Ryan Day doesn’t need to completely rebuild Ohio State’s football program, and he doesn’t plan to.
While the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State will come to an end following next month’s Rose Bowl, and Day will replace him as the Buckeyes’ new head coach, he doesn’t plan to make major changes to the program’s infrastructure.
“The footprint that he's left here and the infrastructure is strong,” said Day, who is being promoted from his current role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Ohio State program Meyer is leaving behind. “And knowing that and being here for two years and seeing exactly how it's been done gives me great confidence.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed Tuesday that many of the program’s behind-the-scenes staffers who have been integral to the Buckeyes’ success both on and off the field will be retained, including director for sports performance Mickey Marotti, director for player personnel Mark Pantoni, director for player development Ryan Stamper and general manager Brian Voltolini – all of who were brought to Ohio State by Meyer.
That’s a good thing for the Buckeyes, because it helps ensure stability for the football program amid the head coaching change, and keeps in place the foundation upon which Ohio State has won 82 of its 91 games, three Big Ten championships and a national championship in Meyer’s seven seasons as head coach.
Day brings that stability, too, not only because he’s been on the staff and worked alongside Meyer for the past two seasons – as well as serving as acting head coach for the first three games of this season while Meyer was suspended – but also because he shares many of the same philosophies as Meyer on how a college football program should operate.
“I think coach Meyer and I's values and morals and what our beliefs are, we share a lot of the same things in common,” Day said. “And I think any time there's a change in leadership, there's a different personality, there's a different style involved with it, different demeanor. But we share so much in common that there's going to be a lot that's carried over.”
With Pantoni helping to recruit top talent to Ohio State year in and year out, Marotti developing players from the time they arrive on campus through the strength and conditioning program, Meyer and his assistant coaches developing players on the field and Stamper’s Real Life Wednesdays program developing players off the field, Ohio State has consistently ranked among college football’s top teams throughout Meyer’s seven-year tenure.
Now, Day is tasked with keeping that going, and his experience within the program combined with the retention of core staffers should help him do so. There’s also at least the possibility that Meyer will be around in some form or fashion to help him do so; Meyer and Smith said Tuesday that they have had discussions about continuing to work with the program in a different capacity, and Day said “the door’s always going to be open” for Meyer to be as involved as he wants to be.
The question now is, how will Day – who has never been a full-time head coach before – make his own stamp on the program?
While Smith and Day decided collectively to keep the Buckeyes’ support staff in place, Smith said that Day will have unilateral authority – as Meyer did – to choose which assistant coaches he will retain and hire.
At this point, it remains unclear which assistant coaches Day will retain and who he will replace, as he said those decisions will be made after the Rose Bowl.
“We're so busy right now and everything has happened in the last 48 hours very fast,” Day said Tuesday. “Guys are on the road recruiting. This is a big time for us recruiting with the early signing day. We're getting ready for the bowl game. That's the focus right now. Like every year at the end of the bowl game, we'll go through and evaluate everything.”
That said, making changes to the coaching staff is one way he could put his stamp on the program, while he will also now have the authority to decide what the Buckeyes’ approach should be in all three phases of the game – though his declarations on Tuesday about what Ohio State will seek to accomplish in each of those phases didn’t sound substantially different from what Meyer’s approaches have been.
“On offense, we continue to force defenses to cover the entire field this year as we went from J.T. Barrett to Dwayne Haskins at quarterback this season, which took on a very different attack. But I feel strongly about our offense's ability to modify and adapt to our personnel year in, year out,” Day said. “On defense, we'll be aggressive, with multiple fronts; sound and simple for the players so that they will have the ability to play fast. On special teams, we'll continue to incorporate all of our best players on the team, and it will be the tip of the spear of our program.”
“Any time there's a change in leadership, there's a different personality, there's a different style involved with it, different demeanor. But we share so much in common that there's going to be a lot that's carried over.”– Ryan Day on how he will lead Ohio State compared to Urban Meyer
Nonetheless, Meyer said it is important for Day to have his own identity as he becomes the Buckeyes’ new head coach.
“He's got to be him,” Meyer said. “And that was great advice to me as a young coach, from Lou Holtz and (former Ohio State coach Earle) Bruce, is you can't be trying to be someone else. The players, they were smart then; they're far too smart now. You have to be real, as our strength coach, Coach Mick, always says.”
Meyer said the other crucial step for Day to be successful, though, is to understand what his priorities need to be. And if Day puts his trust into the existing infrastructure that Meyer, Smith, Marotti, Pantoni, Stamper and Voltolini, among others, have all helped to build at Ohio State, that will allow him to focus his time and effort on the things that are most important.
“You only have so much – I actually talked to Ryan about this – you have a pie of energy,” Meyer said. “Your family and faith: Don't touch that. I've touched that before, and it starts to implode; it creates issues for you. Don't touch that.
“The other part of your time, you've got to divide it up somehow. And if you're interviewing academic people, if you're interviewing trainers, trying to find a strength coach, etc., you're cutting into the lifeblood of that. So his focus is to go recruit. Go recruit. Make sure the staff's exactly how you want it.
“Down the road, you can adjust things. But this recruiting gig, all laser lights have to be on that, 100 percent. And I know he's, first of all, he's a great recruiter. And I think the way that things are set up here, that can be full-time energy on that and not some other stuff.”
Ultimately, Day’s goal as he starts his tenure as head coach is the same as Meyer’s was when he arrived at Ohio State: Make the program even better than it was when he inherited, even though he has big shoes to fill (in Meyer’s case, Jim Tressel). And he understands that in order to accomplish that, he must reach a very high standard.
“It didn't take long for me to figure out what the expectations were of Ohio State football: No. 1, win the rivalry game, and No. 2, win every game after that,” Day said. “I take this responsibility very seriously.”