Skull Session: Ryan Day Embraces His Role As Ohio State’s CEO, Cameron Heyward Honored to Win Walter Payton Man of the Year and C.J. Stroud Breaks Down Game Film

By Chase Brown on February 12, 2024 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Nick Bosa and Chase Young performed well, but the San Francisco 49ers still fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII.


Have a good Monday.

 OHIO STATE CEO RYAN DAY. In January 2023, Ryan Day promoted Brian Hartline to offensive coordinator after Kevin Wilson left to become head coach at Tulsa. All offseason, Day was asked about handing the keys to Ohio State’s offense to Hartline – an elite wide receivers coach and recruiter but a novice play caller. Day seemed hesitant to do so, but he offered Hartline a chance to earn the role that spring.

“We’ll come up for air after the spring,” Day said in February 2023. “We’ll figure out what that dynamic looks like in the preseason and into the season. We won’t decide any of that now, but I will give him an opportunity to call it this spring and see how that goes.”

Spoiler: Day remained the team’s play caller.

This past season, Ohio State failed to accomplish its three main goals. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan, 30-24, in Ann Arbor. They missed the Big Ten Championship Game. They missed the College Football Playoff.

That outcome, which occurred in each of the past three years, helped reality set in for Day. He is still one of the best offensive minds in college football, but it was time for him to become Ohio State’s CEO instead of its de facto offensive coordinator and play caller.

To make the transition easier, he hired Bill O’Brien, a coach with notable experience at the collegiate and professional levels.

“At Ohio State, we’re chasing that one or two percent,” Day said when asked about hiring O’Brien last week. “I felt like, in that particular situation, for me to hand over a lot of the duties I was doing, I looked for someone who had a great background. And he had been in the NFL and the SEC. He’s been a college head coach. He’s been a head coach in the league. The experience of developing quarterbacks was there. Then, the fit. Culturally, he was the right fit.”

Indeed, it was the right fit – until it wasn’t.

An unexpected turn in the college coaching carousel occurred when former Ohio State assistant Jeff Hafley left his position as Boston College’s head coach to become the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator. The Eagles targeted O’Brien, a Massachusetts native and two-time assistant for the New England Patriots, to lead their program. On Friday, a deal became official. O’Brien shipped up to Boston.

Suddenly, Day – the man reticent to relinquish play calling in the first place – was offered another chance to reconsider, to reverse course, to remain in control. 

Instead, he acted like a CEO.

Within hours of O’Brien leaving Ohio State, Day announced his replacement: Chip Kelly.

With Kelly as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Day reunites with a mentor and friend, someone who coached him during his collegiate career at New Hampshire from 1998-2001. Day later became one of Kelly’s assistants for the Philadelphia Eagles (2015) and San Francisco 49ers (2016) before Urban Meyer brought Day to Ohio State in 2017. Day and Kelly have remained close personally and professionally ever since.

To be clear, Kelly is more than a mentor and friend. He is an offensive mastermind. And, like O’Brien, he has experience in the collegiate and NFL ranks.

“We are extremely excited to have Chip and his wife, Jill, joining our program,” Day said in an Ohio State press release on Friday. “His experience as a head coach at Oregon, UCLA and in the NFL will bring immediate value to our entire team. I am really looking forward to reconnecting with Chip, introducing him to our staff and team and chasing a championship together.”

Experience at Oregon, UCLA and the NFL?

Immediate value for the Buckeyes?

That sounds like a home run hire to me.

CEO Ryan Day doesn’t mess around.

 MAN OF THE YEAR. Cameron Heyward won one of the most prestigious awards at the NFL Honors ceremony on Thursday. The former Ohio State defensive lineman was named the 2023 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year, recognizing his excellence on and off the field as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A six-time nominee for the award, Heyward has given back to the Pittsburgh community throughout his 13 years with the Steelers. His foundation, the Heyward House, has started initiatives to fight childhood hunger, to support families of children diagnosed with cancer, to encourage childhood literacy and to support students and teachers.

In 2023, Heyward launched an annual toy and coat drive with the Foster Love Project, providing gifts and outerwear to children in foster care. He also hosted a Teachers’ Appreciation Dinner during Steelers training camp – which included a surprise donation of $10,000 to fund the teachers’ classroom projects – and held his second annual Cam’s Week of Kindness.

Over the weekend, Nationwide Insurance posted a video of Heyward describing what it means to win Walter Payton Man of the Year. As Heyward was being interviewed, legendary Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, the 2001 Walter Payton Man of the Year, surprised Heyward and gifted him with a special jersey to wear next season. The jersey features a Walter Payton Man of the Year patch – the first of its kind.

From his acceptance speech to that video, you can tell how much becoming the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year meant to him.

I hope he continues his excellent work on and off the field. He is a wonderful person and an outstanding representative of Buckeye Nation.

 MAKING THE ROUNDS. After winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year on Thursday, former Ohio State and current Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud made his rounds with several different media outlets, including Bleacher Report, ESPN, FanDuel TV, Yahoo Sports and The Athletic.

Bleacher Report's The Edge With Micah Parsons

Stroud and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker and 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons discuss Stroud's historic rookie season, their upcoming appearances in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game and their dream NBA and NFL rosters.

ESPN's Pat McAfee Show

Stroud, McAfee, and A.J. Hawk discuss Stroud's mention of Ohio State in his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year acceptance speech, his performance at the Pro Bowl Games and his plans to visit Africa and Japan for youth football camps this offseason.

FanDuel TV's Up & Adams Show

Stroud and Kay Adams discuss Stroud meeting Ray Lewis and Myles Garrett at the NFL Honors ceremony, Will Anderson Jr. winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and his decision not to look at the Lombardi Trophy until he wins it himself.

Yahoo Sports' Zero Blitz

Stroud and Jason Fitz discuss Stroud's favorite receiver he's ever played with – Marvin Harrison Jr. was his first pick, then Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson – his experience at the NFL Honors ceremony and his thoughts on Chip Kelly as Ohio State's next offensive coordinator.

Of Stroud's various appearances, I found his brief interview with Nate Tice of The Athletic to be the most interesting. In an almost seven-minute video, Stroud breaks down film from his rookie season with Tice, offering viewers a chance to hear what goes on inside his head as he drops back in the pocket and delivers perfectly placed passes.

The Athletic's Wind The Clock

Stroud's breakdown was super impressive.

And, look, I won't pretend to be some football film expert. Stroud could have said very little and still blown me away. Still, even Eleven Warriors' football scheme specialist Kyle Jones messaged in the 11W Slack channel over the weekend and said, "This is QB play at the highest level."

Not bad for a rookie!

 NFF FOUNDATION. The Columbus Chapter of the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Football Hall of Fame will present Larry Johnson and Avery Henry with awards during its 63rd Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet at the Ohio Union on Monday.

Johnson will receive the Ohio Gold Award, an honor NFF presents annually to a former player, coach, administrator or person who has had a positive impact on football in Central Ohio. Previous winners of the award with an Ohio State background include Archie Griffin, Joey Galloway, Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Troy Smith and Ryan Day.

Meanwhile, Henry will receive the Tyson Gentry Courage Award. NFF presents the honor to a player, coach, staff member or fan whose actions best demonstrate the qualities of courageous leadership shown by Gentry, a former Ohio State wide receiver who was partially paralyzed during a spring scrimmage in 2006.

Henry was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in December 2022. After a five-month with the illness, the St. Clairsville, Ohio, native announced he was in remission. He later medically retired from football in July 2023 but transitioned into a support role for the Ohio State football program.

Congratulations to Johnson and Henry for their recognition. And a special thanks to them for recognizing that – while football is important – the impact Ohio State coaches and players have off the field can be meaningful, too. 

That's a great job out of them.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “I'm Shipping Up To Boston” - Dropkick Murphys.

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