If Ohio State wins its first three games of the 2018 season, Ryan Day could immediately emerge as one of college football’s top head coaching candidates for next offseason.
That’s because Day will serve as Ohio State’s interim head coach for the first three games of the upcoming season while Urban Meyer serves a three-game suspension.
Day was already considered to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches in college football, and expected to have the opportunity to become a head coach sooner than later. Ohio State ponied up to keep him on staff earlier this offseason – signing him to a three-year deal with a salary of $1 million for this season, and promoting him to offensive coordinator – after he turned down a potential opportunity to become a head coach at an SEC school (believed to be Mississippi State) in December. Day was also courted by Mike Vrabel to become the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator, but he chose to stay at Ohio State instead.
Now, though, he will have a temporary opportunity to begin his head coaching career at Ohio State, which could prove to be the perfect audition for Day to land even more job offers next year.
It really shouldn’t matter who is coaching the Buckeyes in their first two games against Oregon State and Rutgers; Ohio State is substantially more talented than both of those teams, and should be able to win big in those games even without Meyer.
Ohio State’s third game of the season, though, will be a different story. That’s when the Buckeyes will play TCU, a preseason top-16-ranked team, under the national spotlight at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a game that should be a very real test for the Buckeyes.
It will also be a huge test for Day, who has never been a head coach before at any level, to show whether he can successfully call the shots in a big game – all the while still having to balance his regular duties as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
But if Day can guide Ohio State to an impressive win in Dallas and hand the Buckeyes back to Meyer with a 3-0 record, he should capture the attention of anyone who might be looking for a new head coach in 2019.
While Day hasn’t been a head coach before, the 39-year-old is highly regarded for his ability to connect with his players and help them develop their skill sets. New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, who coached Day in college, told Eleven Warriors earlier this month that he saw the potential for Day to become a future head coach while he was still a quarterback for the Wildcats.
“Ryan’s a smart kid, hard-working, understands the game, and you knew that sooner or later he’s going to have an opportunity to be a head coach,” McDonnell said of Day in an interview on Aug. 10.
While Day will be taking on the most high-profile role of his coaching career by far, it’s not as if he won’t have plenty of help. Even without Meyer, the Buckeyes’ coaching staff includes two former Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches – defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson – and several other experienced veterans including defensive line coach Larry Johnson and running backs coach Tony Alford, who each hold assistant head coach titles. All of Ohio State’s coaches will work collectively to fill the void left by Meyer’s absence, so it’s not as if Day will have to do it all by himself.
Nonetheless, Day will be in the spotlight for the first three weeks of the season, and considering that he was already garnering consideration as a head coaching candidate, his profile should only rise if the Buckeyes are successful under his leadership.
Of course, Day’s 2018 season at Ohio State won’t be solely defined by his time as the interim head coach. As the Buckeyes break in a new starting quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, he might ultimately be graded most heavily on how the offense adjusts around Haskins and if it improves as a result – both because he is the quarterbacks’ coach and because he now holds playcalling responsibilities as offensive coordinator.
But if Haskins and Ohio State’s offense start the season off strong while Day is juggling additional responsibilities, and they continue to perform at a high level all year, Day’s stock as a coaching candidate will be higher than ever before.
That’s not to say that Day will, or even should, leave Ohio State after the 2018 season. After all, Day might have been able to leave for a more lucrative position after last season, but decided he would wanted to stay with the Buckeyes instead.
"We love Ohio State," Day said in March. "This place is unlike any other place. It’s a great place to work. Got a great group of quarterbacks to work with here. My family loves Columbus. It’s the best place to work in America, and I really believe that. So my family loves it here, and I love it here."
Should Day stay at Ohio State for the long haul, he could potentially be groomed as Meyer’s successor, with his current temporary role as interim head coach perhaps serving as a trial run for whenever Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State actually does come to an end.
One way or another, though, Day appears to be on the trajectory toward eventually running a program of his own, and a successful stretch as Ohio State’s interim head coach would be an excellent way to set the stage for his future in the profession.