Skull Session: Ryan Day Continues to Evolve As a Head Coach, Emeka Egbuka Praises Air Noland For “Doing All The Right Things” and Chip Kelly Calls Ohio State “An Amazing Place”

By Chase Brown on March 4, 2024 at 5:00 am
Air Noland

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Gene Smith's last men's basketball game at the Schottenstein Center ended with a victorious “Carmen Ohio.”

Have a good Monday.

 “ALL WE'RE GONNA DO IS WORK.” Last week, the legendary Clay Hall retired after 30 years as a sports reporter for ABC6 in Columbus. His final interview was with none other than Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. Sitting inside Day’s office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Hall asked Day about several topics, including the Buckeyes’ preparation for 2024 and The Game.

On his relationship with Chip Kelly

I’ve known Chip a long time. We’ve worked together before. He brings so much to the table here, and I think he’s excited to work on offensive football. … We have a bunch of guys in that (offensive) room who have great minds and great experience doing different things. We’ll get in that room in come up with some great ideas.

On Ohio State’s quarterback room, Will Howard as QB1

“We’re here with them every day. … I think what you want to do when you go into these situations is (know) you can’t win the job in one day and you can’t win the job in one play.”

On if he’s evolved as Ohio State’s head coach

“I think every year you evolve. The question is, ‘How can you learn from your mistakes and grow from them?’”

On learning to become a head coach

“Where I was a couple of years ago is a lot different than where I am now. You learn. You grow. This will be year eight for my family in Columbus. My youngest daughter, my family – they don’t know any different. We’re Buckeyes. We understand that now more than ever.”

On Ohio State’s preparation for Michigan, The Game

“You can’t (prep harder than we’ve prepped). You also can’t play The Game tomorrow. All we’re gonna do is go to work. We don’t have a bunch of slogans or T-shirts. We don’t have a bunch of paraphernalia in the building. We’re just going to work. There’s a great camaraderie and great momentum right now in the building. We have to keep building on that. But again, that doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that it will give us a chance when we get to the fall.”

All Ohio State will do is work.

I like that.

Keep it simple.

Keep it simple, and just beat Michigan.

 “HE'S READY TO LEARN.” On Saturday, an Eleven Warriors team of Dan Hope, Andy Anders, Garrick Hodge and I attended The 1870 Society’s Open House at the Woody. There, I had a great conversation with Ohio State freshman quarterback Air Noland.

A native of Fairburn, Georgia, Noland came to Columbus in January. However, his reputation arrived before him, as Ryan Day called Noland “the future leader of the team” when the Buckeyes signed the 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw on Dec. 20, 2023. 

“Air Noland is special in a lot of ways,” he said. “The way he conducts himself and the way he handles himself, he’s high-end.”

From the moment I introduced myself, I knew Day’s description to be true. 

Noland is mature beyond his years. He is humble, not proud. He is quiet, not loud.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, perhaps Ohio State wide receiver Emeka Egbuka could persuade you.

“Air’s been working hard, and he’s been doing all the right things. We’re excited to have him be a part of ‘The Brotherhood’ and see what he can do this spring,” Egbuka told Eleven Warriors at the event. “He’s coachable, and that’s great. A lot of dudes come in here, you know, and think they’re the stuff because they’re a high-rated recruit or whatever. That’s not the case for him. He’s ready to learn.”

Noland will have lots to learn from Day and Chip Kelly, who will take over the Buckeyes’ quarterback room this offseason (with the occasional oversight from Day, I am sure). He will also learn with Julian Sayin, the No. 1 overall quarterback in the 2024 class who transferred to Ohio State after Nick Saban retired as the Crimson Tide’s head coach.

Many believed Ohio State’s addition of Sayin would threaten Noland. Instead, the freshman's response when I asked him about the move added more evidence of his advanced maturity.

“Julian pushes me, and I push him,” Noland said. “We were buddies at the Elite 11, where he came out and won it. But now we’ll get to put on the pads and whatnot. We will see each other the same way we saw each other at Elite 11, but now we are teammates. We’ll have to compete. We will be teammates who push each other every day. We will battle, and we will have competitive excellence toward each other. That’s what being the best of buddies and true teammates means.”

Egbuka, who learned from Brian Hartline and with classmates Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jaylen Ballard as a freshman in 2021, loved to hear Noland has adopted a competitive approach entering his first spring at Ohio State.

“Pressure creates diamonds,” Egbuka said. “Their competition is only going to make them better at the end of the day. I look forward to it. I look forward to watching them compete – that whole (quarterback) room and then Air and Julian.”

Ohio State’s spring practices start on Tuesday.

Let the competition begin.

 “THIS IS SUCH AN AMAZING PLACE.” ​Chip Kelly also attended the Open House at the Woody on Saturday. Near the start of the event, Adam King of 10TV interviewed Kelly. He asked the Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach about his experience in Columbus so far and his decision to ditch the Bruins for the Buckeyes.

On being Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach

“It’s cool. This is such an amazing place, obviously. As I always tell people, the best part of football is football. That’s what this place is all about. It’s about football. There are great players, and it’s an unbelievable coaching staff, so I am excited to be here.”

On his decision to leave UCLA for Ohio State

“I think part of it was my relationship with Ryan (Day). I’ve known Ryan since he was about yea high. Justin Frye, I coached with (him) before. And then I knew what this program was about, starting with Gene Smith on down – the alignment from administration to the coaching staff (is great). And then I think the exuberance of what people think of Ohio State football is awesome. We know how important it is here.”

Is anyone else still in disbelief that Kelly coaches for Ohio State?

It feels like yesterday that Kelly was coaching at Oregon. Like, remember the 2010 Rose Bowl (which Ohio State won, 26-17)? Remember Jeremiah Masoli and LeGarrette Blount? LaMichael James and De’Anthony Thomas? Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner?

Somehow, life led Kelly from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles (2013-15), the San Francisco 49ers (2016), UCLA (2018-23) and Ohio State. That is incredible. It still surprises me when I think about it. Of course, it did when he was wearing an Ohio State logo on his chest during his interview with King. 

That man was a Power Five head coach, and he chose to be a Power Five offensive coordinator?! Who does that? I guess when that coordinator position is at Ohio State, all bets are off.

 THE BUCKS ARE HOT. Sooooooooo about these Buckeyes…

Since Jake Diebler took over as interim head coach, Ohio State men’s basketball is 4-1 with wins over then-No. 2 Purdue, Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan. Entering the final week of the regular season, the Buckeyes are 18-12 overall (8-11 Big Ten). That has to put them on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Right? … Right?

If Ohio State can add another win at Rutgers on Sunday, the Buckeyes would be on a four-game win streak entering the Big Ten Tournament, where Diebler and Co. would receive a first-round bye. If Ohio State can win in the second round (its current opponent would be Minnesota) and quarterfinals (Illinois), its record would improve to 21-12 and include four Quad 1 victories (Alabama, Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois). That would have to make the Buckeyes either one of the last four teams in or the last four teams out. Right? … Right?

Look, I know it’s a lot to ask of Ohio State, but so was knocking off the Boilermakers at home and the Spartans on the road. So was bouncing back from its loss at Minnesota with a win over Nebraska. So was beating Michigan at – no, just kidding, that Michigan team is terrible.

If Ohio State can finish the regular season strong and beat Rutgers in Piscataway, I think it will head to Minneapolis with clear eyes and full hearts. Friday Night Lights taught me that when you combine those two qualities, you can’t lose. Why not the Buckeyes?

“As long as there’s a Big Ten Tournament, we’re not out of the picture,” Diebler said before the Nebraska game last week.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “I’m Still Standing” - Elton John.

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