COLUMBUS — Ohio State isn’t even remotely broken, so Ryan Day didn’t go looking for a fix.
The Buckeyes are four-time defending Big Ten champions. They absolutely dominated Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals. They are stocked with talent and recruiting at the highest level in program history.
And the depth also extends to the coaching staff, where a handful of the most promising up-and-comers in the profession are part of that development process — and getting groomed themselves for an eventual full-time role.
Parker Fleming is the latest to earn that promotion from the Buckeyes. And just like Corey Dennis a year ago, the new special-teams coordinator almost certainly won’t be the last guy who gets tabbed by Ryan Day as an internal hire to provide the consistency he has prioritized to keep the machine humming.
“Promoting from within is something that I believe strongly in, and I believe that it’s an opportunity for these guys to really be part of our program for a long time and keep some continuity,” Day said on Wednesday morning. “Just looking back at last year, there were a lot of great things we did in a tough spot. And I think that now that we have a whole year with a spring and a preseason, this is going to allow us the best chance to put our guys in position to be successful.
“Parker Fleming is somebody who knows what we do very, very well. He’s got the respect of the team and we think that’s a really good move there.”
The Buckeyes were certainly not perfect last year, and Alabama made that obvious in the national-title game. But judging the program off that one matchup in South Florida would be a mistake, and even expanding it over the course of the shortened, pandemic-challenged season to evaluate the future of the defense or the makeup of the staff is misguided.
By now the factors Ohio State had to deal with are well known. Honestly, there’s not much value in going back through them all again at this point, particularly since Day has already made his conclusion and had easily justifiable reasons not to panic over the issues with the pass defense. He acknowledged that pursuing a secondary coach from outside the program was on the table before ultimately deciding to give Matt Barnes more responsibility for that unit and filling the last opening with Fleming — which again brings Alabama back into the conversation.
The Crimson Tide have turned into the college football version of a halfway house for fired head coaches or unemployed NFL veterans. And given that Ohio State can only truly compare itself to a couple programs nationally, Day’s approach is undeniably lower-profile than what Nick Saban is using to fill out his staff. But it’s not markedly different than the one Dabo Swinney has built with Clemson, where staff loyalty has been repeatedly pointed to as a driving factor for that annual contender.
Day has taken big swings and connected, landing Al Washington and Greg Mattison from Michigan on his first staff. He’s gone with a relative unknown in Jeff Hafley, who instantly became one of the hottest names in the industry. He’s also brought in an established name who was hotly coveted on the market, and while Mike Yurcich did a solid job, he wasn’t a cultural fit and they parted ways after one season.
So, it’s not like Day has exclusively chosen one path in the hiring process. But it’s also worth remembering this will only be his third season in charge of a program. Surrounding himself with people who share his vision remains vitally important to keep the Buckeyes on top of the Big Ten and competing in the College Football Playoff.
“When you look at it: What do we need?” Day said. “I thought we needed more attention in the backend. So then you say to yourself: Do you go get a secondary coach somewhere throughout the country that knows our scheme, that understands what we want to get done and fits? All of a sudden the list gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
“Then I watched the way Matt Barnes works, I think he’s really good. I think he’s really, really good. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t just do it. But to bring in somebody that has a different set of thoughts on coverages and beliefs and all those things, that’s a different dynamic. I think Matt Barnes will do this job better than anybody else in the country for what we need. If I didn’t think that, we wouldn’t do it.”
The same was true with the quarterbacks job a year ago, and Day leaned on somebody he knew could coach the passers the way he wanted. Corey Dennis got the promotion and no splashy outside hire was necessary.
Fleming had proven himself in every area that Day was looking for this season, and that made for another smooth transition.
And if there’s an offensive opening a year from now, don’t be surprised at all when Keenan Bailey gets tapped on the shoulder with an offer for a full-time gig.
When the Developed Here process ends for players, there’s nothing Ohio State can do to keep them from heading to the NFL. But when it happens with coaches, clearly the Buckeyes should keep doing whatever they can to retain them — at least until something actually breaks beyond repair.
“[Fleming] is very bright, very sharp and he’s done a really good job,” Day said. “He’ll step into our offensive meetings, he can go over to defense and I think the guys on the team feel like he’s a wealth of knowledge and that he gets them better. … His knowledge of what we’re doing is excellent. So, first off, it’s his intelligence. He’s done a good job of connecting with the players even without being on the field.
“I think it’s really important that we have a lot of guys who are two, three, four years in this program. Parker believes in what we do, he believes in our system. Because of that, I think it’s going to be great.”
There are other, flashier ways to build a staff.
But until that becomes necessary, the Next Man Up approach should work just fine for Ohio State.