A legend is leaving, and the Ryan Day era in Columbus is about to get going.
Urban Meyer announced Tuesday that he'll step down as Ohio State's head coach following the team's Rose Bowl matchup with Washington. In his place will be Day, the Buckeyes' co-offensive coordinator who signed a five-year contract worth $4.5 million, immediately becoming one of the highest-paid coaches in the sport.
By making the move, Ohio State's betting big on the 39-year-old Day, who has no head coaching experience beyond a three-game stint to begin this season while Meyer served a suspension for his handling of domestic violence reports involving former assistant Zach Smith.
It's the same type of bet that Ohio State's brain trust watched pay off with Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley over the past two years.
Riley, previously an up-and-coming coordinator in his own right, took his first-ever head coaching job when he replaced the legendary Bob Stoops in Norman last season. Like Oklahoma with Stoops, Ohio State hired a top-tier assistant in Day and had him ready for whenever Meyer called it quits.
And after watching the Sooners' seamless, successful transition, the Buckeyes are hoping for much of the same.
"He has the perfect demeanor for our environment,” athletic director Gene Smith said of Day at Tuesday's press conference.
The environment in Columbus is certainly unique and complex. Unlike many smaller programs around the country, the head coach of Ohio State is given all kinds of responsibilities - both on and off the field.
No longer will Day be able to concern himself solely with the day-to-day tasks of planning for the Buckeyes' opponents. He'll have booster functions, media obligations, and disciplinary actions clogging up his schedule.
They're tasks that Meyer was prepared for when he came aboard in 2011 following head coaching stints at Bowling Green, Utah, and a title-winning Florida program. Day, on the other hand, will be learning on the fly.
He'll also have major shoes to fill. Across 17 career seasons as a head coach, Meyer's gone an astonishing 186-32 with three national championships. And the numbers from his time with Ohio State are simply amazing:
One national title
54-4 Big Ten record
Three Big Ten championships
7-0 vs. Michigan
First Power 5 school to win 50 games over a four-year run
That's a lot to live up to, but Day's impressed since arriving last year to help spark Ohio State's offense and work with its quarterbacks. The former New Hampshire pivot immediately added new, innovative designs to Meyer's system, which had lost some of its early shine.
Along with co-OC Kevin Wilson, Day produced a potent downfield passing attack that was missing in the head coach's timing-based offense. They also reinvented the team's spread-to-run scheme by taking advantage of Ohio State's lateral speed while incorporating brilliant game-plan tweaks on a weekly basis.
This season was especially impressive, as switching from outgoing quarterback J.T. Barrett to first-time starter Dwayne Haskins was a major upheaval. Still, the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat, finishing fourth in offensive S&P+ with Haskins nominated for the Heisman Trophy.
Moving forward, Buckeye nation will expect Day to hit the ground running as the man in charge. Meyer set the expectations: Never lose to Michigan, dominate the Big Ten, and contend for the playoff. Day likely won't get much leeway after being handed one of the sport's most historic programs and a roster loaded with talent.
He'll also need to figure out his staff. Will Wilson want to stick around? What happens to the defensive coaches?
The latter group, overseen by Greg Schiano, had a miserable season. The Buckeyes finished 37th in defensive S&P+ and were one of the worst in the country at stopping third downs and conceding plays of 20-plus yards. That's unacceptable at a program with future NFL players all over the defense.
Day must surely move on, but the replacement for his veteran DC will be a major early test and influence his reputation - for better or worse - among the college coaching fraternity.
Even more urgently, Day has to hit the recruiting trail.
"If you want to have a good team, you recruit, and recruit very hard," Meyer said. "Ryan's going to be in four states (later this week). He better be."
At this point of the 2019 cycle, OSU's lagging behind other elite programs - in part due to the lingering uncertainty about Meyer's future and the scandal-plagued year. The Buckeyes currently rank 12th in the 247Sports composite rankings after picking up just two extra commits - a three-star running back and four-star receiver - during the season.
However, the timing of Meyer's announcement - two weeks before the early signing period - means there's still a chance for Day to put his stamp on the class. OSU has just 15 total commits for 2019 so far, but the new coach figures to push that number over 20, likely propelling the Buckeyes back into the top 10, and closer to the top five.
And considering Ohio State's average recruiting ranking is still third in the country behind Alabama and Georgia, it appears the Zach Smith fallout is sticking more to Meyer's personal legacy than to the program as a whole.
Meanwhile, the outgoing coach is leaving Day with a cupboard chock full of talent. The Buckeyes have finished top seven in recruiting in each of the last four years, including back-to-back second-place finishes in 2017 and '18. The school's brand is still strong, leaving Day with an opportunity to succeed.
The question is, will he? A college head coach is responsible for talent acquisition, development, and deployment. We know Day can do at least one - deployment - but the team's long-term success will depend on his ability to handle all three.
Gene Smith and Co. could have conducted a national search, as any number of experienced coaches who already hold great jobs would have moved heaven and earth to land at Ohio State. But the school believes it acted early and smartly by taking a rising yet unproven star off the market to replace one of the greatest bench bosses in history. It’s a bold move.
Riley reached the playoff in each of his first two seasons in charge of Oklahoma. That's the benchmark for Day as he begins his own pressure-filled transition in Columbus.
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