Now is the time for Ohio State's Ryan Day to prove he wasn't born on third base

·Columnist
·5 min read

Ryan Day is 34-4 as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He has the No. 2 ranked team entering this season and the current second-rated recruiting class per Rivals. Needless to say, there haven’t been too many bad days on the job for Day.

A rare one, the worst one, however, came last November — a 42-27 loss to hated rival Michigan.

It was after that loss that Wolverine coach Jim Harbaugh essentially accused Day of being unduly arrogant or unappreciative or, well, something. And this despite being supposedly gifted a prime coaching opportunity.

“Sometimes the people standing on third base think they hit a triple,” Harbaugh said. “But they didn’t.”

This was a broadside, arch-rival kind of bomb. And it is a charge that, at least in part, is ridiculous. Day, 43, played at the University of New Hampshire and climbed through nine jobs in college and pro football before arriving as an assistant in Columbus in 2017. He is where he is because of hard work, ambition and a whole lot of coaching talent.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t a kernel of lingering truth.

Day’s first head coaching job wasn’t just at Ohio State, but an Ohio State program firing on all cylinders under Urban Meyer. There is no need to apologize for that, but the reality was he didn’t need to build anything or overhaul anything. He needed to maintain.

Until he leads Ohio State to a national title, or at least something very close, on his own, he won’t fully shake Meyer’s shadow. At least in some quarters.

Which brings everything to this season, which, for the Buckeyes, opens Saturday when they host Notre Dame.

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01: Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day leads his team out to the field before the Rose Bowl game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Utah Utes on January 1, 2022 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ryan Day led Ohio State to a Rose Bowl victory last season, but even that was a disappointment when a national title is the goal. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

How good is Ohio State expected to be this year? Well, the Irish are ranked fifth in the country yet are a 17.5-point underdog. (The Buckeyes are expected to be favored by double digits in every regular season game). Day’s team is good enough to contend for a national title and give Alabama a run for its money.

That means this is a season where Ryan Day can prove himself, once and for all, and put taunts by someone such as Harbaugh forever behind him. (There could also be retribution in the regular-season finale.)

Here in Year 4, this is Day’s program, with mostly Day’s recruits and Day’s coaching staff. Meyer is just a TV analyst again.

Or the Buckeyes can fail to maximize their immense potential and that lingering question that Harbaugh picked on like a scab will just grow.

It’s an added bit of drama, of pressure, of interest for what was already a highly anticipated season in Columbus.

“I'm excited about what I see,” Day said Tuesday. “But we have to go put it on the field.”

One of the most refreshing parts of Ryan Day is that he doesn’t shy away from the expectations for Ohio State. It would be foolish to try, of course, but at least he embraces it. He readily acknowledges that last season wasn’t good enough.

“Maybe at some places 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory is a good year,” Day said. “It isn’t at Ohio State. … The expectation is to win them all … that’s just the way it is.”

The sting of last year fuels everything in the face of the loftiest of predictions.

It’s why he poached defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to fix that side of the ball. It’s why the offensive line was retooled in search of “physicality in the run game” because last season “when needed to [run the ball] at times, we didn’t get it done.”

It’s why the focus is on what went wrong, not what everyone says will go right.

“I think coming off of last year, there are no big heads,” Day said. “This team is hungry. It has been hungry. It's gritty. We have to go win this first game and they know that. There are no big heads on this team.”

That’s not the mentality of someone who was born on third base. That’s a coach who still has something to prove.

Can he? Or will Ohio State again show a troubling habit of getting pushed around, especially by Michigan?

To whom much is given — or recruited — much is expected. And this team has much of everything — especially on offense.

It’s why Saturday night, as the Buckeyes celebrate the 20th anniversary of one national title team and the 100th anniversary of Ohio Stadium, the expectation will be not merely victory but dominance.

It’s not the fairest way to enter a season, especially against a top-five opponent, but Ryan Day isn’t complaining.

“It's time to go play somebody now,” Day said. “This team wants to be great and it's going to start September 3.”

He knows what he has. He knows what is demanded. And he knows who is waiting at the end of the schedule and what it all may mean in this very big, and very telling, season.