It’s natural that Tuesday morning’s report of Urban Meyer’s retirement as Ohio State’s football coach might have brightened the day for fans at rival Big Ten schools.
It’s expected that folks who cheer for Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and other league schools see a new window of opportunity opening.
Then there’s Michigan. In “The Mitten” — or at least the Maize and Blue part of it — the presumption likely will be that said window will look more like a double sliding glass door left wide open for the Wolverines.
All of that is perfectly understandable. It’s easy to think: “It’s Michigan’s turn now.”
Perhaps. But Jim Harbaugh and company will have to prove it.
At this point, Ohio State is such a brand name that the Buckeyes never stay down for long. They might stumble for a season or two from time to time (“stumble” meaning 8-4) but that’s it. Michigan is much the same way, as is Penn State in the B1G. Scandals, fired coaches, losing seasons — bad things happen to slow down megapowers, but these kinds of programs find a way to bounce back.
OSU has missed out on a bowl just four times since 1972. One of those times, in Meyer’s 2012 debut season, the Buckeyes went 12-0 but missed the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.
So Ryan Day will take over as Ohio State’s coach, with reports Tuesday indicating that he has agreed to a five-year deal. Good thing the school gave him a big bump in pay less than a year ago, no?
Time will tell if Day’s record is as good as Meyer’s as OSU coach. Frankly, it will be an extremely difficult task. Meyer was 82-9 (a .901 winning percentage) in seven seasons, with the Rose Bowl pending.
But in a lot of other ways the timing of this announcement lends credence to the notion that the Buckeyes are still kings of the B1G mountain until somebody proves otherwise.
Day has worked under Meyer but he spent more time as a disciple of Chip Kelly. Anybody who wants a offensive-minded coach wants a guy who has coached under either Meyer or Kelly. Day brings both pedigrees to the full-time Buckeyes job.
Apart from his background, Day give OSU something perhaps more valuable: A clean slate.
For starters, recruiting is cut-throat. Coaches say things about each other behind each other’s backs that nobody wants to admit. Oh, that coach? He’s old. His health is wonky. Half his staff departed. He had a losing record last year. His boosters secretly hate him. He wears ugly ties.
Coaches can and do say anything to get that 18-year-old kid sitting in front of them to go to his school rather than that other coach’s school.
And Meyer, for all his success on the field, gave plenty of ammunition to rival coaches on the recruiting trail in the past 12 months.
His health concerns and the way he handled the Zach Smith case are a 1-2 punch that is enough to make any recruit think twice about going to Ohio State no matter how much the Buckeyes win or how many kids they send to the NFL.
What will rival coaches say about Ryan Day? That he’s young? That his three wins this year as interim coach came against two patsies and a TCU team which finished 6-6? That he hasn’t been at the helm of a major program before?
Yes, those things are true. But the same could have been said of Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma has not missed a beat. The same could have been said of Dabo Swinney a few years ago and he turned Clemson into a juggernaut. The same could have been said of Kirby Smart, and if the past two years have proven anything it’s that Georgia has become Alabama’s biggest threat in the SEC.
There’s one other thing to consider: Jim Harbaugh is still 0-4 against Ohio State as Wolverines coach. Those losses all came against Meyer but it’s not Meyer that Harbaugh has to beat now. It’s the Buckeyes. And that 0-for will hang over him for another 11 months. It will still hang over him during recruiting.
So there is every reason to think that the Buckeyes will be fine with Day in charge. Tuesday might be a happy day for all of OSU’s rivals, especially for Michigan.
But true happiness — i.e. knocking OSU off its B1G perch — will have to wait at least until next season.