Ryan Day has a 9-0 record as the head coach at Ohio State, but head coaches don’t win games on their own. It takes a talented roster and dedicated assistant coaches, players, and support staff to get the job done.
That being said, a head coach can make quite a difference.
There are any number of tried and true methods for how a head coach goes about his business, but ultimately each of them needs to find his own method.
Ryan Day is settled in now at OSU and hasn’t looked like a new coach since September of 2018. Building his own staff in the offseason, however, has been a new experience.
It says quite a bit about Day that he was able to land the assistant coaches that he did, and none of them are regretting the move.
“He’s tremendous. He’s tremendous,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said after the win over Nebraska. “He’s so experienced for just being a head coach. You come in every day and you want to … as long as I’ve coached, when you run into guys like this, you come in and say, ‘I just want to do a great job for him,’ because he’s doing a great job for everybody else. I mean, that’s really what he is. You say to yourself, ‘Man, this guy is really something.’ Every day he comes in and says, ‘Here’s what I want done, and here’s what we’ve got to do.’ And this is what we do.”
Mattison is one of the most respected defensive coaches in football and has spent time coaching under Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, as well as a stint in the NFL. Also spending time in the NFL was Jeff Hafley, who is Day’s other co-defensive coordinator.
Day and Hafley worked together with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, but go back before even then, all the way to working camps as college coaches in the Northeast.
When Day called him up to talk to him about this Ohio State job, it wasn’t an overly difficult decision for somebody who was looking to get back into the college game. Now that he’s in Columbus he’s having fun, and that’s because of Day’s approach to his assistant coaches.
“I’ve had fun in the past, don’t get me wrong I mean,” Hafley said recently. “I really didn’t have a lot of fun when we were losing a lot of games. But I think it all starts with Ryan. I think he lets you coach. He really lets you coach. He doesn’t often tell you exactly what to do. He’ll guide you. He’ll give you suggestions. He’ll give you ideas, but he lets you do your job. And to any assistant, that’s probably one of the most important things.”
There’s more than just the freedom to coach that Day provides. As a husband and father with young children, Day also provides the freedom for his coaches to be dads and husbands to their own families.
“The other thing he does, which a lot of people probably don’t even realize, he respects our family and our time so much. And in this business, that’s very rare to have a head coach who truly respects that,” Hafley said.
“And what do I mean by that? You guys could see my daughters running up and down the hall anytime you want. My wife can come in here and feel comfortable anytime she wants. So what that does for me is that just makes this job so much better, and so much more fun that he involves my family, and that it feels comfortable to come to work every day.
“Look at the way he treats our players. He’s tough on them, but he does love them. And that’s just not taught — that’s who he is. And when you do that, and you have a culture, staff, and players that’s built like that, I just think guys enjoy being in this building right now. And I think that’s why they’re playing hard and fast. And they’re confident and they’re doing it together.”
It’s easy enough to be happy with a job when things are going well. It can, of course, get uncomfortable when things take a turn for the worse. As long as the head coach stays the same person regardless of the situation, however, then the message always remains clear.
“He’s who you want to work with,” Mattison said of Day. “When you look at this profession, you want to work with guys that have great character. That care about players more than anything. That are very, very genuine. They’re not egotistical. They’re looking at being the best football coach that they can be. And the best person, the best father, the best husband. To me, that’s as good as it gets. And that’s what he is. And I think everybody sees that who has the opportunity to work with him.”