Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was fond of saying that players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
In other words, before they are willing to put in the necessary work for a man they don’t know, they want to know they’re doing it for a coach who has their best interests at heart.
If a coach isn’t investing in his players, don’t expect the players to invest in the coach.
Urban Meyer had that kind of connection with his players and his replacement Ryan Day has gone about making sure he builds that same kind of relationship.
“I think it was mixed emotions,” middle linebacker and captain Tuf Borland said of Meyer’s retirement. “Obviously there are some unfortunate circumstances with Coach Meyer that are keeping him from coaching. We are going to miss him. He is a great coach. But at the same time, we are excited for Coach Day. He has an unbelievable ability to relate to players. We all love him.”
Day running the team during fall camp and for the first three games of the season helps the transition, as players know what to expect from him. Even after Meyer returned, however, he wasn’t some distant coach in a separate wing of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“I think the thing that stands out to me about Coach Day is I think he might not always be involved with the defense, sometimes we will see him off to the side watching,” Borland said. “He just tries to stay around and involved with the defensive guys as much as he can.”
When Ryan Day was named acting head coach in the summer, he went about making sure every player on the team knew he was invested in them. As an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, he was well known to the players on his side of the ball, but Day made it a point to get to know the defensive players just as well.
In fact, some would say he ended up spending more time with the defense than the offense.
“The three-week stretch, I think my relationship with him has grown,” defensive end Chase Young said. “Obviously, he was the offensive coordinator, so I didn’t really talk to him like that. But when Coach Meyer wasn’t here, he would just come to my locker and talk to me. That helped now that he’ll be our head coach.
“I like Coach Day. He’s real cool. He’s a player’s coach and I’m ready to get it rocking with him. I think he talked to more of the defensive guys during that period than offense just to get to know us. He was our head coach at the time. He had to get to know us.”
Young wasn’t alone. Day stopped at plenty of lockers, and when the news broke that he was taking over, he made sure to talk to the leaders on the team, even the guys on defense who wouldn’t be around next year.
“I think personally I’m excited to see him because I’ve actually talked to him a good amount,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “Just because I’m on defense doesn’t mean I don’t associate with him, I talk to Coach Day a lot. I think we have a pretty strong relationship, he actually talked to me as soon as the news got out to all of us. I’m proud of him, he’s going to be successful.”
This wasn’t just a one-month thing back in the summer, or a sudden change of heart since Day was named head coach. He was building relationships all year long.
“Honestly, he’s been talking to us pretty much all season,” said nose tackle Davon Hamilton. “Not about being a head coach, but he’s been a leader this whole time throughout this whole season. I’ve had conversations with him pretty much every day.”
A defensive player can go four or five years without knowing too much about an offensive coach, just as an offensive player can with a defensive coach. Day running things in fall camp got things going for him, but he kept on progressing and now his players no longer see him as just an offensive coach.
Instead, Ryan Day is now the head coach, and even the defensive guys are excited about it.
“Going through training camp with him, and then the first three games of the season, our relationship grew right there,” said defensive end Jonathon Cooper. “In those first couple of weeks that I got to know him, I just know that he’s a great guy and I know that he definitely is the right guy for the job.”