Urban Meyer is retiring as Ohio State's head coach effective midnight on Jan. 1, and it will be Ryan Day's burden to carry the Buckeye Behemoth moving forward as Ohio State's next head coach -- but it didn't have to be.
Considering the program has had effectively zero prolonged down periods for going on half a century now, an argument can be made the Ohio State job is the best in college football. The resources, the ability to recruit locally and nationally, the alumni base spread out to every nook and cranny in the country, all of it combines to make Ohio State football essentially recession-proof.
Because of that, there would be no shortage of interested candidates to become Meyer's successor. You can start with natural fits like Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, Ohio natives that have been preparing to lead Ohio State or a program like it since birth. Then there's a guy like Bob Stoops, a future College Football Hall of Famer from Ohio. And this doesn't touch any of the other coaches who would crawl over broken glass for a shot at this job.
Instead, Ohio State handed the job to Ryan Day, a 39-year-old New Hampshire native who'd never worked in Ohio until Meyer hired him two years ago. When the clock hits 12:01 on Jan. 2, Day will become Ohio States's first, first-time head coach since 1946.
Excluding the reality that Meyer likely wouldn't have announced his retirement today without a lieutenant like Day to hand the program off to, Ohio State AD Gene Smith explained what convinced him Day was the guy.
"We recognized the talent that Ryan Day had early," Smith said. "I spent a great deal of time getting to know him. We actually met in my office in the summertime, spent some quality time getting to know one another. Then (I) got the opportunity to audition him in a different way. Not relative to winning on the field, but how he mastered leading not just the football staff but everyone else around it. This is complex place, and so having someone who will be able to continue the stability and consistency that we have was important to me."
Of course, there's a Grand Canyon sized difference from thinking in July, August and even September that "Yeah, this guy could be our head coach someday" and actually pushing a head coaching contract across the proverbial negotiating table in December.
Smith explained that second, okay-this-is-really-happening-and-it's-happening-right-now thought process.
"The story is, through the last month Urban and I began to talk about potential transition. We had deep conversations about that. While we were having those conversations I was looking at candidates across the country, trying to decide if I was going to go (with a) national search. And as I thought about those potential candidates -- some of them are very good, and some of them I know -- I felt more comfortable coming back to Ryan Day," he said.
"Our program does not need disruption. It does not need to blow up and have people come in and try to adapt to our standards of operation and try and change the infrastructure we put in place for our student-athletes. We had a talented and gifted guy. There were many others that wanted to interview. A few weeks ago I felt, 'Okay I need to lock in here' as we had our conversations, but I knew that ultimately Urban had to make a decision this past Sunday or yesterday and we were going to have to move forward one way or the other."
This transition will draw obvious parallels to Oklahoma's, where Stoops decided after working up close with Lincoln Riley for two seasons that, yes, this is the right guy to lead the program into the future and the future should begin right at this moment.
Riley has taken the crimson torch and run with it, going 24-3 with two Big 12 championships and two College Football Playoff appearances. Like Day, Riley has continued to call plays -- and he's (most likely) about to have back-to-back quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. Riley energized the Oklahoma brand, and the feeling is that Day will do the same for Ohio State.
Actually, scratch that. The expectation is that Day will do that for Ohio State.
Make no mistake, handing the job to Day was a risk for Smith. But after watching him up close for two seasons, he believes it's less a risk than bringing in a more proven outsider.
Tuesday's announcement that, yes, Ryan Day is the next Ohio State head coach was swirling for months, floating around in the intangible land of the hypothetical everywhere from the back of Gene Smith's mind to the threads of Ohio State message boards.
But, as was announced Tuesday and begins in earnest when the sun rises on Jan. 2, the idea of Ryan Day as Ohio State's next head coach is no longer an idea, it's reality.