Heat Checks and Hail Marys - Ryan Day and the Buckeyes

By: Mike
November 28, 2022

Mike Cagley, Co-Host of the Big Sports Radio show

Cover photo courtesy Ohio State Athletics.

November 28, 2022

The Big Ten football regular season is over and the bowl season is on the cusp of hitting America. All that is left is to see what chaos is created by the conference championship games, pick four teams for the College Football Playoffs, and let it all begin.

The Big Ten East was decisively ripped from the hands of the favored Ohio State Buckeyes by the Michigan Wolverines for a second straight year. The near random Big Ten West was claimed by the Purdue Boilermakers who will bring their 8-4 team to Indianapolis to play the annual underdog role (read sacrificial lamb if you're a Big Ten East fan).

Here are some thoughts on the Ohio State Buckeyes after their second straight defeat to the Michigan Wolverines in their regular season finale:

Hail Mary #1 - Does Ohio State Have a "Ryan Day Problem"

Ryan Day has been incredibly successful as the Ohio State head football coach by a number of standard metrics.

  • Win/Loss Record is 45-5
  • Win/Loss Bowl Record is 2-2
  • College Football Playoff Win/Loss Record is 1-2
  • Big Ten Championships 2 in 4 years
  • Big Ten East Division Titles is 2 in 4 years

That's not bad is it? Let's provide more context to why Buckeye fans are highly agitated. We start by taking a look at the losing seasons Buckeye fans have had to endure since 1992 (thirty years). The Buckeyes have had 1 losing season (which was in 2011) when they posted a 6-7 record. That didn't take long. In fact, the Buckeyes have only had 5 losing seasons since 1951. To be frank, it's been easy to be an Ohio State Buckeye fan and one can see how they appear to be a bit "entitled" to the rest of the Big Ten fan bases. To better understand how Ohio State fans can have a "Ryan Day problem" lets see how much success the Ohio State football program has had since 1992 (not including this year that is currently at 11 games won):

  • 8 win seasons - 3 (Sadly, some Ohio State fans would categorize an 8-win season as "suffering".)
  • 9 win seasons - 1 (Only one 9-win season, what does Ohio State have against 9 wins?)
  • 10 win seasons - 4 (For example the Illini have won 10 games three times in their entire history and that's the most wins ever in a single season in the Illini's history.)
  • 11 win seasons - 8 (Eight times seems a bit excessive and when they won 11 games last year, Ryan Day actually apologized for winning so few.)
  • 12 win seasons - 6 (Including the forfeited season.)
  • 13 win seasons - 2
  • 14 win seasons - 2

Ohio State fans are accustomed to success and since 1992, the Buckeyes have dominated the series with Michigan 19-10-1 (with the 2010 Ohio State win vacated). If Ohio State were to miss the College Football Playoff two years in a row due to back-to-back losses to Michigan, it means despite his incredible record at Ohio State, Ryan Day is walking on wafer-thin ice. John Cooper was fired with a 111-43-4 record at Ohio State because he lost to Michigan. John Cooper's record against Michigan was 2-10-1. Many Buckeye fans want to be proactive if a coach shows signs of losing to Michigan too often. For Buckeye fans, its kind of a big deal.

This seems a bit extreme to me, but I'm a Big Ten fan, not a Buckeye fan.

Hail Mary #2 - Ryan Day's Resume

Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Day courtesy Michigan Athletics.

I submit to my readers that the root cause of Ryan Day's issues are threefold:

  1. He's lost to Michigan two years in a row.
  2. He's missed the College Football Playoff (CFP) due to one loss to Michigan in 2021 - and maybe for a second time with Saturday's loss to Michigan, we'll know next week.
  3. He's got less experience than previous Ohio State head coaches and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has effectively weaponized that against him in the media.

Let's talk about point number three because it's my belief that this indeed is an issue that can be pointed to when other issues crop up. Jim Harbaugh hit a raw nerve with fans regarding his statements about Coach Day being born on third base and thinking he had hit a triple. Make no mistake it's not Ryan Day's fault his first job as a head coach happens to be arguably the premiere head coaching position in the country. Where the issue crops up is during times when the team is struggling.

What experiences are in Day's past he can draw upon to solve the problems of today? He doesn't have an exhaustive list of experiences as a head coach to choose from when looking for solutions or alternative courses of action. Before becoming the Ohio State head coach, Day had been an offensive coordinator at Temple and Boston College for a total of three years and co-offensive coordinator at Ohio State for 1 year. He was also acting head coach of Ohio State for three games in 2018 during the administrative leave imposed on Urban Meyer.

In comparison, Urban Meyer ascended to the head coaching position after 2 years at Bowling Green, 2 years at Utah (including an undefeated season), and 6 years at Florida including two Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national titles. That is a decade of experiences, including two national title seasons to draw upon when coaching at Ohio State. Jim Tressel came with 15 years of head coaching experience at Youngstown State. Admittedly, moving up from division I-AA was a risk, but he led the Penguins to 4 national titles and 2 second place finishes in that 15 years, effectively dominating a lower level before being tapped to be the Ohio State head coach.

The only coach with a similar resume to Ryan Day was Luke Fickell who was signed as the interim coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel resigned. He went 6-6 and was passed over for Urban Meyer and his 2 national titles for the Ohio State head coaching position. Fickell has since went on to a successful stint at Cincinnati from 2017-22 and will be announced soon as the head coach at Wisconsin according to former Wisconsin Athletic Director and football coaching legend Barry Alvarez.

Day's lack of head coaching experience is not a disqualifier, as he's already proven he can recruit with the best recruiters in the country. He will have to prove that when the Buckeyes are looking for answers to the Michigan problem, he will be able to find those answers and then effectively implement a plan to fix the situation. Jim Harbaugh will keep attacking this "lack of experience" as a weakness both in the media and most likely on the recruiting trail. Harbaugh is a master at throwing the hand grenade into a room and leaving the room in chaos before the grenade goes off. Chaos at Ohio State is a situation that benefits Harbaugh and Michigan football greatly. Don't expect him to let up on this one.

Hail Mary #3 - Let's not Rush to Judgement on Day

As this is being typed, we still have no idea what teams will comprise the final four teams participating in the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the 2022 season. We can make a few guesses, though.

Georgia looks to be in no matter what and most likely the same is to be said for Michigan, but there is no guarantee if either team were to lose in their conference championship game, they're automatically in the CFP field.

TCU and USC cannot afford to test the system as a conference championship game loss may drop TCU out of the CFP and such a loss will surely do so to USC.

Right now, on the outside looking in are perennial contenders Ohio State and Alabama. If there are upsets the options are many. Here are a few:

  • Ohio State might find their way back into the CFP and have a chance to win a national title - and maybe even without playing Michigan.
  • We could get a second Michigan versus Ohio State battle in a single year. That would be really exciting, at least for Big Ten fans.
  • Nick Saban could work behind the scenes to land Alabama back into the CFP. Isn't that how we got the CFP instead of the BCS? That's a question for another column.

The moral of the story is the final conclusion for the 2022 college football season has yet to be written. Despite all the hand-wringing about Ryan Day, he and his Ohio State Buckeyes may get the chance to avenge the loss to Michigan. Or they may move forward without the Wolverines (a much less likely possibility). It's hard to not feel like Ohio State fans are overreacting as the CFP field has not been announced yet. Wait until it happens to panic!

If the final four of the CFP is announced and the Buckeyes find themselves on the outside looking in, then Ryan Day will have more than his share of naysayers. Despite the calls for his ousting, my suspicion is Day will get another season to see what he can do against the Wolverines and continue the Buckeye dominance of the rest of the Big Ten. If Day returns next year, whether its realistic or not, losing three in a row to the Wolverines in the regular season may come with huge consequences including Day losing his job.

I have no doubt there will be a group of fans and boosters who will be ready to part ways with a coach regardless of his amazing record as a head coach. The losses to the Wolverines will be too much to bear in the eyes of many a Buckeye supporter.There are risks, though.

Letting a winning coach go has to be done with great care. We have seen time and time again fans get excited to have a coach fired when the fans need an outlet for their anger. Its much easier to fire a coach (justified or not) than it is to hire a good coach. If Ryan Day is let go, then the Buckeyes need to have a coach ready to come onboard that will clearly be better than Ryan Day. If you take the time to develop your own list of those coaches who are a sure thing to be "better" than Day, there aren't very many. Ohio State needs to make sure they hire the correct coach.

Maybe its just easier to let Ryan Day grow into his role. No football school wants to pull off the equivalent of Nebraska firing Frank Solich or Bo Pellini.

What if Ohio State gets into the College Football Playoff and wins it. If he does that without beating Michigan, I'd call that a heck of a season, will Ohio State fans feel the same?

Only time will tell.





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