COLUMBUS — Speaking with the media for the first time since Ohio State’s loss in the Cotton Bowl, head coach Ryan Day had no shortage of topics to cover on Wednesday as he fielded questions for more than an hour at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center (WHAC).
In the 40 days since the Dec. 29 debacle in Dallas, Ohio State has parted ways with three assistant coaches in Parker Fleming, Perry Eliano, and Corey Dennis, hired two of their replacements, finalized a top-five recruiting class in the country, welcomed in 15 early enrollees, and added six players via the transfer portal.
While that checklist would be enough to exhaust any coach, the work may not be finished yet as uncertainty looms regarding the addition of Bill O’Brien to serve as offensive coordinator on Day’s staff. Following Jeff Hafley’s surprising announcement that he is leaving Boston College for the NFL last week, O’Brien has emerged as the frontrunner to land the head coaching position back in his home state.
It didn’t take long — exactly one question into the press conference — for Day to be asked about O’Brien’s status with Ohio State or Boston College, and he responded by saying only that O’Brien was working at the WHAC on Wednesday and “we’ll see how it goes.”
Asked why he ultimately landed on O’Brien to serve as the offensive coordinator, Day said, “I think at the end of the season, you look hard at what kind of changes need to be made. As we know at Ohio State, we’re chasing that 1-2%, we’re chasing those last couple drives of a game or whatever that is. I felt like in that particular situation, for me to really be able to hand over a lot of the duties I was doing, I was really looking for someone who had a great background in the NFL, the SEC, he’s a former head coach, and the experience of developing quarterbacks was there. And then the fit, culturally, was there.”
Day confirmed he intends to relinquish play-calling responsibilities this season, whether it’s O’Brien taking over that task for his potential replacement. However, he noted he’s not going to hire someone to call plays simply because the job is open, saying there is a specific fit they saw with O’Brien and will again seek if a replacement is needed.
With Dennis leaving to take an analyst position on Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah this week, Ohio State still holds one open spot for an assistant coach, be it a special teams coordinator to replace Fleming or someone to help the offense or defense. However, Day is not ready to make that call just yet as he and his staff continue to consider their options.
“We have some flexibility there,” Day said. “We’ve had multiple conversations and can go in a couple of different directions. But we’re still not ready to make a decision there yet.”
While the coaching changes were an expected aspect of a critical offseason for Day and Ohio State, it’s been the resounding success the Buckeyes have had in the transfer portal that has truly charged up the fan base and grabbed the attention of everyone throughout college football.
Ohio State swung about as big as reasonably possible last month in an attempt to land some of the premier talent available on the market, and it connected at a nearly perfect rate. The class includes a pair of former Alabama starters in center Seth McLaughlin and safety and National Freshman of the Year Caleb Downs, as well as a readymade starting quarterback in Will Howard, a former SEC Freshman of the Year in running back Quinshon Judkins, and much-needed tight end depth in Ohio transfer Will Kacmarek.
By all accounts, Ohio State boosted its stock with those portal additions, and that’s saying nothing of the addition of Julian Sayin, a five-star quarterback in the 2024 class who bolted from Alabama following Nick Saban’s retirement.
But while Day and his staff deserve considerable credit for the job it did in January to land difference-makers throughout the roster, Day said on Wednesday it was the momentum created by a nearly clean-sweep of Ohio State’s draft-eligible players deciding as a group to return for one more season that sparked the impressive run of positive developments the Buckeyes have enjoyed this winter.
“I think that was the number one thing coming off of the season, is the guys coming back and seeing that they want to be with their teammates and reach their goals,” Day said. “To me, that’s where all this started. So when you think about J.T. (Tuimoloau) and Denzel (Burke), Jack (Sawyer), Tyleik (Williams), Lathan (Ransom), TreVeyon (Henderson), Emeka (Egbuka), Donovan (Jackson), these are all really high-end players who decided they want to come back.
“And it wasn’t for anything other than their teammates, their coaches, the culture, and that kind of set the tone. And then we started to fill in the pieces. There weren’t a lot of (pieces) in terms of numbers, but hopefully, the guys we brought in can make an impact.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.