On Dec. 4, Ohio State announced head coach Urban Meyer will retire after the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl against Washington, with offensive coordinator Ryan Day taking over as the head coach.
The immediate elevation of the 39-year-old isn’t that big of a surprise.
Day served as the Buckeyes’ interim head coach during Meyer’s three-game suspension at the start of the season, following OSU’s investigation into Meyer’s handling of domestic abuse allegations against former longtime staffer Zach Smith.
Day led the Buckeyes to a 3-0 start, with wins over Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU. It appeared Day might be undergoing a tryout of sorts to replace Meyer, but in early September, not many people were predicting it would happen by January 2019.
“It’s a job very well done,” Meyer said of Day amid a late-September report that the latter was preparing to be coach in waiting. “He was the first one to thank, and Gene was down there, to thank the coaching staff. That includes guys like coach (Mickey) Marotti and the support staff, guys like Mark Pantoni. It’s a healthy, strong program, and Ryan was exactly the guy we needed to lead it and get us through this, and he did a hell of a job.”
Day then helped lead an offense that ranks No. 4 in S&P+, with QB Dwayne Haskins a Heisman finalist.
Prior to Day landing at Ohio State, Day coached under now-UCLA head coach Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. Previously he was Boston College’s offensive coordinator from 2013-14, where he worked as a wide receivers coach from 2007-11. He also has coached at Temple and New Hampshire, and was a graduate assistant for Meyer’s first Florida staff in 2005.
Thanks to that interim run, Day is now a decently qualified head coaching hire. But when he became interim, it signaled something odd about Ohio State’s staff.
During Meyer’s suspension, the Buckeyes had two previous head coaches already on staff, but elected to go with the newcomer over either of them.
Option one: Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson
Wilson was out at Indiana in Dec. 2016 amid concerns over player treatment:
Administration objected to multiple issues regarding player treatment, per the source.
During a press conference on Thursday night, IU athletic director Fred Glass made the news official, and stated that Wilson’s departure from the program was a “resignation” due to “philosophical differences in how to run a football team.”
The news came a mere hours after reports came to light:
Former Indiana player told ESPN on Thursday that he & at least 5 other IU players interviewed about Wilson's treatment of players— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) December 1, 2016
Former IU player suffered concussion in practice b4 '15 season. His father said son was rushed back to workouts & symptoms went "haywire"— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) December 1, 2016
At the time, Wilson’s exit came as a surprise — the Hoosiers qualified for bowls two years in a row in 2015 and 2016, the program’s first such streak since 1990 and 1991. He had also signed a six-year extension a year earlier.
Wilson joined Meyer’s staff about a month later, following the departure of former Buckeyes OC Tim Beck. It was reported that Meyer conducted a “thorough vetting process:”
“In the end I came back and talked with Urban, he had done his vetting,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said via Cleveland.com. “Urban already knew him, I just knew about him, shook his hand. Urban knew him and had a higher comfort level. I first wanted to understand what happened there (at Indiana), and then once I began to understand the person, I was fine with it.”
Wilson has since helped do a good job with the Buckeyes’ offense.
Option two: Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Greg Schiano
Schiano, in his third season with Ohio State, is a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers head coach.
It was reported that Schiano was to become Tennessee’s next head coach last November, until a massive public outcry from former players, fans, and even local politicians stopped it in its tracks. The offered reasoning? Schiano has been named in documents as allegedly having known about Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse.
The allegation came from a former Penn State assistant, Mike McQueary, who became a coach at the school almost a decade after Schiano left and who said he heard another coach, Tom Bradley, say Schiano claimed to have seen abuse. McQueary was under oath at the time, though if you take his word as fact, you only advance to the question of whether Bradley was telling the truth. The allegation wasn’t pursued, and Bradley and Schiano denied it.
Whether he knew about Sandusky or not, Schiano’s NFL flop definitely included the MRSA debacle, his players hating him, accusations of him leaking a player’s drug test results to the media, and so on. We don’t even have to believe McQueary in order to feel uneasy about trusting a program to Schiano.
Off-field issues aside, the Buckeyes missing the Playoff two years in a row largely falls on the shoulders of Schiano’s defense. That’s because blowout losses to mediocre Big Ten West teams — as in OSU’s 31-point loss to Iowa last season and a 29-point loss to Purdue this year — isn’t exactly Playoff-worthy.
The Buckeyes finished the regular season ranked 37th in defensive S&P+, so don’t be surprised if Day makes several changes on the defensive coaching staff.
Meyer will be remembered as college football’s greatest head coaches, but questionable choices will also define his career.
Day might not have formal head coaching experience, but he proved he’s reasonably ready and able to coach the Buckeyes.
Meyer had to fire a longtime assistant amid multiple domestic violence allegations at the start of the season. His school then had to pass over a successful former Big Ten head coach and a former NFL head coach for the interim and full-time replacement jobs. The fact that two experienced head coaches had to be passed over during the interim period and thereafter says a lot about Meyer’s staffing decisions.