Ryan Day just signed his first 15 recruits as a head coach on Wednesday, and after Urban Meyer coaches his final game in next Tuesday’s Rose Bowl, he’ll officially become the commander-in-chief of Ohio State’s football program.
Given that Urban Meyer just announced his retirement as Ohio State’s head coach on Dec. 4, Day hasn’t had a lot of time to sit back and think about how he will lead the Buckeyes going forward. Having been focused primarily on recruiting for the two weeks leading up to the early signing period, and now focusing his efforts on helping the Buckeyes prepare for their New Year’s Day game against Washington, Day will be jumping right into his new role after a strenuous month of work.
Day’s transition into that role is made easier not only by the fact that he has already been on Ohio State’s coaching staff for two seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but also by the fact that he does not plan to make major changes to the infrastructure that Meyer built in Columbus, as he has said in both of his press conferences since being named the Buckeyes’ next head coach.
The question that remains is how Day will balance keeping in place what Meyer has built – and whether that’s a good thing – with making his mark on the Ohio State football program.
Day doesn’t have a concrete answer yet of how he will strike that balance, because he expects it to be a progressive process.
“I think you trust your instincts on it,” Day said. “I think there's no right or wrong way to do it. You see the things that you think are really good and you look to enhance them. You see the things that maybe you want to change, and then you get them changed. It's not going to be all at once.”
Day was hired as the Buckeyes’ next head coach, in part, because Ohio State wants stability despite Meyer’s retirement. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith made that much clear by making the executive decisions to retain core support staffers Mickey Marotti (sports performance), Mark Pantoni (player personnel), Ryan Stamper (player development) and Brian Voltolini (football operations) – who were all named assistant athletic directors at Ohio State this summer – while also confirming this past weekend (via Cleveland.com’s Doug Lesmerises) that Meyer will remain at Ohio State as an assistant athletic director.
At the same time, Smith has insisted that both he and Meyer will stay out of Day’s way when it comes to making football decisions. And even though Ohio State has been highly successful in Meyer’s seven-year tenure, winning more than 90 percent of its games, the program must continue to evolve under Day’s leadership in order for the Buckeyes to remain among college football’s elite and maximize their potential.
“I think you trust your instincts on it. I think there's no right or wrong way to do it. You see the things that you think are really good and you look to enhance them. You see the things that maybe you want to change, and then you get them changed.”– Ryan Day on how he will balance making his own mark on Ohio State with maintaining what Urban Meyer has built
Surely, there will be things that Ohio State’s 39-year-old new head coach wants to do differently than his predecessor, and come January, he’ll have the authority to do so. He recognizes that Meyer gave him a great foundation to work with, though, so he anticipates making more minor tweaks over time than a major overhaul.
“The good news is there's so much in place right now that we can keep building on,” Day said. “So I'm not just going to go about changing something that doesn't need to be changed. Yet there is going to be a lot of things that have my own personality to it that we are going to make adjustments on and look to enhance other areas. So it will be a work in progress.”
While Day has never been a full-time head coach before, he does have nearly two months of experience leading the Ohio State football program on an interim basis, having served as acting head coach for the entire month of August and the first three games of the season while Meyer was suspended.
At the time, Day consistently said he was not trying to replace Meyer, instead just trying to keep the train rolling until Meyer returned. But his time in that role did allow him to establish his personality as a head coach, and since the foundation Meyer built will continue to be a big part of the program, his leadership on a full-time basis doesn’t need to be drastically different from his leadership on an interim basis.
“I think that as we move forward, everybody has a different way about them, and I'm going to have my own way. And I think that the guys on the team felt that for the first two months and will continue to do that,” Day said. “But to explain it to you right now, I don't know if I can do that. I think it'll happen naturally.”
Over time, differences between how Day coaches the Buckeyes and how Meyer coached the Buckeyes – whether major or subtle – will start to become apparent. Some of those changes could be made in short order, but others will develop over time as Day gains on-the-job experience and more time has passed since the Meyer era.
One thing Day does expect, though, is that he will continue to lean on Meyer for advice even though Day, not Meyer, will now be the one calling the program’s shots. And as Meyer has prepared to pass the figurative torch to Day, the outgoing head coach has already served as a key resource for the impending head coach.
“What Coach has done for me and our relationship is as strong as ever,” Day said. “Been a huge help in terms of making this transition, and forever in debt to what he's done. It's a great working relationship. He's given me a lot of information, and obviously, who better to know than Urban Meyer?”
Meyer is among those who have expressed confidence that Day will not only be able to maintain what he and others have already built at Ohio State, but make the program even stronger.
“I am so excited about the direction of the program,” Meyer told NBC4’s Jerod Smalley last week. “The guy that’s taking over is elite.”