- Very few first-time head coaches have ever been set up to hit the ground running the way Ryan Day is at Ohio State. One of them is Lincoln Riley, whose Oklahoma program's improvement after Bob Stoops has laid out a path forward for the Buckeyes after Urban Meyer's retirement. Plus, Auburn's new offensive coordinator, leftovers from the Heisman Trophy ceremony, the best throwback uniforms and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
NEW YORK — When Lincoln Riley and his wife Caitlin accompanied Baker Mayfield to the 2016 Heisman Trophy ceremony following Riley’s second season as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, Carol Stoops—wife of then Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops—told the Rileys to savor the moment because they don’t come along often.
On Saturday, the Rileys were back in the Big Apple for the third consecutive season. Mayfield finished third behind Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson that first year. He won the Heisman last year, and current Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won it this year. Meanwhile, Riley is two seasons into his tenure as Oklahoma’s head coach with two Big 12 titles and two College Football Playoff berths. Riley replaced a legend who was still winning at a high level, but he’d managed to improve the program anyway.
The offensive coordinator who coached the player who finished third this year is about to follow a similar path. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins earned a trip to New York piloting the offense run by coordinator Ryan Day, who already has taken the helm of the Buckeyes’ program in some aspects and who will take over in all aspects when Ohio State coach Urban Meyer retires following the Rose Bowl against Washington on Jan. 1.
Will Day be making multiple trips to New York and multiple trips to the playoff, too? He certainly might. Perhaps the only other coach this century who took over a program this well-positioned for success was Riley. Though the circumstances were different, Meyer and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith used practically the same playbook Stoops and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione used to hand off the Sooners’ program to Riley. The result in Norman was uninterrupted success, and all signs point to a similar level of enhanced continuity in Columbus.
Haskins, the redshirt sophomore quarterback, wasn’t surprised when Meyer stepped down. Murray and the Sooners, meanwhile, were blindsided in June 2017 when Stoops retired. Murray was in New England for the Cape Cod League when he saw a breaking news story about Stoops. Moments later, a message popped up on his phone summoning the Sooners to a team meeting. “Everybody else found out before we found out,” Murray cracked. But once the Sooners realized Riley would take over, they relaxed. “He’s just one of those people who was born to do what they’re doing,” Murray said. “The team obviously trusts Coach Riley.”
Haskins feels the same way about Day. “He reminds me a lot of [Los Angeles Rams coach] Sean McVay just as far as his recall of plays and being able to tell you protections and coverages,” Haskins said. “It’s just his personality. People like being around him, and he’s got a great mind.” So Haskins, who must decide after the Rose Bowl whether he’ll return to Ohio State or go to the NFL, was delighted when he learned Day would be the guy to replace Meyer and that Day wouldn’t be making any extreme changes. “A lot of people sat down with Coach Day and Coach Meyer, and Coach Meyer voiced that the program is not going to change,” Haskins said. “A lot of people are going to be there who were there before. Coach Mick is not going to leave.”
“Coach Mick” is strength coach Mickey Marotti, who might be the most important of all of Meyer’s lieutenants. Marotti spends more time around the players than any other coach, and he more than anyone dictates the tone of the player experience at Ohio State. “He’s the heart and soul of the program,” Haskins said. “He makes the train go.”
This type of steadiness is what Ohio State AD Smith was aiming for when he selected Day to replace Meyer. “Our program does not need disruption,” Smith said at the press conference last week announcing Meyer’s retirement and Day’s promotion. “It does not need to blow up and have people come in and try and adapt to our standards of operation and try and change the infrastructure that we’ve put in place for the student-athlete.”
This is the opposite of when Meyer left Florida following the 2010 season. Meyer himself said the program was “broke a little bit right now.” Ironically, Marotti also stayed on then to help provide continuity. But the Gators’ recruiting had slipped on offense—it had remained quite good on defense—and new hire Will Muschamp wanted massive scheme changes on offense that didn’t match the skill sets of most of the existing players. This time, Meyer made sure there was no incentive to blow up the program because it was running so smoothly.
While Riley kept his on-field staff intact and went to work quickly reshaping the recruiting department following his promotion at Oklahoma, don’t expect Day to change as much in that part of the office. When Riley hired former Oklahoma track athlete Annie Hanson away from North Carolina to be Oklahoma’s executive director of recruiting, he did so with the hope that Hanson can create a machine as efficient as the one Ohio State player personnel director Mark Pantoni already runs.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Day’s on-field staff. Last week, receivers coach Brian Hartline had the interim tag removed, to the great relief of Ohio State’s offensive players. On defense, co-coordinator Alex Grinch was hired last year based on the expectation that coordinator Greg Schiano would get a head-coaching job. Schiano got the Tennessee job and then had it taken away, leaving Ohio State with essentially two coordinators. Either man can run his own show, and here is where Riley’s path may cross with Day’s. Grinch may be a candidate for the defensive coordinator job at Oklahoma that opened when Riley fired Mike Stoops following a loss to Texas in October.
But Riley has work to do before he can worry about naming a new coordinator. He has to sign his next recruiting class and prepare for an Orange Bowl matchup with Alabama. But that doesn’t mean he can’t take a minute to answer a question about what advice he’d give to Day, the only coach in recent memory to inherit a similar situation.
And it is great advice.
“Just to be himself,” Riley said. “You get in that deal and you’ve got a legendary coach there that you can lean on for advice at any point you want, and you need to take advantage of that. You’ve got a great program that’s had a lot of success, but there’s a reason why they hired you. They believe in you. You take all the good advice you can get from people, and use all the resources, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to trust your gut and do what you think is best. That’s the best advice I got from Bob.”
Meyer probably has said something similar to Day, who has the opportunity hit the ground sprinting in Columbus just as Riley did in Norman.
A Random Ranking
This week, we’ll rank the top five throwback uniforms that need to become permanent uniforms.
1. Miami Dolphins
I firmly believe the Phins’ choice to wear these perfect 80s-inspired uniforms allowed them to do this to beat the Patriots…
2. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pitt will break these out every once in a while and then go back to the lame gold-and-navy uniforms of more recent vintage. I’m sure the school paid some branding expert a ton to create a color palette that makes the uniforms hideous in comparison to the awesome ones the Panthers used to wear. Here’s some free advice: Just do the thing everybody likes and stick to the throwbacks.
3. Orlando Magic
If they were good enough for Shaq and Penny, they’re good enough for Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams will debut new uniforms in 2020 when they move into their new stadium. They shouldn’t, though. Just keep wearing the blue-and-yellow classics their fans actually want.
5. Texas Tech
The unis the Red Raiders wore at TCU this past season are the only ones they should ever wear on the road.
Big Ugly Of The Week
We’ve honored multiple players before in this section, but not in this particular way. When we recognize five, it’s usually an entire offensive line. This time, it’s five big guys who at some point found the football in their hands.
Your winners this week are the five finalists for the Piesman Trophy. The winner will be announced Monday afternoon, but any big guy who moves with the ball like these dudes is a winner in our book.
Garrett Marino, DE, UAB
Kyle Phillips, DE, Tennessee
Sam Brincks, DE, Iowa
Darrius Montgomery, DT, Incarnate Word
Louis Vecchio, DE, Vanderbilt
Three And Out
1. SI’s Ross Dellenger examined Liberty’s hire of former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, a decision that disappointed the fan bases of several SEC schools that were looking for offensive coordinators.
2. No, Ryan Gosling didn’t crash the USC football offices to research a role. That’s new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury on the job for the Trojans.
What’s Eating Andy?
How do I know I’m old? I had already caught up on The Good Place and passed out Sunday when Auburn announced its long-awaited offensive coordinator hire at 10 p.m. central time.
After weeks of speculation, the Tigers decided on 29-year-old Kenny Dillingham of Memphis, which means Memphis coach Mike Norvell must fire up the assistant coach generator just as he did after losing Chip Long to Notre Dame and Darrell Dickey to Texas A&M.
The biggest takeaway, of course, is Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s official return to playcalling.
I say “official” because the line in the press release about Malzahn calling plays his first three years at Auburn drew snickers. Malzahn and playcalling have had a complicated relationship the past few years. Perhaps this decision will end any ambiguity.
What’s Andy Eating?
The folks behind Bolivian Llama Party want you to know that a salteña is not an empanada. It may look like an empanada to the untrained eye. It may feature meat baked into a pastry shell like an empanada. But if you stumble down into the food court inside the Columbus Circle subway station in New York, you’ll be bombarded with reminders that it is an insult to the salteña to compare it to the empanada.
For one thing, the meat in the empanada is pretty solid. The meat mixture in the salteña is not. If you order the Beni (beef) salteña, you’ll get some sound advice from the friendly Bolivian Llama Party employee behind the counter. “Get a spoon,” she’ll say. “And at least six napkins.”
The filling in the beef salteña is more of a stew, but not in the Dinty Moore sense you might be thinking. It’s thicker and sweeter, and the texture and sweetness blend beautifully with the salty, savory beef. And the shell does taste more like a pastry than an empanada shell. It’s not doughnut soft or sweet. It’s more like the top crust of a good chicken pot pie, instead of just resting on top it completely surrounds all that glorious filling.
Instead of getting a second salteña (which wouldn’t be a bad idea either), go further north in South America by going next door to Arepa Factory for a taste of Venezuela. Order the Pabellon, which combines shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains and a chunk of guayanes cheese. You’ll have to decide whether you want the arepa—a folded corn-bread pocket similar to what Southerners call a hoe cake—or a cachapa, which is a sweeter version of the arepa. If you’re also eating a saltena, I’d suggest the arepa. The saltena dough is the better sweet option, and the arepa provides a more main course feel.
Add a drink and that combination will still run you less than $20. If you try to find a lunch you’ll dream about above ground in that neighborhood, you’ll probably spend twice as much. So take the stairs down and walk into a little slice of South America in a subway station.