Ryan Day’s reputation for developing quarterbacks took a hit this season, so he’s determined to find an offensive leader for 2024 who is up to the task…and his standards.
Welcome back, ruthless Ryan Day.
Maybe it took three straight losses to the team that shall not be named to bring you out of hiding. And force you into those uncomfortable (sometimes unpopular) decisions CEOs must make. The kind that convince a starting quarterback to look for employment elsewhere.
The head coach who brought Justin Fields to Ohio State and ran off the rest from the quarterback room, the coach who admitted his hiring mistake with an early-season demotion of Kerry Coombs, and the coach who showed the wisdom to recruit C.J. Stroud when he already had Jack Miller, is back.
That’s the Ryan Day who made the difficult decisions that had to be made for the sake of the program and his livelihood. The decisions that proved he will do whatever it takes to win and that “whatever is best for Ohio State” isn’t just a thing you say.
However, decisions since then to make full-time assistants out of Corey Dennis (quarterbacks) and Parker Fleming (special teams) reverberate like nice-guy moves.
Day is a nice guy. He loves his players. He loves the program he was made custodian of. He loves to win. But you don’t show love to your players and steward your responsibilities well unless you are ruthless in your decision making. Not cruel, but ruthless in game-changing ways that don’t allow pity. You must tell them the truth, you must take responsibility and you must put the team first.
We were surprised Sunday when Day did not automatically anoint Kyle McCord his starter for next season. Suddenly, the head coach wasn’t completely committed to this season’s QB1. When does that ever happen after an 11-1 season and a good statistical showing?
I can’t recall that situation.
Maybe Day’s strategy, we might have surmised, was a psychological ploy to motivate McCord toward a high level of improvement in the offseason. But Day already knew Sunday what we didn’t. We figured it out Monday morning when McCord announced his decision to transfer.
McCord made the choice to leave. But Day’s obvious discussion with McCord to re-open the competition for next season made McCord want to leave. Of course, we don’t know the details, but it’s clear McCord left Day’s office with little hope of keeping the job.
Day’s decision about McCord just might prove to be a course correction. Day wouldn’t have taken this step if he didn’t think it was possible to upgrade the position.
From the first assessments at spring practice to the failed final drive at Michigan, the rear-view mirror tells us a lot about why Day is looking for a new quarterback. We noticed some of the reasons, weren’t always sure what to make of other moments, and kept thinking this: Ryan Day’s quarterbacks always excel. So give it time.
This is not a failure of Day to develop a good quarterback into a great one. I admired McCord for answering questions every week about his inconsistent play and taking heat from fans. But the final three games of the season finally proved to a lot of people that he’s not good enough to operate Day’s offense the way Day demands. And McCord knows in an open competition he was already in second place, so he did what he had to do.
The expectation to become the Ryan Day offense that starts fast every game, moves the football at will, and doesn’t put the defense in binds, never materialized. McCord played great at times, average at times and poorly at times.
Day’s play-calling and lack of past aggressive tendencies drew criticism. But it’s clear now those decisions were a product of who was taking the snaps. Everyone knows Day is a great play caller. We’ve seen him do it too many times to logically disagree.
Running Day’s offense full of NFL concepts is difficult. Quarterbacks want to play for Day because they know it will prep them for the NFL. C.J. Stroud is talented, but would he excel this quickly for the Houston Texans if had played anywhere else? Probably not.
Day’s roster of first-round quarterbacks spoiled him, which is a good thing. They read defenses better, they were consistently accurate, they finished drives. Day knows he needs a player like that again for Ohio State to win in late November and in the playoffs, and his assessment is that McCord’s acumen for such things is limited.
A meager defense cost the Buckeyes the past two seasons, but the lack of elite quarterback play this season dropped the Ohio State offense from the nation’s best to the very good. McCord’s departure is not a sign that he’s a bad quarterback. He’s a good quarterback who will land on his feet and probably win a lot of games at another school. But he’s not his immediate predecessors. He’s not even Joe Germaine or Bobby Hoying or Craig Krenzel.
Day’s challenge is to find that guy who lets him call the plays he wants to call because he sees the field better, has better footwork, and is more accurate. He might not find someone as accurate as Stroud. He might not find someone who can throw and run like Fields. But he is determined to upgrade the position whether it’s a transfer, Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz or incoming freshman Air Noland.
Day certainly has a plan and believes his next starter will be better than McCord. Because you don’t risk running off your best option.
We will see Brown and Kienholz make their first audition in the Cotton Bowl. Eventually, and maybe before the Cotton Bowl, the news will break of a transfer coming to Ohio State followed by the news of another Ohio State quarterback entering the portal.
And Ryan Day will get to see – and we will get to decide – if this ruthless decision is his best move yet.