It hasn’t been a pleasant spring for Ohio State fans who’ve followed Paris Johnson’s recruitment. But in simply trying to weather the storm of visits to other schools, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day has shown he knows what he’s doing.
The 5-star offensive tackle from Cincinnati St. Xavier has been committed to Ohio State since June 28, but there’s no doubt that the retirement of Urban Meyer changed things. Johnson was uncommonly close with Meyer, and although he didn’t change his commitment status he’s spent the last few months trying to ensure he’s made the right choice. Johnson has been open about the situation — perhaps too open for the liking of some Ohio State fans. For anyone who’s missed his Twitter posts chronicling his visits to various programs, here’s a quick recap:
Give My All For Tennessee.. 🍊 pic.twitter.com/ccJSpGE0GS
— Paris Johnson Jr. (@ParisJohnsonJr) March 16, 2019
— Paris Johnson Jr. (@ParisJohnsonJr) March 18, 2019
— Paris Johnson Jr. (@ParisJohnsonJr) March 22, 2019
Geaux Tigers. pic.twitter.com/u89XRNZ4r5
— Paris Johnson Jr. (@ParisJohnsonJr) March 25, 2019
Committed prospects taking visits to other schools is basically standard operating procedure these days, but those tweets still touched a nerve. Ohio State players weren’t shy about expressing their displeasure with the situation — to the point of threatening to unfollow Johnson — and the fan reaction seems worse than usual, too.
On a February episode of Birminology, Johnson explained the reasoning behind his decision to start checking out other programs after Meyer’s departure.
“With me taking visits, it’s about me just seeing what’s going on and checking out other programs because for me that’s what I did with Ohio State,” Johnson told Lettermen Row. “When I took my initial visit to Ohio State, I fell in love with it, but after talking with my mom I decided it’s best if we continue taking our visits. I still enjoy each Ohio State visit, but with each of these [past] visits it was about comparing Coach Meyer to these other coaches. It took all those visits for me to be set with Ohio State. I feel like right now I’m just taking a peek at a couple other programs to compare the differences between what Coach Day is doing at Ohio State and what other programs are doing right now.”
Johnson mentioned in that same interview that he has no timeline to stop making visits and decide once and for all that Ohio State is or is not the school for him. Perhaps even more troubling for the faint of heart is the fact that he mentioned before the Buckeyes swept him off his feet and earned his original commitment, his plan was to commit at one of the All-American high school football games. That brings us to the million-dollar question: What should Ohio State do to keep Johnson from flipping? Well, allow me to introduce my handy two-part plan — which Ryan Day seems to be following just fine.
1. Do not under any circumstances issue an ultimatum
I can see how this idea gained traction on message boards and the Twitterverse. It’s understandable that Ohio State fans want this to be over one way or another but it’s a short-sighted view to take. Ohio State is in a really strong position right now and the last thing the Buckeyes need to do is take an insane and unnecessary risk by telling Johnson to shut it down or shove off. The risk is enough to be considered real. Johnson and his mother just paid their own way to visit Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Knoxville, Tenn. This isn’t an attention thing and those aren’t sightseeing trips.
He’s clearly not ready to shut down his recruitment, and an ultimatum along those lines could very well push him away from the program for good. Imagine the optics of it. Seriously, just imagine. A first-year head coach losing out on an in-state prospect who’s the No. 4 overall recruit in the country because of a failed gamble. It’s easy to dream of a world where Ohio State can tell Johnson to knock it off because of the leverage it holds. That world does not currently exist. Johnson has the power in this one.
In addition to the fact that an ultimatum likely wouldn’t work out the way some fans seem to think it would, there’s the fact that the current position the Buckeyes occupy is the most enviable one to be in. He’s still committed, and he chose to keep that label even after Meyer left. Furthermore, he lives less than two hours away. He can visit whenever he wants.
Ultimately, this is what it comes down to. Day is an unknown commodity. Yes, he coached three games last fall. But two of them were against cupcakes and his interim role was essentially the job of babysitting the offense and the program as a whole until Meyer returned. If the Buckeyes look like hot garbage this fall, there’s a good chance they’re not going to keep elite recruits anyways.
On the other hand, winning solves everything. Frankly, in the case of Johnson they might just need to avoid a complete flop. Day will get some slack as a new coach who’s still learning. As long as the program doesn’t look like a disaster, recruits will give him the benefit of the doubt.
I think there’s a good chance the season arrives without Johnson having formally announced a shutdown of non-Ohio State visits. These current trips seem like insurance in the event that the Buckeyes are a wreck and Johnson needs to decide where to use official visits. How do you prevent that? By not telling a 5-star offensive tackle to get lost, and by winning.