COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lot has changed inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center since Ohio State coach Ryan Day last met with the media after the 14-3 loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
He’s made changes to the coaching staff, the roster has been revamped and the Buckeyes have asserted themselves as one of the favorites for the 2024 national title. There was no shortage of things to talk about on Wednesday.
Why Will Howard’s Ohio State move differed from Caleb Downs’, plus more transfer takeaways
Here are a few takeaways from his hour-long news conference:
What’s going on with Bill O’Brien?
Day hired O’Brien to be Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play caller on Jan 19. But it’s possible he’ll never call a play for Ohio State.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman reported that O’Brien is a strong candidate for the head coaching position at Boston College. He’s a Massachusetts native who was most recently the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, so the move would make sense for O’Brien, who still has family in the area.
Boston College hiring O’Brien would throw Ohio State back into coaching search mode. Day didn’t discuss O’Brien’s reported candidacy at Boston College and said that O’Brien was in Columbus working on Wednesday.
However, if Ohio State does have to find a replacement, Day said he will have contingency plans.
“It’s not just one of those situations where you take out one guy, put another in and move on. It doesn’t work that way,” Day said. “But yes, we talked to different people, so we will have contingency plans. Hopefully we don’t have to go down that road, but if we do we’ll adapt.”
Feldman’s candidates to replace Jeff Hafley at Boston College
If O’Brien stays, then Day is confident he has the right person to lead the offense back to its explosive and consistent form.
“I wasn’t going to just make this decision and say we’re going in this direction and throw somebody into the role,” Day said. “After spending a lot of time with it, I thought Bill was the right guy at that time.”
Part of Day’s choice to get O’Brien was the understanding that he would be a good play caller.
Day is a football guy at heart. He loves the schematics of the sport and calling plays. But as the sport evolves with nonstop recruiting, the transfer portal and even fundraising appearances as the NIL landscape continues to grow and change, Day knew it was time to give someone else the play-calling reins.
“I know it has to happen,” Day said. “Do I want to? No, I don’t. I love calling plays, but I’m getting pulled out and I’m not, on a Wednesday night, thinking about what to call on third-and-4 on the 20-yard line in the third quarter of a game. That takes a lot of work, and I know my energy and time needs to be in other areas.”
O’Brien brings experience in that aspect, though he won’t bring a completely new offense. It would be Day’s offense, run by O’Brien. One of the positives of doing that is that if O’Brien does go to Boston College, the Buckeyes won’t have to adjust schemes on the fly.
“We’re not all of a sudden going to change what we do,” Day said. “I think that’s important too because you never know when a coordinator is going to be here or when he will leave.”
Ohio State is still hard at work getting O’Brien adjusted to the offense. But if he does go to Boston College, Day will be ready to move back into a search.
How will QB reps be divided?
Day didn’t hesitate to improve the quarterback room this offseason
After starter Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse, he added Kansas State transfer Will Howard to compete for the starting job, and then, in a surprise move when Nick Saban retired, added freshman Alabama transfer Julian Sayin, the No. 3 quarterback in the 2024 class, per the 247Sports Composite.
That move came with a discussion with the other quarterbacks.
“That’s something I try to do a thorough job of, is communicating when we are doing something like that,” Day said. “I try to share my thoughts on why, and for the most part guys embrace it. There’s times where they don’t like it, but I feel like it’s important for me to communicate it the best I can.”
What does Will Howard bring to Ohio State? Breaking down his strengths and weaknesses
In addition to adding Howard and Sayin in January, Ohio State signed five-star freshman Air Noland in December and brings back Devin Brown, who started the Cotton Bowl, and Lincoln Kienholz, who relieved the injured Brown in that loss.
When he met with reporters last week, Howard said the quarterbacks are getting along well. Day said the same on Wednesday. But the question isn’t always about personalities meshing; it’s also about how Ohio State will divide reps.
On one hand, Ohio State needs to get Howard up to speed with the offense as fast as possible, and that means more reps for him. Day said it’s not a specific percentage he needs, but a number per practice.
Beyond Howard, Ohio State still has to evaluate the rest of the group. It’s highly unlikely that Ohio State goes into the season with five scholarship quarterbacks, and thus it needs to closely evaluate each player this spring before the next transfer portal window opens.
Doing that with limited practice time may be tough, but Day said it’s a challenge the program is embracing.
“We are going to try and get as many reps as we possibly can of team reps and 7-on-7 reps,” Day said. “We need to get the guys as many reps as we can. … When you have the quarterback room we have, you’re going to need a lot of team reps to make sure we’re developing these guys and they’re learning the offense.”
Last year, when McCord and Brown were competing for the starting role, the team split the field and starters to get both players similar time. Ohio State could do the same, especially with its added depth after returning nearly its entire junior class.
That would give coaches more time to watch everybody and make decisions after the spring.
One thing is obvious: The move to get Sayin wasn’t a decision that the team took lightly. But it’s one that will make Ohio State better.
Untangling college football’s web of offseason transfer QB movement
Who will fill Ohio State’s final coaching slot?
Beyond the O’Brien uncertainty, the Buckeyes have one position coach opening after they moved on from special teams coordinator Parker Fleming.
Day said the team hasn’t made a decision about where it wants to go with the final spot yet.
There have been plenty of discussions inside the program about whether they need to hire a special teams coordinator or add another defensive position coach. There’s an option to move graduate assistant — and former All-American linebacker — James Laurinaitis to the full-time linebackers coach and let Jim Knowles just be the defensive coordinator. There’s also the possibility that Ohio State will add an assistant defensive line coach to help Larry Johnson and also provide a clearer succession plan when he retires. That would help against opponents recruiting against Ohio State by claiming that it doesn’t have a defensive line coach for the future.
Regardless of what the position is, Day said a decision could be made in the next week.
“We have some flexibility and can go in a couple different directions,” Day said.
If Ohio State adds a defensive assistant, it could coach special teams by committee. Day mentioned he would be able to help out, especially after giving up offensive play-calling duties. New safeties coach Matt Guerrieri can also help with special teams.
“In terms of his help on special teams, we’re going to see how big that is, but I feel like Matt is a great teacher,” Day said. “He’s very intelligent, he’s been a coordinator before so we’ll see based on how that 10th position shakes out.”
What’s next for Ohio State recruiting after 5-star Na’eem Offord? What to watch for 2025
Ohio State wraps up 2024 class
Wednesday was signing day, and though most of Ohio State’s 2024 class was signed in December, the Buckeyes did add one player: defensive lineman Dominic Kirk. The four-star prospect from Painesville, Ohio, was committed to Washington but flipped his commitment after the Kalen DeBoer took the Alabama job.
Kirk, who is the No. 24 defensive lineman in the country and No., 8 player in Ohio in the 247Sports Composite, is an important signing for the Buckeyes, who needed to add numbers up front. Before Kirk, Ohio State had just two defensive linemen in the class.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) February 7, 2024
He fills a major need for the Buckeyes and will be on campus in the summer.
“We felt like with injuries and things it was late, but we saw somebody with a lot of talent,” Day said. “I think when Dom came down he was quick to see that this is what he wanted. He wanted to be a Buckeye, he’s from Ohio, understands the rivalry and knows he’s going to have to come in work and compete.”
(Top photo: Nick Tre. Smith / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)