It’s the possibilities that keep coaches going. Either the possibilities of helping young people achieve their dreams, or the possibilities of working in a field you love, or the ever-present possibilities of winning a championship.
If there were no possibilities, there’d be no point.
As the head coach for the Ohio State football program, the possibilities are relatively endless for Ryan Day. Ohio State has the means and desire to make football a priority. If the program needs something in the way of equipment or facilities or staffing, it generally gets done.
When it comes to personnel on the field, however, that’s up to the coaches to make sure they manage the roster properly and never leave themselves with a gap in talent or experience. Keeping the roster where they like it has grown more difficult in the age of the transfer portal, but replacing departed players has also gotten easier.
The Buckeyes saw the benefit of going to the transfer portal for a quarterback the past two seasons with Justin Fields, who came from Georgia and leaves Ohio State as arguably the greatest quarterback in school history.
But there has been no attempt to do so prior to this season. At some point you have to rely on your recruiting and that’s where Day and his offensive staff are this year with redshirt freshman quarterbacks Jack Miller and CJ Stroud and true freshman Kyle McCord.
One of college football’s endearing qualities is the way it produces new stars every year. It’s the cutting edge of the sport and every game is a glimpse at the future of football. That’s where the Buckeyes are at quarterback right now and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of. At times.
“I think I get excited about that sometimes when I’m by myself in my office, but when I’m on the field and they’re going through growing pains, no, I’m not that excited about it because there’s a lot that comes with that,” Day said this spring.
It has been mentioned often, but this is the first time in many decades that the Buckeyes will start a season without a quarterback who has thrown a pass in a college game. Both CJ Stroud and Jack Miller played some snaps last year, but they weren’t doing any throwing by the time they were inserted into the fourth quarter of a blowout.
Generally, Buckeye quarterbacks have been permitted to make a few mistakes in an actual game before they are thrust into a starting role. But it’s not a prerequisite. JT Barrett played very well in 2014 without being on the field previously. But even a first-time starter like Justin Fields got to Ohio State having thrown the ball 39 times and run it 42 as a true freshman at Georgia.
Regardless of who takes over, there is still always a learning curve to get through.
“I’ll give Justin credit, when he got here, he learned very, very quickly. He didn’t have the same luxury that Dwayne [Haskins] had, that Joe [Burrow] had, that even JT had, where these guys were in the program for a while,” Day said. “I know Cardale [Jones] had it when he was here. And they kind of learned as they go. That’s not the case with these guys. They don’t have that luxury. They got to go. And the other hard part of that is they didn’t have a full year of development last year, and then Kyle just got here. So a lot of deep breaths, but they’re doing good. They’re grinding at it and they want to get better. They have the right attitude and I’m excited about all their futures.”
As those futures become the present, Day’s approach will be a mixture of patience and urgency. Making mistakes is the only way to learn, but then the quarterbacks have to actually learn from them and improve. If a player keeps failing the same test, however, then it starts messing with all of those grand possibilities that coaches love thinking about.
“You just have to take a deep breath because most of the time they’re making mistakes for the first time,” Day said. “And as much as I just want to jump down their throat, they’ve done it for the first time. They’ve never done that before. They’ve never physically seen a blitz off the edge and had to react that way. Now, if they see it again and they make the same mistake, now we have a problem. And so a lot of deep breaths.”