Naturally the biggest Ohio State football question of the offseason in Columbus made its way to Chicago for Big Ten Football Media Days.
How has Ryan Day changed the Buckeye program so far after replacing Urban Meyer as head coach in January?
“I don’t think anything is that different, you know?” senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said after taking some time to ponder the question. "Our culture stayed the same. The only thing that would be different is the person who is in charge changed. All in all, we still work the same. (Strength coach coach Mickey Marotti) is still putting us through really hard workouts. Our core values, our core beliefs, everything like that is still the same.”
Of course, a desire to maintain the status quo was a motivating factor in OSU director of athletics Gene Smith deciding to give the job to Day rather than open a national search, so perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising.
Still, the topic is too tantalizing not to dig a little deeper, and the crowd surrounding the Buckeyes and Day at the Hilton Chicago included many out-of-towners who hadn’t had a chance to ask about the transition before.
“When people ask the question the say ‘What have you changed from Urban Meyer?’ That’s a hard question to answer at times because you’re talking about one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the game,” Day said. "I try not to focus on what have I changed, but I do think if you ask some guys on our team or our staff, there’s a lot that’s different — because he’s not there and I am.”
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Most notably, Ohio State figures to look a lot different on defense after swapping most of the staff in January.
However, Day hopes to restrict that to scheme changes while maintaining a similar philosophy.
“If they’re worried about learning a new core value it takes away from their ability to get on the field,” Day said. “Very careful not to change things just to change them. Slowly over time you’ll see there will be more and more things that probably fit me more, but the infrastructure that is there is not going to change.”
Ironically, Day’s three-game cameo as head coach while Meyer was suspended early last season has made switch at the top go smoother.
“I don’t think it was much of a transition at all,” senior receiver K.J. Hill said. “He had already been a head coach before he was the head coach.”
OK, but how are Day and Meyer different as people?
“I feel like there's no differences with everything we've been doing, but the differences between their personalities is coach Meyer is more of an old-school, demanding coach,” Hill said. "Coach Day is going to ask for the same thing, but it's kind of more in a laid-back way. But we respect both coaches and we both respect them and there's no difference.”
While Meyer was known for developing a new-fangled spread offense in the early 2000s, he was demonstrative enough on the sidelines to conjure up memories of Woody Hayes’ famous temper tantrums (albeit tamer versions).
Meyer never punched an opposing player or tore up a yard marker, but he was known to toss his headphones and perhaps break a clipboard or two.
Beyond that, the school wasn’t shy about sharing the occasional look into the locker room for one of Meyer’s fiery speeches to rouse the emotions of his players before a big game.
Day has so far been all smiles in public, but Hill saw something different in him last year in the third and biggest game of Day’s time as acting head coach.
“People was doubting us because we didn’t have coach Meyer, but I could see the hunger in his eyes,” Hill said of a game against TCU in which the Buckeyes trailed 14-13 at the half before rallying to win 40-28. “He’s hungry and he fed it to the team. He don’t gotta say nothing. He knows people are doubting him.”
Day concurred the cameo helped set him up to take the job full time.
“That was very, very unique because it was not anything to prepare for,” Day said. ‘You were there and then who do you be? Are you the head coach or are you the guy who is holding place?
"That was a daily grind trying to figure out the right way to make that work. Then as time went on, you became the head coach and found that voice more and more every day and it became the norm.”
Along the way, he learned how to earn respect from his players.
“You are authentic, you are real — That’s what they want to see,” Day said. "They just want to see someone that is real with them, that is honest with them and is going to tell them the way that it is and be fair. That is what I did, and I think to this day the guys on the team will tell you that.”
As for raising the temperature in the room when things are going badly, Day said he has that club in the bag when the time comes.
“That is part of the deal,” he said, noting there were some tense moments between him and quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins when he was their position coach the past two years. “You have to fail in order to improve. If you have been told to do something and you just don't do it, then we have a problem, but I want these guys to play free, I want them to play without anything in the back of their mind telling them to have that anxiety.”
As for changes he has made to the program, Day said he is emphasizing the use of “tough love” in a daily basis.
“Tough is being tough, being tough on the field, and with our strength and conditioning program being the backbone of our program, they have to be tough,” he said. “it’s a tough game. We've got to make tough decisions. Leadership is tough, challenging your teammate. But then also love, love for your brother and creating those bonds with your coach, creating those bonds with your teammates, because that's the ultimate motivator in my opinion.
“Those are the things we've been preaching to our team, and I think there's a lot of energy and positivity around the program.”
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