CHICAGO — As Ohio State coach Ryan Day sat down at his seat, adjusted the microphone and found a resting place under the table for his iced coffee with cream, he made himself comfortable in the Hilton Chicago at his first Big Ten Media Days last Thursday.
He might as well have. For an hour, Day was peppered with questions he’s been fielding all offseason about the Ohio State squad he inherited, one filled with lofty expectations that come with replacing a modern legend.
Day understands what comes with the Ohio State job. It’s a job that demands winning championships. It’s one that demands perfection. But as he’s been at every stop since Urban Meyer put the honorary coach’s whistle around Day’s neck in the locker room of the Rose Bowl, Day was candid with his approach.
It’s not going to be perfect.
“Is [the defense] going to be perfect? No, it isn’t going to be perfect,” Day said of his defense, which finished last season as the worst statistically in program history. “We’re going to solve the problems as they come. ”
“How quickly we can solve those problems will indicate what kind of defense we’ll be.”
Those problems will be solved by new, but well-documented, faces in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. After he was hired, Day overhauled the Buckeyes defensive coaching staff. The NFL minds that sculpted the defense a year ago are gone. Day handed the keys of his defense to a former NFL defensive backs coach, two coaches Day torched for 62 points in November and a legendary defensive line coach he retained.
A new scheme, a new year, new coaches and a new attitude. That’s what the defense needed, and that’s what the defense is getting. But that may take some time. Ohio State’s defense figures to be one of the most improved in the country. After last year’s disastrous outcome, the numbers can only improve.
The Buckeyes return nearly every starter — aside from cornerback Kendall Sheffield and superstar defensive end Nick Bosa — and have recruited at the highest level nationally. The tools are there. The next few months are when Ohio State can redeem itself defensively.
“You just have to have enough confidence to know that it’s going to be good enough in the end,” Day said. “When it comes down to it, I’m speaking on behalf of the whole staff. It’s not just me up here. It’s our team, it’s our staff. It’s the coaches. Knowing that we’re doing things the right way, we’re working really hard and we’ve got a great group of guys is what motivates you.”
None of that is going to equate to perfection. The scheme isn’t perfect. The coaches aren’t perfect. And the 18-to-22-year-olds on the field aren’t perfect.
How does a first-year head coach turn the abysmal defense into something that comes close to resembling perfection? Ohio State is starting by embracing the opportunity ahead of it with so much talent on the roster — including two returning captains on defense.
“Last year, it wasn’t fun,” Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller said. “I just want to go back to having fun, playing with swag, talking trash, just playing football. ”
Perfection isn’t happening.
But with the moves that Day has made on defense this offseason, he might have a formula, the talent and the coaching staff capable of solving problems as quickly as they can.
That might make Day more comfortable than he was in Chicago for media days.