It's hard to balance the disappointment of playing poorly in the national championship game with looking at the big picture and recognizing how impressive the accomplishments of the season were when you're in the heat of the moment. In fact, it's probably impossible.
But for as frustrating as the defensive performance was in that final game of the year (and the pass defense for most of the season), the Buckeyes are a long way from being broken.
Ryan Day spoke before the season started about how the expectations at Ohio State are almost unachievably high. The Buckeyes program is expected to be a national title contender every year. It's extremely difficult to get to that level, but it's even harder to stay there.
And yet, the program has never been healthier. Between the end of Urban Meyer's tenure and the beginning of Ryan Day's, the Buckeyes have won four consecutive Big Ten championships, they've had the Big Ten's offensive player of the year six of the last nine seasons, they've played in four of the first seven College Football Playoff tournaments and won one national championship, and they're recruiting at the highest level they've ever done. If they land J.T. Tuimoloau (as they are favored to do), they will sign the highest-rated class in the history of the program.
As Ryan Day reiterated on Wednesday morning, there's no reason to panic.
So it comes as no surprise that Day is continuing to trust those whom he is closest to - the coaches that have been on staff with him and with whom he's worked on a daily basis. Day could have brought in any coach in the country to address the needs left behind by Greg Mattison's retirement, but he wasn't interested in a splashy hire. Instead, Day promoted Parker Fleming to special teams coach and Matt Barnes to secondary coach.
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“Promoting from within is something that I believe strongly in, and I believe that it’s an opportunity for these guys to really be part of our program for a long time and keep some continuity,” Day said during his news conference on Wednesday. “Just looking back at last year, there were a lot of great things we did in a tough spot. And I think that now that we have a whole year with a spring and a preseason, this is going to allow us the best chance to put our guys in position to be successful. Parker Fleming is somebody who knows what we do very, very well. He’s got the respect of the team and we think that’s a really good move there.”
Here's what Day had to say specifically about Fleming and why he was the right fit for the job.
Day made it clear on Wednesday that he values continuity and that he believes in what both Fleming and Barnes are capable of doing. It's an admirable strategy and one that often reflects well on leadership. The proof will be in the results though, and the Buckeyes clearly have work to do to improve upon their No. 122 pass defense ranking (out of 127 FBS teams last year).
What's particularly interesting about the decision to me is that it's in stark contrast with the way national power Alabama runs its program. Nick Saban is a hall of fame head coach and in the heart of the conversation as the greatest coach in college football history. Perhaps part of the reason why he's considered among the all-time greats it that his coaching staff has had incredible turnover, and yet the program sustains an extraordinarily high level of success.
Day has certainly looked outside the program to bring in coaches over his first two seasons. Some of those hires have worked out quite well, others haven't been a good fit. Mike Yurcich is a good example of that - a great coach who has become a hot commodity over the last few years as he's program-hopped around Power 5 schools, but he wasn't a great fit in Ohio State's culture. He reiterated how important that aspect is when he was asked if he would consider bringing in a defensive consultant or analyst to help shore up the issues in the back end of the defense.
“Taking a hard look at that, and seeing if there are some people around who would be the right fit,” Day said. “I think the big thing for us is it has to be the right fit culturally. It has to be the right personality and bring the right things to the table. So certainly looking at all those things, and over the next couple weeks, have an opportunity to bring some guys in and possibly talk about those types of things.”
When things go wrong, Day said the issues stem from one (or more) of three areas: personnel, scheme and coaching. He said Wednesday that he firmly believes the Buckeyes have the personnel they need to win a national championship and he's comfortable with the scheme they are running on defense.
That leaves coaching, and he made it clear he and his staff are committed to getting the best they possibly can out of the 2021 team, with the expectations of being back on the field for the final game of the season once again.
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