Ohio State coach Ryan Day first connected with Urban Meyer on a recommendation from Dan Mullen, who was making the move from Utah to Florida with Meyer and pushed for Day to get a look as a graduate assistant with the Gators. Day did end up working as a GA for that 2005 season but then got a full-time assistant job and spent the next decade at Temple and Boston College. Mullen and Day were both standout high school quarterbacks in New Hampshire, and while the former foresaw what the latter might become later in his coaching career, it would be much later until the light went off for Meyer.
Meyer recalled visiting the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 when Day drew his attention in a different way. Day was working as the quarterbacks coach for Chip Kelly (who also coached Day at New Hampshire) with Tim Tebow among the players receiving his coaching. Meyer has said that, in the process of sitting in on meetings, he began to see Day in a new light and became a believer in him as a rising star in the industry.
Two years later, after Kelly parted ways with San Francisco, Meyer reached out to Day to offer him a job as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Two years after that, we sit on the edge of the official start to the post-Meyer era at Ohio State with Day being the one tasked with carrying on a seemingly unsustainable level of success set by his predecessor.
Meyer went 12-0 in his Year 1 with the Buckeyes and finished his tenure with an 83-9 record and just four conference losses. That's a 54-4 Big Ten record with no losses to rival Michigan, setting the bar exceedingly high for Day.
It's appropriate that the keys to meeting those high expectations are in the relationships. Meyer used relationship building, mental motivation and messaging as keys to his success both on the recruiting trail and on the field. So for Day to find success with Ohio State as they move into a new era, these relationships have to prove fruitful for the program.
1. Urban Meyer and Ryan Day: Ohio State is a place that athletic director Gene Smith and many others have descried lovingly as "complex." Meyer described the expectations bluntly to Day at the time of the transition. He's retold the story a couple of times, but the expectations Meyer laid out go a little something like this:
1. Beat your rival
2. Win every other game, too
3. No off-field issues
4. Graduate everyone and keep the team above 3.0 GPA
"And I usually add on at the end, 'go get 'em, tiger,'" Meyer said with a smile in December 2018.
But it's going to be tougher than that. Meyer wants to stay in the area and involved with the university in both official -- as a member of the faculty -- and unofficial capacities. Day will be expected to meet all those expectations with the standard-setter still hanging around. Day, for what it's worth, is spinning this as a good thing.
"Coach Meyer is always going to be a resource for me personally," Day said on the day he was hired. "How many people can say they've walked in the shoes? Depending on how much he wants to be involved, the door is always going to be open there. I'm sure he's going to have his remote and be looking at punt and protections, and he'll have his comments, but he'll always be a resource."
To many, the most irreplaceable piece of Meyer's program beyond the coach himself is Mickey Marotti, who has been hired four times by Meyer to lead strength and conditioning programs and been on his staff for three national championships. Day recognized Marotti's value not only made him among the first official hires for the new staff but got him locked in with a raise and a new four-year deal.
2. Urban Meyer and Gene Smith: These two are are close. At Meyer's resignation press conference, each gushed over the other and spoke of the significant impact their relationship had to the success of the program. Their families are close, and it's impossible to think that even with the most professional intentions there isn't going to be some back-and-forth about the current state of the program. There are relationships like this all over the country, and it's no big deal, but this one is different. Meyer is one of the most dominant coaches of this era, and Smith is the athletic director at one of the biggest college football powerhouses. If their weekly Sunday chats were to continue, for example, what's Meyer saying about the Buckeyes? And how are those weighted or considered by Smith?
We will get a glimpse of Meyer's analysis of Ohio State through his work with Fox Sports. The new Saturday pregame show will almost certainly have him discussing Ohio State on a week-by-week basis, though my bet is that his existing relationships with the current players will have more sway in terms of bias.
3. Urban Meyer and the 2019 roster: Meyer has no plans of putting a stop to the lines of communication and support he has already established with Ohio State's players. It's admirable that he wants to continue those relationships and help in the process of preparing those young men for life after football, but it's going to give him a unique relationship with many key players on the 2019 roster. "I'll keep those relationships," Meyer said in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl win against Washington. "And once again, I plan on being around and assist Ryan in any way I can"
Meyer and Day share the common interest in seeing Ohio State football succeed and win championships, so it's likely that this will be mostly positive for the first years of the post-Urban era. How those player-former coach relationships are managed and the line of communication between former coach and coach could play a role in success on Saturdays. This is where Marotti will once again be a huge bonus for Day, serving as the cog of consistency in the program for the players in this transition. At the same time, Meyer still being around and involved could complicate how his former players -- particularly the upperclassmen he recruited -- communicate with their new coach.
4. Ryan Day and the 2019 roster: Day has a two-year head start against a brand new outside hire on building relationships with the 2019 team. It factored in to why he was chosen for the job, both that he held the advantage and had proven to be the kind of leader Smith and Meyer felt like Ohio State needed. The team responded well when Meyer was suspended and Day was running the show, but now some of the older players have and will be asked to adjust some of the program routines they had become accustomed to through much of their college careers. The roster is used to Day as a leader, but most of this roster committed to Meyer when they decided to attend Ohio State.
But there is one very important player that did commit to Day, and that's quarterback Justin Fields. Their specific relationship is perhaps going to be the most important of them all, since their success is going to be intertwined. Dwayne Haskins and his prolific command of Day's offense is gone to the NFL, and the recent transfers of Joe Burrow to LSU in 2018 and Tate Martell to Miami in 2019 has created a depth issue at the quarterback position.
Day sold Fields on Ohio State and the opportunity to get the keys to a very expensive performance car. J.K. Dobbins became the first running back in Ohio State history to total 1,000 rushing yards in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he accomplished that while sharing snaps with Mike Weber.
The little we've seen from Fields has mostly been of the dual threat nature, and paired with Dobbins, he should be able to drive defenses crazy in Day's high-powered offense. Fields also has the advantage of a really gifted wide receiver room that is led by a tough veteran in K.J. Hill and includes a potential breakout star with true freshman Garrett Wilson. The pieces are in place for Day and Fields to flourish together, but they'll need the entire 2019 roster to be on board as well for Ohio State to contend for championships in 2019.
Not included -- Ryan Day and the fans: You'll notice I omitted the fans because, well, that math is too easy. If Day wins, they are going to ride for him; the moment he loses a single game, there will be a fringe of the fan base that will react negatively and then those sentiments will be amplified because it signals drama. The Ohio State fan base has proven to be fiercely loyal to Ohio State program and brand through coaching changes and multiple scandals. Day just needs to win, and he's heard that from every single voice since day one.
Just like Meyer said: beat your rival; win every other game, too; have no off-field issues; graduate everyone.
If all of these relationships are working, Ohio State football will be in a great place. If Ohio State is winning then these relationships are probably going to be easier to manage. But the relationships need to work in order for the wins to come easy, and Day's great challenge is to have a handle of it all at a complex place with no previous full-time head coaching experience.
Go get 'em, tiger.