For the second time since the turn of the century, an Ohio State coach in just his second year leading the Buckeyes will coach in the national championship game on Monday night.
Ryan Day follows in the footsteps of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who led the Buckeyes to the national championship game for the 2002 season. In just his second year after taking over the program from John Cooper, Tressel led the Buckeyes to a 14-0 season, culminating with a 31-24 double-overtime win over Miami in the BCS National Championship Game.
Tressel, who is now the president at Youngstown State, will be watching on Monday night – from home, following Youngstown State’s first day of classes for the spring semester – when Day looks to follow in his footsteps by guiding Ohio State to a national championship game win, with kickoff against Alabama scheduled for 8 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
He told Eleven Warriors on Monday that he’s been impressed watching Day from afar and seeing the way Day guided this year’s Buckeyes to the national championship game despite all the adversity they’ve had to overcome, including their season initially being canceled and the constant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been really impressed at how he’s able to keep focus and keep an even keel. He does a good job, even I think probably when he’s tense or stressed or whatever, of you’d never know it. And I think that’s the way his team’s been. So I’ve been really impressed with that,” Tressel said. “The stuff they’ve been dealing with, I just admire the heck out of how they’ve held steady. The kids have been so committed to doing whatever they had to do to make this thing happen, and now, I think they’re in a good place.
“Ryan, I think has a lot of confidence in them, and for a young guy, I think he’s done a marvelous job and this will be one more big step.”
Although there has been a trend of coaches winning national championships during their second season at a school – Bob Stoops (2000, Oklahoma) and Urban Meyer (2006, Florida) are among the others who have accomplished the feat – Tressel says he’s “not sure it really matters if it’s in your second year or your eighth year.” He thinks a common factor between Ohio State’s 2002 national title run and the Buckeyes’ run to this season’s national championship game, though, is their drive to succeed after disappointments in past seasons.
“I thought one of the advantages we had in ‘02 was that all of our older guys had been through a lot. They had a 6-6 season and 8-4 and their coach got fired, then our first year was 7-5, and there was a lot of disappointment. And they were so hungry. The same is kind of true with what Ryan has,” Tressel said. “He got there after those kids had gotten beat 31-0 by Clemson, and then the next year they didn’t get in, and they were disappointed with that. Then last year, they thought they could have won the game, they were probably the better team. That gives you disappointment. Then you got this COVID thing, you might not get to play. So these kids have had so much disappointment, I think it just so happens it’s in his second year.”
While Day has talked repeatedly about everything his team had to overcome this season and how the Buckeyes have a chance to write “one of the greatest stories in the history of college football” on Monday night, he’s been hesitant to talk about the significance of coaching in a national championship game for the first time, choosing to save those reflections for after the game is complete.
“All that really matters is preparing for this game. I think when you start to take a step back you get distracted,” Day said. “Looking forward to finishing this thing the right way and then taking a deep breath and decompressing and trying to reflect on what just happened this year.”
Tressel thinks that preparation Day has focused on will be key to Ohio State’s success on Monday night, as he knows from experience that you have to be confident in your preparation to win at the highest level of college football.
“I felt really good about how we prepared when we played Miami, and when we played LSU quite honestly. We didn’t end up winning (the 38-24 loss to LSU in 2007), but I felt very good,” Tressel said. “I felt terrible about our guys’ preparation going into (the 41-14 loss to Florida in 2006), and that’s the way it turned out. Sometimes, when they’re not listening, they’re not listening. But I think he’s got their attention, I think he feels good about their preparation, and I think that gives you a chance to be calm.”
Jim Tressel knows what it’s like to be a second-year Ohio State coach in the national championship game, and he’ll be watching as Ryan Day tries to lead the Buckeyes to a title on Monday night. (Photo: Jason J. Molyet/News Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
Tressel said his advice to Day tonight would be “don’t flinch” and “be who you are.”
“The game’s gonna for awhile maybe be like you hoped, and then it’s gonna swing the other way, and then it’s gonna swing back,” Tressel said. “But he knows that. Every heavyweight fight, if you think you’re gonna go and just knock them out, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
That said, Tressel is optimistic Ohio State will win on Monday night.
“I feel good, I really do,” Tressel said of Ohio State’s chances of beating Alabama. “Easy for me not to be worried, I don’t have to coach, but I don’t think we’re unmatched. It’s not a mismatch. And who knows, Alabama might think it is. And if they think that we’re like the other teams they’ve played, I think they’re gonna get shocked. That’s what I’m hoping.”
Even though it’s been nearly 10 years since his tenure with the Buckeyes came to an end, he still feels an allegiance toward Ohio State and will be rooting for a win over the Crimson Tide.
“It’s a lot of fun, because the older you get, the more you reflect on what part of something that you’ve played, and I felt that our 10 years, there was constant improvement and building and building. And Urban came in there and building and building, and now Ryan’s taken it,” Tressel said. “If you look at this century, Ohio State’s been pretty good. And it feels good to be a part of that.”