After an undefeated regular season capped by a win over Michigan, a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff appearance, Ryan Day should have a clear blueprint for year two as head coach of the Buckeyes.
“There's a lot of things after the first year, once you establish the culture as a coaching staff, year two is different, and that's the journey we're on,” Day said. “Again, one of the best things about adapting and being a good college football coach is the ability to move and adjust and talk about those things on a week-to-week basis.”
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Of course, Day’s second Ohio State team will be composed differently than the first. That is the nature of the beast, particularly at the college level.
He and his staff will have some building blocks — quarterback Justin Fields, offensive linemen Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis and Thayer Munford, linebackers Pete Werner and Tuf Borland, cornerback Shaun Wade to name a few — but the Buckeyes will be different on both sides of the ball.
Losing both outside starting cornerbacks could change how the team plays coverage. Losing pass rusher Chase Young could alter how much the team needs to blitz, too.
On the other side of the ball, J.K. Dobbins was a big-play threat at running back, and K.J. Hill was Mr. Reliable at receiver. Without them and others, Ohio State may have to attack teams differently, but a more experienced Fields could expand possibilities, too.
Beyond strategy, there is the psychological aspect.
The 2019 Buckeyes were an interesting mix of youth and experience.
While a handful of fifth-year seniors were important contributors, Young, Dobbins and Jeffrey Okudah were juniors on the fast track to the NFL since they arrived on campus. Several sophomores with great talent but little experience joined the fray, and the result was a team that dominated opponents like few in Ohio State history.
But most of the first and second of those three groups are gone, and the third might have different motivations after establishing themselves last season.
“That's the art of coaching — especially in college,” Day said. “It changes week to week, month to month, but certainly year to- year. This team will be completely different than the last team and this staff is going to be completely different than the last staff.”
Fortunately for Day, he has a veteran team builder to lean on.
Mickey Marotti has faced similar challenges many times in his 30 years as a college football strength coach.
His title is much fancier than that (assistant athletics director for football sports performance), and there is good reason for it.
Marotti’s talent for molding young men in the offseason is well-known. He was viewed as vital part of Urban Meyer’s successes as a college football coach at Ohio State and Florida, and the ability to retain him was among the factors in the decision to promote Day when Meyer retired at the end of the 2018 season.
Marotti is essentially the head coach of the offseason when the regular coaches are limited in how much contact they can have with players.
He does much more than craft weight lifting plans.
He sets the standard for work a player must do from the neck down and evaluates what each must do from the neck up to succeed, too.
“What is the offseason for?” Marotti said. “It's not for that, it's not for this: It is for development, it is for individual development. So that takes precedent over everything.”
Then comes figuring out what will make the next group tick.
“Every team is different,” Marotti said. “That's why I love doing this is because January is different every year and you figure out about your team, and then you find out the strengths and the weaknesses.”
While some things from the previous season will need to be changed, others can be enhanced.
“What we do is we break down two ways: I look at the team that just left or the team prior, and then you look at what you have coming back and then you look at the team building, like how and what we need to do for the team.”
“They're all different from a team standpoint, and then you break down each individual of what their needs are. So somebody needs to get stronger, somebody needs to get in better shape, someone needs to gain weight, someone needs to be a better leader, someone needs to be disciplined better, someone needs to eat better, and they all have those individual goals.”
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Meanwhile, Day also has to figure out how the coaching staff will fit together following the loss of secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley along with quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich, who have been replaced by Kerry Coombs and Corey Dennis, respectively.
As January turns to February and then gives away to spring football in March and April, Day will craft his Year 2 plan, but even then he plans to remain open-minded.
“What we think right now might be the best thing in two months might not be,” Day said. “I'm interested to see how our guys work in the weight room with Coach Mick and where is the leadership headed. A lot of things come into play.
“We have 15 mid-year (recruits who enrolled in January) that just showed up on the team. That's a big chunk of our team. How do they get meshed into the team and the fabric of our culture? Those are all things coming, and that's the fun part of the journey.”
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