COLUMBUS — The head coach’s office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center is right off the locker room. A player could step out of one and right into the other.
To encourage the Buckeyes to do just that, Ryan Day made a few changes to the space since taking over for Urban Meyer.
The area closest to the locker room door, where Meyer used to have the desk, is now set up like a den. Two brown leather couches face each other, and two comfy chairs form a semicircle around a wooden chest that serves as a coffee table. Each couch faces a 75-inch television mounted on a wall. The big addition: an electric fire place built into the wall.
Day is taking over an Ohio State program that went 83-9 in seven seasons under Meyer, who won one of his three national championships here. The Buckeyes hardly needed a makeover and Day has not felt compelled to put his stamp on Ohio State as he transitioned from offensive coordinator to head coach. He hired an almost entirely new defensive coaching staff, but coming off the worst statistical season ever for an Ohio State defense there was nothing forced about that.
“I have a certain security about me that I’m not going to change just to say it’s mine. You know, it’s not,” Day said a couple days after moving back into his renovated office. “It’s Ohio State’s. It’s the program’s.”
But make no mistake: There is a different vibe around the fifth-ranked Buckeyes as they enter the first season without Meyer and it emanates from the 40-year-old Day.
“He has a totally different approach,” junior tight Jake Hausmann said. “I think he wants players to be more open to coming up to him and asking questions that players would feel comfortable asking. He just redid his office and he was saying that this is your guys’ place. I want you guys to come in here and feel comfortable.”
Few football coaches can be called easy going. Compared to Meyer, Day is more approachable.
Meyer was intense and could come across as intimidating to those who didn’t know him well. Being one of the greatest coaches in college football history made him a larger-than-life figure.
“Coach Meyer had just an aura around him and players felt it,” said Mickey Marotti, who oversees the team’s strength and conditioning program.
Marotti was Meyer’s right-hand man going back to his time at Florida, and now fills the same role for Day. The two hit it off when Day, who worked for a year as a graduate assistant under Meyer at Florida in 2005, joined the Buckeyes’ staff as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017.
Day and Marotti were already close, but the relationship went to a new place last year. Day became acting head coach when Meyer was placed on leave as Ohio State investigated his handling of fired assistant coach Zach Smith, who had been accused of domestic abuse. Meyer was eventually suspended for the first three games of the season.
“We just kind of said, you know, business as usual,” Marotti said. “I’ll make sure the players are on task. All the things that I’ve done for Coach Meyer, I’m going to do for you.”
The Buckeyes went 3-0 without Meyer and Day was the obvious successor when Meyer stepped down after the season.
Aside from remaking the defensive staff, Day also hired Mike Yurcich away from Oklahoma State to be offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. Day, however, will remain the primary play-caller. Whether to continue focusing on one side of the ball is a decision coaches often struggle with when they become head coaches. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Florida State’s Willie Taggart are two high-profile examples of coaches who decided they needed to move away from their field of expertise to better lead the program.
Because the infrastructure and culture at Ohio State was so solid, Day said that wasn’t necessary.
He has so much confidence in people such as Marotti and assistant athletic director for player personnel Mark Pantoni, who leads one of the most comprehensive recruiting operations in the country, Day was comfortable remaining heavily involved with the offense.
“I think what you find is when you have time to yourself where does your mind go?” Day said. “When you’re a coordinator typically it’s scheme. It’s your offense. It’s what the defense is going to bring that week and it really comes down to that. When you become a head coach, there’s a lot more that goes through that brain and you’ve got to look at it from a lot of different angles. And I think because we’re surrounded with such great people that I can lean on them.”
Day expects the same level of discipline, work ethic and toughness from his team that Meyer demanded.
“It’s just different,” Marotti said. “It’s the same, like, you’re shooting for the same product, but it’s just done differently.”
Day has established a foundation with his wife, Christina, focused on pediatric and adolescent mental health, and in doing so has gone public with his father’s suicide. Day was 9 when his father killed himself. That influences the way Day wants to run his football program.
“So I think we’ve really done a great job ... of building up their bodies physically. We’ve almost maximized them. But I think we’re still a long way away up here,” Day said, pointing his head.
Days said how he wants to build relationships with players is not about being different from Meyer as much as it is about being true to himself.
“I think that now more than ever these guys want to have someone that’s approachable,” Day said. “Sitting in this office right here you want to be able to sit down and have a conversation and be there to help and let them know that we love them and that we demand a lot out of them. We expect a lot out of them. They have to perform. You know that’s part of this job description on both ends. But at the same time they have people who care.”