COLUMBUS — Ryan Day can try to deflect the spotlight all he wants, but it’s not going to work.
The acting head coach can point to all the support he’s received from the rest of the staff, and there’s no doubt it’s valid that the talent assembled on the Ohio State staff is a huge benefit for him.
He can talk about the veteran leadership from the Buckeyes and how the players have taken ownership during a period of uncertainty for the program. Again, there’s no argument against that with so many respected captains setting the tone.
He can even pay the proper amount of respect to Urban Meyer and the rock-solid foundation that has been established at Ohio State. That’s also definitely the truth and makes it easier for everybody involved to survive a training camp and three games without the boss in charge.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Day was the one tasked with stepping up and taking over in the interim, a job that absolutely shouldn’t be minimized even with all those other facts being true. And it’s already crystal clear that Ohio State picked the absolute right guy to handle the responsibility.
In fact, the only real issue for the Buckeyes is that they wasted an entire month where he could have been setting the same tone for the program in public as he was behind closed doors.
“We were down a man,” Day said on Monday. “When we first met, the first team meeting, we talked about how everybody in the room has to step their game up. And they have, [starting with] the leaders and the coaches. What this coaching staff has done here over the past few weeks has been remarkable. Greg Schiano, Kevin Wilson, what they have done for me during this time is something that I’ll always be in debt for. Their counsel and what they have done for me has been really something I won’t forget.
“Our coaches and our leaders of this program have driven the program for the last few weeks.”
There’s no doubt that it’s taken a collaborative effort to keep the high-powered Ohio State machine on the road. But there’s also only one guy officially designated to have his hands on the wheel, and even before officially coaching a game, it appears safe to assume that the right guy was handed the keys.
That’s not meant to minimize the importance of Schiano or Wilson to this whole process, because their experience running programs makes them invaluable resources for Day. It’s also not overlooking how crucial the presence of strength coach Mickey Marotti is in establishing the culture. And it’s not in any way a suggestion that captains like Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin or Johnnie Dixon wouldn’t have kept their teammates in line regardless of who was technically steering the ship.
But even if Day might bristle at the notion that he’s filling Meyer’s shoes, somebody had to lace them up while he was on paid administrative leave during training camp. Somebody has to handle the duties on game day while Meyer is suspended. And somebody had to finally break the media silence and offer a reminder that Ohio State remains in better shape than almost any program in America and is ready to go to work on Saturday at the Horseshoe.
Ryan Day is the one doing it. And with every passing minute on Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, it was easier and easier to envision him as a full-time coach. And the price tag kept going up right along with it if Ohio State wants to keep Day around for as the heir apparent.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Day said. “It has. But my goal in this thing was never to replace Coach [Meyer], that’s not what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do is empower the coaches, empower the leaders and just keep this thing moving. I think we have done that.
“If you saw me at one of the scrimmages, I don’t know if you would have said I balanced it very well. I was trying to coach the quarterbacks, call the plays and organize the scrimmage — and I looked like my hair was on fire. So it was a challenge, and there’s been times where I felt like I’ve been drinking through a fire hose, to be honest. The expectation of Ohio State is you win every game, and I understand that. There’s that added pressure there that you feel. But every day it’s become more normal.”
Maybe Ryan Day wouldn’t have looked quite so natural in the spotlight a month ago. But heading into his first game as a head coach, he’s at least making it look like he was built to handle it.