After giving one last postgame pep talk, the 54-year-old Meyer lifted the whistle off his neck and placed it around the 39-year-old Day’s as the Buckeyes soaked in their victory, a moment captured by videographers for the school and shared on the team’s social media accounts.
“This is the 25th football coach at The Ohio State University,” said Meyer, who announced in early December his intention to retire because of headaches brought on by a cyst on his brain.
Day smiled wide, the players all cheered — and a new era began Tuesday night in California.
He was the quarterbacks coach the past two seasons and helped coordinate the offense.
He also took over the program in August when Meyer was accused of mishandling allegations former assistant coach Zach Smith abused his wife.
Day led the Buckeyes to a 3-0 record while Meyer was suspended for mismanaging Smith’s employment, a test run that gave Day a chance to get to know more members of the team he hadn’t worked with as closely before.
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“Absolutely. I've done that for the last 10 years,” Day said. “I have a book of things I've learned, my head coaching book over here, and I'm going to use that as a reference as always.”
He kept learning in December, observing how Meyer prepares a team for a bowl and more.
“Talking about going through practice one, practice two, how we handle Christmas, how we handle the breaks, how do we handle the practice on site and the guys checking in and curfew, all the things that come with organizing a team, kind of go over here in a bank.”
What awaits Day is a unique challenge.
He has taken over one of the winningest teams of all time during a period the program has known even more winning than usual.
As successful as John Wilce, Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, Jim Tressel and John Cooper (all College Football Hall of Famers) were, they couldn’t match Meyer’s winning percentage (90.3) at Ohio State.
He brought a national title home in 2014 and won the Big Ten three times.
Considering Alabama has made the College Football Playoff five years in a row, there is room for improvement — but not much. Besting Meyer just might require perfection.
“When I stepped into that role in August we had a group of players and a group of coaches that had to step up our game, remember that?” Day asked the players after receiving the whistle from Meyer. “And everybody in this group did that. We wouldn’t be standing here today if everybody in that room didn’t stand up. We wouldn’t be there today if the culture that Urban Meyer built here wasn’t the way it was.
“And so now we’re going to keep moving this culture forward with the group here, and the reason why we can do that is we can stand on the shoulders of the guys who have come before.
“The coaches who have come before. The administrators that have come before and the players. The seniors who are leaving here have left a legacy and I’m proud to be charging this forward. I’m proud to be part of this group.”
He punctuated his acceptance speech with a, “Let’s go get ‘em!” before the obligatory, “Go Bucks!”
Beyond bringing in the most talent, he will have to decide who will be a part of his first staff.
Then there is the challenge of developing players both on and off the field.
That became an increasingly important role to Meyer as he advanced in his coaching career, and it is a task Day seems to also hold dear.
Maintaining each part of the infrastructure Meyer put in place is going to to be essential for Day to please both his bosses inside the university (Gene Smith, University President Dr. Michael Drake, the board of trustees) and out (fans).
Is he ready?
Ready as he’ll ever be.
“I've been exposed to some great coaches along the way and exposed to some high-level coaching and going to use something from each of those coaches that we're going to build a culture that way and my philosophy,” Day said before the Rose Bowl. “But that being said, I've been in the program now for a couple of years. Had an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the head coach here at Ohio State, understand what that is and want to keep the infrastructure here.
“My philosophy and values are so much in line with what's here right now, and I want to keep that culture going and the infrastructure this year going right now.”