Skull Session: Ryan Day Says “All Of Our Focus” is On Beating Michigan and Winning National Title in 2024, and Ross Bjork Says Ohio State Football is Built On Leadership, Culture and Cohesion

By Chase Brown on July 9, 2024 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day and Ross Bjork
Adam Cairns/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Farmer Gronk has some new threads.

Have a good Tuesday.

 THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT. Jim Collins is an American researcher, author, speaker and consultant focused on business management and growth. His book “Good to Great” is an in-depth look at how companies fail or succeed to transition from good to great. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day read the book this offseason, looking to learn how the Buckeyes can improve in 2024.

“I’ve read a lot of books recently. One of them was ‘Good to Great,’” Day told Joel Klatt in the latest episode of Big Noon Conversations. “One of the biggest things in that (book) is getting the right people in the right seats. It started with our players coming back. It started with those guys coming back. It went to adding a few guys from the portal. And then it was with the coaches. We’re counting on that to make a difference next year.”

Familiar with Collins’ work, Klatt noted that “Good to Great” also includes what Collins calls The Hedgehog Concept. According to Collins’ website, The Hedgehog Concept “flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three circles: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your resource engine.”

“It’s basically like having a goal, but then making sure that everything you do is in line with that goal — that you don’t step outside of that,” Klatt said. “Since you brought (the book) up, tell me what your Hedgehog Concept here is, and in particular this season.”

“We talk a lot about how it’s not gonna be the most talented team that wins at the end of the season. It’s the best team or what we call a ‘Tribe.’ The difference we have recognized is that we wanna be a team that comes together for a common purpose,” Day responded. “It started with those guys that decided to come back and not go to the NFL draft. It continued with the guys in the recruiting class, the portal, the guys who are coming up in the program and the coaches.

“Our goal is to win the rivalry game and win the national championship. That’s our purpose. That’s all of our focus next season. We know next year that it’s gonna be a little different. It’s gonna be a longer run. We’re building toward that.”

As Ohio State builds, the program will have athletic director Ross Bjork’s full support.

 “I’VE BEEN REALLY, REALLY IMPRESSED.” Bjork, like Day, has read a lot of books recently. Most of them have been focused on Ohio State athletics.

“I’ve been reading a book, ‘Ohio State Athletics: 1879-1959,’” Bjork told Rick Pizzo in a recent interview with Big Ten Network. “It was written in 1959, and it’s amazing all of these conversations around football, about the funding model, about academics and athletics coexisting – this conversation has been going on a long time.”

While Bjork has been Ohio State’s athletic director for about one week, the 52-year-old understands that Ohio State football is more than a game for Buckeye Nation. It’s a way of life. Bjork understands Ohio State must be successful on the gridiron. He said Day understands the same.

“Just like college athletics is evolving and that conversation exists, the conversation around Ohio State football remains the same,” Bjork said. “This is what we signed up for. Coach Day knows that. I know that. That’s the exciting thing. Every year, Ohio State is expected to contend, and that’s not going away. When you sign up for that, you embrace that.”

Bjork plans to embrace the Ohio State football program in several areas.

“My conversations with Coach Day have been, ‘Hey, what are the resources that we need going forward? What is this new economic reality going to look like? How do we maintain position as an elite program and really as a championship brand?’” Bjork said. “Right now we have the number one recruiting class in the class of 2025. Our roster is packed. We’ve seen that. We know that. Other people are talking about it just like we are internally. I’ve been really impressed with how Coach Day has really attacked the leadership pieces, the culture pieces, the players being on the same page and the cohesion that needs to exist in order for teams to really have success.”

Notice how Bjork didn’t mention the word “talent” when describing what impresses him about the 2024 Buckeyes.

“It’s one thing to have all the talent in the world, but unless you have the culture right and the leadership characteristics right – unless you have everybody dialed in and on the same page and there’s trust – that’s what Coach Day has built this offseason,” Bjork said. “I’ve been really, really impressed with how he’s led and how he’s developed his staff and all those things.”

But remember, as we learned from Bjork’s interview with Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch last week, Bjork can be impressed with Day and call him “a winner” but still “know what the expectations are” for the Buckeyes this fall.

Beat Michigan.

Win a Big Ten title.

Win a national championship.

“If we have the right person and there are little things that are barriers we need to knock down, then that’s my job to help him get through those things,” Bjork said. “We know what the expectations are.”

 “IT’S A TOUGH PROCESS.” How about we continue this thread of Hedgehog Concepts and program expectations? 

For Ohio State to accomplish its goals this fall, it will need Kansas State transfer Will Howard to perform better than Kyle McCord did for the Buckeyes last season. Interestingly, both quarterbacks appeared in an article for The Athletic this week. The Ohio State and Syracuse signal-callers were asked to address their decision to transfer schools this offseason, including their reasons for leaving and how it impacted them mentally.

Will Howard, Ohio State

How challenging is having the thought of possibly transferring every year now, on top of everything else involved in playing quarterback?

It’s so normalized nowadays that people don’t really think about it, but it’s a tough process, man. That transition, especially for a guy like me who was at a place like (Kansas) State for four years. I was really cemented. I was comfortable. I knew all my guys. Going to a new place was kind of what I needed. It was a step out of my comfort zone, and I was ready for that. But, yeah, it’s not easy by any stretch. I leaned on those guys I came in with a lot because we were all kind of going through the same thing. And it took a little bit, you know, to kind of get my feet wet, get comfortable just with the guys, with the program. But it honestly didn’t take too long. By the time spring ball came around, I was pretty well engrossed in it.

Is it kind of weird that transferring is the norm?

It is weird that it’s the norm now. Even when I was coming out of high school, it was different. Years ago, you didn’t see that story as much. I was making a four-year decision. I was trying to focus on my future at K-State, and I didn’t leave when we brought in Adrian Martinez at K-State. People were like, ‘Why isn’t he leaving?’ And I’m like, ‘This is what I signed up for.’ And yeah, it’s weird and it’s definitely different. But you’ve gotta change and adapt with the game, and that’s the way it’s going. But it’s great. I think the (transfer portal) is really good. It can be bad in some ways, but if you use it the right way and try to use it to help yourself and help the guys wherever you’re going or wherever you come from, it can be useful.

Kyle McCord, Syracuse

How mind-boggling is that it’s the norm to transfer?

It’s nuts. I think you look across the NFL, there’s a lot of guys who started out at one school and it wasn’t a great situation. And they went to another school (to) ball out, and then went on to the league. So I think it just goes to show there are a million different ways to get there, but it definitely is nuts. It’s like free agency almost. You put your name in the portal, and it’s like a second dose of recruiting all over again.But I think it’s good. I think it allows guys to put themselves in a good position to play and ultimately get on to the next level. I mean, I think at the end of the day, speaking for myself, it was definitely tough at first. It’s obviously a change of scenery and completely new staff, completely new teammates. But at the end of the day, it’s just football. So I think that that’s the one common denominator is that you get to go out and play the game that you love. It was definitely tough at first, but then once we started playing, (I) felt right at home and bonded with the guys right away. So it’s been a smooth transition.

Last season, with a receiving corps that included Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka (for 10 games), Julian Fleming, Xavier Johnson, Carnell Tate and Cade Stover, McCord completed 65.8% of his passes for 3,170 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. This season, Howard will have a receiving corps of Egbuka, Tate, Brandon Inniss, Jeremiah Smith and Gee Scott Jr. Will Howard have better numbers than McCord did a year ago? That’s the million-dollar question for Ohio State.

Howard didn’t look great in spring practices, which left Ohio State’s quarterback competition open for Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz, Julian Sayin and Air Noland (though Brown and Sayin seem to be the two contenders behind Howard). 

Still, as Howard explained in the article, it took him some time to get comfortable in Columbus after four years in Manhattan, Kansas. Perhaps all he needed was some more time at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this summer before he shines in preseason camp and against the Buckeyes’ non-conference cupcakes. 

One can hope, at least.

 HE'S FAST. HE'S REALLY, REALLY FAST. I see a Ted Ginn Jr. college football mixtape, I share a Ted Ginn Jr. college football mixtape.

You know the rules.

He's fast. He's really, really fast. I mean, he's so fast, he makes fast people look not fast.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Free" - Zac Brown Band.

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