elite level, we've always produced from a production standpoint offensively at an elite level,” Hartline said last month. “But the support staff I have around me really empowers me. So my confidence comes from having them. So I'd be very confident.”
When asked last week if he’s noticed a difference in Day’s approach to managing head coaching duties relative to the offense, Hartline replied “maybe a little.” Considering the success of the Ohio State offense under Day’s command, Hartline doesn’t want it to change too much.
“I would say that Coach Day is still Coach Day. We're elite because of what Coach Day brings to the table, so don't want to steer too far from what he's been continuing to do,” Hartline said. “But I'm sure he has goals that he's trying to accomplish through spring. We all each have individuals, we have offense and defense, team goals, all those things. I'm sure there's things he identified he wanted to do better. He's probably trying to do that first day of spring. But his energy and what he brings to the table offensively will never change.”
Beyond the quarterback competition, the next biggest offseason question for the Buckeyes may be another offensive issue. Ohio State must replace three starters on the offensive line, and none of the candidates for those jobs possess the type of five-star recruiting caliber to put the fans' and coaching staff’s minds at ease.
With more than one top team priority concerning offensive personnel this offseason, it’s hard to imagine Day will be far removed from that side of the ball this spring, even if Hartline is taking on a bigger role. And even if Hartline ends up earning the responsibility of in-season play caller, it sounds like Day’s footprints will still be all over the Buckeye offense.
And its new offensive coordinator has no qualms with that notion.