It’s Sunday, November 27 and Buckeye fans around the country are waking up to the reality that Ohio St. has lost to That Team Up North for the second year in a row. 45 to 23. A 22 point beat down in Columbus. Fans immediately take to social media to vent their levels of frustration. I saw multiple people calling for Ryan Day’s job. Really? I know losing to the Wolverines hurts, but are fans that short sighted to call for his job? Next came the comparison to former Ohio St. coach John Cooper. This got the wheels turning in my head. How comparable is Ryan Day to John Cooper in their first four years as the Ohio State Head Coach?
The Coaches of The Ohio State Buckeyes
Before anything else, I need to say that I like Ryan Day as the head coach of Ohio St. I think the transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day has been fairly smooth. I also really respect the work his foundation has done helping the mental health community, especially the work with youth mental health. But when you are the head coach at Ohio State, the lore of previous head coaches follows you. These coaches talked about with respect and admiration at booster events, tailgates and amongst Buckeye fans nationwide. Most fans will start with the legend Woody Hayes, but it’s Hall of Fame Coach Paul Brown that delivered the Buckeyes first National Title. But from Woody Hayes, it transitions Earl Bruce. After him, it’s John Cooper, who is probably the most criticized head coach in Ohio State History. Jim Tressel and his stylish sweater vest was brought in to restore the program and lead the Buckeyes to glory. When Tressel was gone, it was an interim Luke Fickell, who has grown into a great head coach in his own right but wasn’t ready for the job in 2011. Then it was Urban Meyer returning home to take Ohio State into the next level. In 2019, Urban turned the job over to Ryan Day. It’s a daunting task, because each of these head coaches will have fans reminiscing about great wins or championships.
So why is Ryan Day all the sudden being compared to John Cooper. Most fans will immediately point to the fact that neither of these men were from the state of Ohio. Some fans will scream that without being from Ohio, that you just don’t “get” it. Talk to anyone who moves to Ohio and spends a year or two there. They understand the rabid loyalty fans have to their sports teams and the meaningfulness of specific games. Whether it’s Ohio State vs. TTUN or the Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers, the rivalries are well known and respected.
The second comparison is the fact that Ryan Day has now lost two straight to the Wolverines. John Cooper was well known for having great teams but struggling to beat the Wolverines in November. This rivalry is extremely important and is Ohio State’s number 1 goal each and every year. To make matters worse for Coach Day, he follows Urban Meyer, who never lost to the Wolverines and Jim Tressel, who was 9-1 in The Game. It slowly becomes a level of expectations that are almost impossible to reach. It makes Ryan Day an easy target for the hot takes from media members who don’t look at the facts.
So how does Ryan Day actually compare in his first four years to John Cooper? Since taking over the job in 2019, Ryan Day is 42-5. John Cooper became the head coach in 1988, and promptly lost 6 games in his first season. John Cooper was 27-18-2 in his first four seasons. With Coach Day, Ohio State has played the Wolverines three times (One mysterious cancellation in 2020) and is 1-2. John Cooper started off 0-4 vs the TTUN. Cooper tied them in 1991, but does not get his first win until 1994.
John Cooper was a great recruiter, bringing in players like Joey Galloway, Robert Smith, Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Terry Glenn, Shawn Springs and Mike Vrabel. Ryan Day has shown to be an elite recruiter himself as he has delivered multiple top recruiting classes. His recruits have yet to have full NFL careers, but routinely Buckeyes are being selected in the first and second round of the NFL Draft. With all this talent, there will be questions on whether or not the coaching staff is able to maximize the talent. Offensively, the answer has been a fairly resounding yes. It’s the defensive side of the football that will lead to many questions. Ohio State was once known as DBU under Urban Meyer. That is not the current situation in Columbus, but could be once again as Jim Knowles sets his defense for year 2.
No. Ryan Day is not the second coming of John Cooper. Is he the same as Urban Meyer or Jim Tressel? No, he’s not in that category either. The better comparison is probably Earle Bruce. Coach Bruce was 38-10 in his first four years at Ohio State. He did start off 3-1 vs. the Wolverines. But if the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor in 2023 and return home with a victory, Day moves to 2-2 and a lot of the conversation ends over whether he is on the hot seat.
When firing a coach from a program like Ohio State, the grass is not always greener. The Buckeyes cannot be of the mindset that a huge slip won’t happen to them. Take a look at these three once great teams. Texas has lost 50 games, an average of 5 losses a year, since moving on from Mack Brown in 2013. Since Pete Carroll left USC in 2009, USC has lost 54 games prior to Lincoln Riley. And since Urban has left Florida in 2010, the Gators have lost 58 games including this season. The morale of these stories, if Ohio State wants to move on from Ryan Day after the 2023 season, they better have a transitional to keep the level of success at an acceptable level for the Buckeye fanbase.
In the end, it sucks losing to That Team Up North. It sucks even more that they won the game in the Shoe. It sucks even more that they now have an additional 365 days to rub it in Buckeye fans faces that they won The Game. But if Ryan Day is going to be the coach, we know he can be, the preparation for that game starts now. Just as Jim Tressel said on January 18th 2001, “You’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor Michigan on the football field.” Ryan Day needs to channel that to ensure that Buckeye Nation is proud of it’s football team on November 25th 2023.