The hot seat and the Cooper seat: why UGA matters extra for Ryan Day
Life is not fair. Or logical. And coaching football at one of the game’s preeminent institutions of the sport can be almost cruel.
Take Ryan Day. 45-5. 31-2 in conference play. Reaches the College Football Playoff (and soon, we’ll have to say the 4-team version of same) twice in 4 seasons. But if the Buckeyes lose to Georgia in the Peach Bowl — particularly if the loss resembles the beatdown loss to Michigan — Day may go on the seat.
No, not the hot seat. Even at Ohio State, 45-6 is not firing-worthy.
The Cooper seat.
Ohio State sticks with its coaches. Since Woody Hayes took the job in February 1951, Ohio State has had 7 head coaches in 72 seasons — and one of those was a 1-year interim coach. But there is a tier in that group for the big winners — for Hayes, who dominated the OSU/Michigan rivalry and won 5 titles; for Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, neither of whom had Hayes’s staying power, but each of whom subdued Michigan and won a title. And there’s another tier for Earle Bruce and John Cooper. And Ryan Day has moments when he looks like Cooper 2.0.
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John Cooper went 111-43-4 at OSU. He led Ohio State to 5 10-win seasons in 6 years, back in the days of 11-game regular seasons and no B1G conference title game. Twice, his Ohio State teams finished the season ranked No. 2. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, and was generally understood to be one of the best coaches in the country during his time in Columbus.
Cooper went 2-10-1 against Michigan. He went 3-8 in bowl games, and again, good as OSU was in his tenure (and at one point, that was 3 of 4 years in the top 6 of the final AP poll), the Bucks didn’t win any title. Good coach, respected coach, but after 13 seasons, fired coach.
It could be a stretch to say that Day’s Buckeyes are beginning to look like Cooper’s Buckeyes. Presuming OSU finishes in the top 6 of the AP poll this year — which seems likely — that’ll be 4 of those finishes in Day’s 4 years as head coach in Columbus. Again, 45-5 is a great record in any league.
Day is now 1-2 against Michigan and became the first OSU coach to lose back-to-back games to the Wolverines since … John Cooper (1999-2000). Day is 2-2 in bowl games, so obviously, a loss to Georgia would drop him below .500 on that front. Urban Meyer went 5-2. Jim Tressel went 6-4.
In a million contexts, Ohio State fans and coaches will gladly admit that OSU isn’t like most programs. Unfortunately, that extends to performance expectations. 45-6 would get statues built and stadiums named at most P5 schools. 45-6 at Vanderbilt or Northwestern or even Nebraska or Penn State would have people dancing in the street.
But 45-6 — and particularly the kind of 45-6 that has a 23-point loss to Michigan, a 15-point loss to Michigan, and a 28-point loss to Alabama might not be good enough for everybody in Columbus. After 4 years, it’s probably just a few talk-radio yokels. But as John Cooper himself could testify, that sort of thinking can spread.
So Georgia/OSU might be a crossroads for Ryan Day. On one side, there’s the path of legends. And the other path … well, Ohio State and Day would just as soon not think about that other path.