COLUMBUS — Technically, Ryan Day had already presided over the first day of an Ohio State preseason football practice, but the opening day of practice for OSU on Friday morning was still a first step for him.
Day was the Buckeyes’ interim head coach on the opening day of fall camp last season after Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave last Aug. 1 and eventually suspended for the first three games of the season.
But that was the coaching equivalent of driving a rental car. This year Day has the title to the car and he can drive it any way he wants to. It’s his team, it’s his program now.
Ever since Day was named to succeed Meyer after the ultra-successful, three-time national champion coach announced his retirement on Dec. 4, people have searched for ways Day might be different than Meyer.
The search continued on Friday. And the answer might be that there have been no big changes, just a few small ones, starting with the players knowing Day is in charge for the long haul.
“Obviously, he’s the head coach so he’s that front runner. We look to him,” junior defensive end Chase Young said.
“He’s definitely leading the whole pack. We do practice a little bit differently. I love Coach Day and I’m going to follow behind him every step,” he said.
The biggest difference Day spoke of on Friday was that this year felt normal, not decidedly abnormal, as last year did with Meyer embroiled in controversy, under investigation and ultimately suspended.
He called the Buckeyes’ 2018 fall camp a “very unique situation” and said, “There was a lot going on, a lot getting thrown at me and the whole offensive and defensive staff. We had to manage it the best we could.
“I think this year is just more of a typical pre-season camp. As we all know, last year was atypical. That was a very unique situation where a lot of people pulled together and did a great job,” Day said.
“It’s exciting. It’s part of a new journey. We all have something to prove – the coaching staff, offense, defense and special teams. We’ve got to be hungry. We’ve got to be willing to fight every day.”
Maybe the biggest similarity between Meyer’s seven seasons as OSU’s coach and Day’s first is that expectations are always extremely high for anyone who holds their job.
Ohio State was ranked No. 5 in the Coaches Preseason poll earlier this week. Last year, it was No. 3 in the preseason poll.
Just like Meyer would do, Day downplayed the poll.
“Well, I think there’s obviously respect for the program, respect for the talent that’s been recruited here, respect for the guys who played last year who are back here, respect for the coaching staff, respect for a lot of things,” he said.
“But truth be told, we haven’t done anything. Like I said, we’ve got to prove it. What really matters is what it is at the end of the year. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to prove that we’re the best team in the country. That’s what we’re going about the business of doing every day.”
• No quarterback call: To the surprise of no one, Day said it’s too early to declare Georgia transfer Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.
Fields, a former 5-star recruit, is expected to eventually be chosen over Chris Chugunov, a transfer from West Virginia, and Gunnar Hoak, a transfer from Kentucky, who have combined for two starts in their college careers, both by Chugunov in 2017 when West Virginia’s starter was injured.
“Naming a starter right now, naming a starter in a week, doesn’t give you anything really. We want to make sure that guys are competing, we’re getting everybody developed so we have three quarterbacks ready to roll if we have to play all three,” Day said.
• Quote of the day: When running back J.K. Dobbins was asked why he thought Ohio State could win the national championship this season, one of his reasons was “some brand new coaches on the defensive side.”
• Thumbs up, thumbs down: Former Ohio State linebacker Keandre Jones, who has transferred to Maryland, has received approval from the NCAA to become eligible this season.
Former OSU quarterback Matthew Baldwin, who has transferred to TCU, had a similar request rejected on Friday.
Jones and Dwayne Haskins originally committed to Maryland before flipping to Ohio State. Maryland will play at Ohio State on Nov. 9.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.