Make no mistake, Ryan Day doesn’t want to give up calling plays, but the time has come for him to be in more places than just the play sheet.
As Ohio State’s head coach, Day is one of the rare college football coaches who also calls plays for the offense. Generally, this duty is handed off to the offensive coordinator, but calling plays is a love that has been hard to let go.
A year ago, Day talked about the possibility, especially with the promotion of receivers coach Brian Hartline to offensive coordinator. It was never a sure thing that it would happen, but more of a, “We’ll talk about that bridge when we come to it,” type of thing.
In his seven years at OSU, Day has overseen the best offenses in Ohio State football history. For the most part, his calls have worked. After the 2023 season, however, his next call went out for somebody to whom he could hand over the play-calling duties. He settled in on Bill O’Brien, who brings with him plenty of experience as a coordinator, a position coach, and a head coach.
He was just about the perfect fit for Day, who evaluated everything after the season in order to come to this decision.
“I think at the end of the season, you look hard at what kind of changes need to be made,” Day explained. “And as we know, at Ohio State, we’re chasing that 1 or 2%, right? We’re chasing that last couple of drives of a game or whatever that is, and I felt like in that particular situation, for me to really be able to hand over a lot of the duties that I was doing, I really was looking at somebody who had a great background in the NFL, the SEC, is a former head coach. He had been a head coach in the league, and the experience of developing quarterbacks was there. And then the fit culturally was the right fit.”
This wasn’t an overnight decision for Day. He is widely known as one of the best play callers in college football, so giving up those duties could have a negative impact for the offense. The hope, however, is that it would have a greater positive impact over the program as a whole.
One of the reasons he talked about giving up play calling a year ago is just because of the off-the-field demands of a head coach. With college football the way it is today, there aren’t always enough hours in the day to meet with all of the cooks in the kitchen. A true play-calling offensive coordinator, however, doesn’t need to be involved in nearly as many things. They can stay focused on the football side of things.
In the lead-up to the Cotton Bowl in late December, Day was taking part in a joint press conference with Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz, and Drinkwitz talked about how he had finally given up calling plays that season and how much it freed him up to be more in-tune with the game. Day seemed to be listening intently, but had already made his mind up about the changes needed well before that day. Provided he could find the right guy.
“Remember a year ago, I was still kind of going down that road,” Day said. “It didn’t quite work out that way, but I knew as the season was going on what needed to happen. But again, the key is finding the right guy because it’s one thing to make that move, but if it’s not the right person in the right spot, that doesn’t do us any good. This is Ohio State, we cannot can have a bad day. We’re not allowed. So it’s a very, very unique person who, I mean, let’s call it for what it is — the expectation here is that we score 60 every game, and if we don’t, it’s like, ‘What happened?'”
Day went out and found just the guy for the job with Bill O’Brien, but he may have to go out and find a replacement soon as O’Brien is a possibility to become the new head coach at Boston College. That job only opened up a week ago, but it’s an enticing option for the Boston native O’Brien.
Day obviously doesn’t want to lose somebody he trusted enough to give the keys to, but the coaching profession always requires other options. Contingency plans are in place, but that would not be the preferred outcome. And just because Day found somebody to call plays this time doesn’t mean that another search would bear the same fruit.
“Again, it isn’t just one of those situations where you just take out one guy and put another guy in there, and it’s like, ‘Okay, move on.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Day explained. “But yes, we did talk to different people for that position. And we’ll have contingency plans in place. Hopefully, we don’t have to go down that road. But if we do, then we’ll adapt.”