I’ve Been too Harsh on Ohio State and Ryan Day

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m willing to cut Ryan Day some slack for one major reason:

He’s only in his 4th season as a head coach. He’s only 43 years old.

Even Kirby Smart is only 46 (turning 47 next month), but he’s been a head coach since 2016. He’s got an additional 3 years of experience on Ryan Day.

Nick Saban has been a head coach for 30 years—he got his first head coaching job at Toledo in 1990, but only stayed there for a year before becoming the Browns defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick. Ryan Day was 11 years old when Nick Saban got his first head coaching job.

Saban became head coach of Michigan State in 1995 and has been a college football head coach at various levels ever since. That’s 29 straight years. He’s coached at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins, and then Alabama.

Dabo Swinney has been the head coach at Clemson since 2008. He’s 10 years older than Ryan Day is. He’s been Clemson’s head coach for 15 years now. That’s a long-ass time. And he didn’t break through and win a National Championship until 2016, when he was in year nine.

When Urban Meyer took over as Ohio State head coach, he already had 10 years of head coaching experience under his belt. And Urban didn’t start out at Ohio State, he started out at Bowling Green, then went to Utah, then Florida, then Ohio State.

Before Urban, the Ohio State head coach was Jim Tressel. Tressel was the head coach of Youngstown State football from 1986-2000 before getting the Ohio State job in 2001. That’s a long-ass time. He won 4 National Championships at the Division I-AA level (now known as FCS). Even though it wasn’t FBS-level experience, 15 years as a head coach is still nothing to sniff at.

Even Jim Harbaugh is way more experienced than Ryan Day. Harbaugh has been a football head coach since 2004. He was at San Diego from 2004-2006, Stanford from 2007-2010, and then he was the head coach of the 49ers from 2011-2014, even getting them all the way to a Super Bowl. He had 11 years of head coaching experience before taking the Michigan job, and he now has 19 years head coaching experience.

I think I’ve been way too harsh on Ryan Day. For a guy who has never been a head coach before and is only in year four, he’s done a remarkable job. He still has so much to learn and figure out about being a head coach.

And he started out in arguably the most demanding job in the country. Other than Alabama, Ohio State is probably the most storied program in college football. There is a very long tradition of excellence and domination there. They went 11-2 and won the Rose Bowl last season and you’d think they went 1-11 given how despondent the fanbase was.

There is perhaps no job in college football with higher expectations than Ohio State.

The only coach out there that’s in a remotely similar situation to Day is Kirby. Kirby, like Day, had never been a head coach before taking the Georgia job in 2016. He was, like Ryan Day, only 40 years old at the time.

Smart learned under a legend, Nick Saban, while Day was Urban’s protege.

Kirby got Georgia to a National Championship game in his second year, but lost. Day got Ohio State to a National Championship game in his second year, but lost (also to Bama, just like Kirby did).

But the difference with Kirby is that expectations at Georgia were not as high as they were and are at Ohio State. Georgia hadn’t won a National Championship since 1980. Georgia under Mark Richt, Smart’s predecessor, was a B+ program that occasionally would challenge Bama for an SEC title, but never could actually beat Bama.

Kirby has turned Georgia into a “National Championship or bust” program, but Georgia was not that way when he got there.

Ryan Day took over a program in 2019 that had won a National Championship in 2014.

And the thing is, nobody ever talks about this. Nobody ever talks about the fact that Ryan Day stepped into arguably the most difficult job in America with no prior head coaching experience and has had tremendous success nonetheless.

Experience matters in coaching. It really does. It’s so important.

I always look at each college football season as a learning process. Teams typically get better from week to week—they learn what worked last week and what didn’t, and build on that in the next game. You should always be a much different—and much better—team at the end of the year than you were at the beginning. Because the nature of college football is that there’s high turnover. Especially at a program like Ohio State, where you probably only get 3 years at most out of your best plays, and sometimes just two if they redshirt or don’t start as freshmen. You have a brand new team pretty much every single year. And so there’s a lot of learning, growing, evolving and adapting that goes on over the course of the season.

And then there’s knowledge that stacks up on a year over year basis as well. Not only do you learn things from week to week, you learn things from year to year. And that’s what experience really is: the cumulative knowledge base that you have built up through trial and error over the years. There is no shortcut to gaining experience, either. You build it up over many years.

And again, most coaches build up that experience at previous head coaching jobs, steadily moving up the ladder before finally taking over a Big Time Program.

Ryan Day started out at Ohio State. That’s like going straight to the NBA out of high school.

So when I look at it from this perspective, I have been way too harsh on Ryan Day. He is still very much in the learning process, feeling things out.

I take back everything I said about him. He’s not a “finesse coach,” he probably just took toughness for granted—thought it was a given. Last year he learned, it isn’t—it’s something that must be emphasized over and over. It’s part of a team culture that must be built up over time.

He has shown a remarkable ability to quickly diagnose what works and what doesn’t, and takes clear and decisive action to remedy his team’s shortcomings. After last season, he knew exactly what the problem with his team was, and he went out and fixed it by hiring arguably the best defensive coordinator in the country.

He wants to win really badly. He understands that Ohio State fans will tolerate nothing less than excellence and greatness. He is honest about his and his team’s shortcomings and makes efforts to fix them.

So I will no longer be a detractor of Ryan Day. I had never really stopped to think about the situation he’s in. If you really stop and think about the fact that he’s only 43, this is his first ever head coaching job, he’s only in year four—what he’s done so far is very impressive.

He’s learning on the job in a job where you do not have the luxury to learn on the job, because you’re expected to win National Championships every year. And he’s still winning the vast majority of his games!

He’s recruiting at an incredible level, he’s developing talent and sending tons of players to the NFL, he’s building up a reputation as arguably the best QB developer in the country (probably second only to Lincoln Riley)—and this is all in just a few short years as head coach. And one of those years was the Covid season.

All of his rivals in the Big Ten have been coaching way longer than he has. We already went over Harbaugh. James Franklin is in year 12 as a head coach. Kirk Ferentz has been at Iowa since 1999.

It really is crazy to think about the fact that this is just Ryan Day’s 4th season as a head coach. He’s compiled a record of 43-4 over that span which is very impressive.

I’m a supporter of Day now. I was wrong to be so harsh on the guy.

But also, I think the expectations were way too high for this Ohio State offense.

For one thing, Stroud is not as good as Justin Fields. He just isn’t. Fields was incredible. Generational, it’s looking like now that he’s ripping it up in the NFL.

I like Stroud, I think he’s a great quarterback, an awesome leader, a terrific kid and he makes some ridiculous throws. But I don’t think he has Fields-level talent. That’s not a knock on Stroud, it’s more of just an acknowledgment of how great Fields was and is.

Plus, while Harrison Jr. and Egbuka are great receivers, they’re both sophomores, and Fields had even better receivers. He had Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, plus, Jameson Williams. That is just ludicrous receiving talent.

If JSN was healthy, this year’s Ohio State receiving corps would be comparable, but for Pete’s sake, Wilson, Olave and Williams went 10, 11 and 12 in the First round of the NFL draft. That is absolute insanity that they were all on the same team at one point.

Plus, the thing I see with Ohio State is that they don’t really have a true game-breaker at wide receiver, like a true burner with deep threat abilities. Harrison and Egbuka are great at the intermediate and somewhat long pass plays, but they don’t have that blow-by speed of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Wilson and Olave were threats to house it anytime they touched the ball. Stroud is missing that this year.

Stroud is a good deep ball thrower. Not as good as Fields, but highly competent. But he doesn’t have that true deep threat to throw to right now.

And so I think the expectation that Ohio State’s offense would be better than it was last year, or just as good as it was when Fields was the QB, that was always unrealistic now that I think about it.

Their best offensive player, JSN, has missed like 95% of the snaps this season. Their running backs have been banged up all season.

The offensive line forgot how to run block over the past few weeks.

And they’re still 9-0 and a top-5 offense in the country.

All that said, if Ohio State doesn’t figure out the run game, they are cooked this season. They’re not going anywhere.

The difference now is that I will not view that as some sort of final, ultimate failure for Ryan Day that proves he’s not the guy at Ohio State. I think this team is good, but maybe not as good as people thought at the start of the season. Injuries and departures to the NFL have taken their toll.

However, I still think they’re good enough to win a National Championship if they figure out the run game.

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