What Do Head Coaches Miss Most About Being Assistants?

Ryan Day Ohio State Football Buckeyes

To say that Ryan Day got his feet wet last season doesn’t tell the entire story of just how deep the water actually was.

Day was the Ohio State head coach through fall camp and for the first three games last year, trying to hold serve for an Urban Meyer team that had national title hopes. The Buckeyes went 3-0 with Day at the helm, winning all three games by double digits.

When those three games were over, Day then moved back to his customary role as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

The job would become entirely his a few months later.

As Day said back during his introductory press conference, becoming a head coach at Ohio State is why coaches put whistles around their necks.

Day had reached his goal, as have plenty of other head coaches.

The funny thing is that as each of these coaches achieves his dream, there are always significant aspects of being an assistant coach that they miss.

Day didn’t really have too much time last year to miss being an assistant coach because he was still involved with the quarterbacks and he was still a coordinator.

This year, however, he has been replaced as quarterbacks coach. His life is different, and while he has now reached the pinnacle, he will find some things that weren’t so bad lower on the mountain.

In fact, he kind of already knows what he is going to miss most about being an assistant coach.

“Probably just being able to go home and relax a little bit and know that you coach a few guys and have to recruit a few guys and that is kind of at the end of the day what you got,” he said. “Now there is a lot more that goes with it, a lot more consequences. You play the what-if game a little more. Other than that, I am embracing it.”

Day’s answer isn’t that unusual, and he wasn’t the only Big Ten head coach to admit it last week at B1G Media Days.

But there were other answers as well.

“I miss the relationships with the players,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost. “I miss being in a position meeting room, looking in their eyes and developing that close bond. As a head coach, you’re a CEO, you’re overseeing things. You don’t get to spend as much one-on-one time with the players. That was a lot of fun as an assistant.”

For the Ohio State quarterbacks, that role now falls to new position coach Mike Yurcich. It will be up to Day to find time to get into as many of those rooms as possible, which isn’t all that easy when you become a head coach.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio misses those meetings as well.

“I think that when I was an assistant coach, you got a little bit closer to the players in your group,” Dantonio said. “When I was a coordinator, to those 35 players. When I was a position coach, to those 12-15 players. The day-to-day relationships. As a head coach, I still have the day-to-day relationships, but I’m more of the principal at the high school walking down the hall seeing how people are doing and, ‘Hey, pick up that chewing gum.’”

Being in charge of those halls is a ton of responsibility, which is why when Dantonio was asked what he missed most, he smiled and initially said the lack of responsibility.

But this is a very real thing and a very big step.

And it’s one that Indiana’s Tom Allen understands completely.

“I missed being able to just walk away from certain things because not everything was something I had to worry about,” he said. “Now you can’t walk away from anything. That part I do miss. It’s 24/7, 365 constant. That’s part of it, I embrace it, I understand that. But there is no doubt that when you get put in this position, your life changes. So I do miss that, but I stayed in the role. There’s a lot of great things with being a head coach too. Like anything else, there’s pros and cons to everything. But I definitely miss the lack of pressure with everything.”

Ironically, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck said he missed coaching most when he become a head coach.

“Our profession’s crazy. As an assistant coach, 95% of your job is coaching,” he said. “Once in a while you’re going to have this type of meeting or once in a while you’re going to have this personnel meeting, but you’re literally coaching and you’re going to have your group of 10 guys or whatever it is. When you become a head coach, 95% of your job has nothing to do with the coaching part, and it’s crazy.

“I think that’s the hardest thing – being in that closed position meeting with just your guys. You can do that as a head coach, but I consider that micro-managing and stepping on an assistant coach’s toes at times. I want my coaches to coach, work, build relationships, and run their rooms.”

There are ways to fill some of the voids for head coaches. One is probably with a nicer car and a nicer house.

But most head coaches also find themselves slinking back into the meeting rooms with players because that’s where their roots began.

“I go back in the room,” Dantonio said. “I go back into the offensive staff room to some extent. But mainly I go back into the defensive staff room. I sit in on player meetings with our coaches, especially the quarterback meeting because I think that you get a pretty good landscape of everything that’s going on in that meeting. I try to re-energize myself by getting around the players.”

Frost tries to have interactions with his players every day, regardless of position. This is something that Ryan Day did last year as well during camp.

Almost every head coach looks back in fondness at being an assistant coach, which makes sense because if they weren’t having a good time, chances are they weren’t a very good coach.

Ryan Day has already proven himself a success as an assistant coach, but now as he forges on as Ohio State’s head coach, he is prepared to miss some aspects of his old life.

After all, that’s why he put a whistle around his neck in the first place.

3 Responses

  1. …and looking at the assistant coach salaries – if you can’t be a Ryan Day and start at the top – why go at all?

  2. would probably be an interesting point for a podcast:

    Ryan Day has the experience as an assistant and as an offensive coordinator (albeit for 2 years at Ohio state as a coordinator and 3 years at Boston College).
    but he’s hot name for his offensive mind and he was more “hands on” with recently.
    Urban Meyer, as big of a legend as he is, was a WR coach at Notredame, Colorado State and Illinois State but was never a coordinator. He gets credited with offensive innovation, but he more or less adapted and enhanced a Rich Rodriguez innovation and vision of the spread offense.

    after the long introduction, here comes some interesting question:
    1- does Ryan Day project to having better X’s and O’s edge than Meyer given that he was an offensive coordinator at some point and was more hands on recently?
    2- as Day becomes more of a CEO and with time, will he slowly lose his edge on the X’s and Os and be stuck with the way things “worked” at a certain point (like Meyer did towards the end of his Ohio state tenure) or will he be more like Saban and Dabo (adapting to times or at least getting people in the know).

  3. Really great and interesting article. Reading this, you can see why head coaching isn’t for everyone. I think of a guy like Larry Johnson, one of the best coaches in college football who probably could have taken dozens of HC jobs. Makes sense that some remain assistants not because they can’t be a good head coach but because they already do what they love and don’t want the extra money for doing things they don’t.

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