Ryan Day had a tough act to follow at the start of his tenure as Ohio State head coach.
Having never previously held the top job at any level of the sport, Day was tasked with succeeding legendary college football coach Urban Meyer, who went 83-9 at Ohio State with a 7-0 record against Michigan, four Big Ten Championships and a national title.
Day didn't have to reinvent the wheel upon being hired to replace Meyer, given the Buckeyes were fresh off a one-loss 2018 season with a conference championship and Rose Bowl win to boot. But filling Meyer's shoes was always destined to be a daunting endeavor.
On the first episode of Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann's new "More Than Coach Speak" podcast on Thursday, Day discussed how he's threaded the needle between making the program his own while maintaining some of Meyer's influence over the past five years.
"Every year you learn and you grow," Day said. "There’s still so many things we do that we did five years ago, but there’s a lot of things that we’ve changed and had to adapt," Day said. "So you just have to be yourself. I heard that from a bunch of folks when I was named the head coach here, is like, ‘You’re not Urban Meyer, you’re not Chip Kelly, you just gotta be you.’ Now you can take the things that you’ve learned from them and put them to work every day, but as time goes on, it becomes yours more and more. So, still a lot of things in the program that are things that I learned from the coaches that I worked with before, but a lot of things we’ve had to change to adapt with the times.”
Day credited Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith for giving him the opportunity to step into one of the top jobs in college football, but said he felt prepared to do so. Not to mention, the success Meyer built in the previous seven seasons in the program gave Day a stable foundation to build off of.
“I think for me, being a first-time head coach is significant. I give so much credit to Gene Smith for putting his trust in me as a first-time head coach at Ohio State," Day said. "That’s a big job for the first time ever as a head coach. So you have an opportunity when you’re a head coach maybe at a different school to kind of learn a little bit and grow. But one of the things I did was I really attached myself to the head coach at really the last four or five stops that I had been leading up to Ohio State, because I knew I wanted to be a head coach. So I felt like I was prepared to do it.
"But what I tried to do early on was continue, because we kept so many pieces in place here between (strength coach) Mick Marotti and (general manager) Mark Pantoni, (former player development director) Ryan Stamper, the infrastructure was already here. I wanted to keep that going, because we were having success with it. But over time, it's changed. It’s become more to my managerial style, for lack of a better time. You learn and you grow."
Whether the personnel in the Ohio State football program came from Meyer's tenure or are new hires that Day has personally brought into the fold, he said his supporting cast is what allows the Buckeyes to continue to thrive year after year.
“The biggest thing is the people. You have to have good people around you who are loyal, who want to be at Ohio State," Day said. "No job is too small. They’re not looking for the next job. They just want to see the Buckeyes win. And when you surround yourself with people like that, and then you go recruit people who want to be at Ohio State, understand the quality of what it means to be at Ohio State, then you have something special."