COACH DAY: Signing day is very different now than it used to be. We were just laughing about it as coaches. We had one guy sign today, which is just — the landscape of recruiting has changed a lot.
Before I get to that I want to thank our staff for putting together a great class, and most importantly, you know, is the fit for us. And we’ve done an unbelievable job of getting the right fit already for those guys here mid-year they’re fitting in really well.
And want to publicly thank Mark Pantoni and staff. What an unbelievable job they do year in, year out putting this thing together. A lot goes on behind the scenes. They deserve a lot of credit for it.
Cameron Martinez signed today. Very excited to have Cam. Thought he and his family handled things really well with Jeff leaving and then Kerry jumping in. He really handled it like a pro. The family was unbelievable, and we’re really excited to have him.
We’ll give him an opportunity to play on either side of the ball when he first gets in, which is unique, but this is somebody who played quarterback in high school, very, very productive and doesn’t have a lot of experience playing any other position.
So we’re going to allow him to do both when he gets here, do some returning and kind of figure out where that goes. And we’re excited about that because we think he’s really competitive. I think he’s one of the most under-recruited kids in the entire country. Really excited for he and his family to be joining us.
That being said, again, really excited about this class because we’re here in signing day and we’re already had our second mat drills in almost four weeks under our belt with guys and couldn’t be more impressed with the way they’ve worked.
They’re very serious. They’re a great fit. They’re great kids. And the future’s bright.
Q. You mentioned landscape has changed dramatically as far as signing day and everything. When you talk to your fellow coaches and just your opinion on this as well, do you guys feel like it should be the early signing period should be maybe in late July, at a different time? What are your thoughts about that? It seems so disjointed in late December.
COACH DAY: I agree with you. I think what it’s done, it’s just changed a lot of things. I think anytime you make a change like that, the ripple effects, you don’t know them until about four or five years out. I think we’re still working through that. And, so, then what it did was with the early signing day is it moved official visits to the spring. And then what that did it took a little pressure off of January. Put a ton of pressure in December, I mean, an unbelievable amount of pressure.
I think with playing a championship game and you have one week to go out on the road as a head coach and one of those, two of those are going to be some of those award nights and you have to go see 14 mid-year guys from coast to coast when you recruit nationally like we do, it’s almost impossible. I think that’s very hard. What it’s done it’s taken a lot of pressure off of January. What January has become is what old spring recruiting used to be.
I think we’re still trying to adjust the calendar. I think we have to be careful about making any more adjustments until this gets settled and we figure out what this model looks like here and really a five-year window is my opinion.
Q. Can you talk about Kerry? Last time we talked, we couldn’t talk to you about Kerry. Will he be calling the defense? Will one of the guys be in the box, either him or Greg Mattison?
COACH DAY: It’s like the way Kevin and I did it and the way they’ve done it in the past, last year with Jeff and Greg. I sat and had a great meeting with Larry, with Greg and with Kerry and just told them about how much respect I have for their experience and whatever it is, they’re going to go in that room figure that out again this year.
Like I say all the time, in college football, every year is a completely different year. You have to go in and figure out what that year and what your personnel looks like and what the right things are, and they’re going to go in there and do that.
And at the end of the day somebody has to walk out of that room with the final say and that will be Kerry. But they’re all professionals. They’re all going to have their hand in this thing, and they’re all team players and they’re all in this thing together, just like we are on offense.
Q. Staying with Kerry for a sec, you talked about your philosophy that you have and you kind of want that to stay the same. Obviously Kerry’s done some different things in his past and here in the NFL. How do you guys kind of work together on that in terms of deciding what the best defense for Ohio State is in 2020?
COACH DAY: I think that’s one of the things that I even brought it up in the meeting, just tell you how our meeting went. I said I thought one of the things couple years ago when I had an opportunity to come here was to look at what we were doing on offense.
And I had a playbook this big coming from the NFL, too. But that wasn’t right. One of the things we added was the crossing package. And that was the right fit at the right time. And I said that to Kerry, whatever those things are or whatever in Greg’s past or whatever in Larry’s past or Al or Matt Barnes, whatever those things are with who we have, that’s the key to coaching. It’s not just coming in and running blitzes or running coverages because you think that’s a great coverage or a great blitz, it’s what fits our personnel and what puts our guys in best position to be successful.
Q. Wanted to ask you about C.J. Saunders. I know he’s still listed on the roster on the line. Are you still waiting to hear what’s going to happen with him?
COACH DAY: We are. We’re waiting to see if they’ll grant him a sixth year.
Q. How do you manage that in terms of scholarships, in terms of not knowing wherever you’re going to have to save a scholarship for him?
COACH DAY: You know, these things have their way of working themselves out, as we know. But that’s also a tricky thing. And we had to walk away from a couple of guys here in February because I didn’t want to be put in that situation. And so we’ll see how these things work out in the spring, and obviously with the transfer portal we never want to lose anybody but you also have to forecast that out a little bit so you’re not short and there’s also medicals and different things that way. So, again they have their way of working themselves out and we’ll just try to forecast the best we can.
Q. We spoke to Lejond earlier. He talked about placing an emphasis on going out and getting — helping get the best receivers in the country to go against him in practice. What does that say to you about the mentality of a guy who is looking out to get the best talent on the opposite side of the ball?
COACH DAY: I think that’s a huge part of what we say in recruiting, is that when you look at what Jonah Jackson did this year. I think Jonah would tell you one of the things that helped him becoming one of the top guards this year day in, day out he was practicing against Davon Hamilton and Chase Young and BB Sanders and Jashon Cornell, or what made Jeff Okudah great, I think Terry McLaurin did and Parris Campbell also.
There’s head coaches and scouts, when they come in for pro day, they’ll sit down and watch our one-on-ones. They won’t watch a bunch of games; they want to see how our guys look against Denzel Ward, what did that look like, what did it look like when Thayer was blocking Chase Young, because we know what Chase Young is.
So, when you’re playing against really good players day in, day out, your development happens faster. And that’s one of the things we talk about a lot.
And Lejond is right; if you go against Julian or Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson or Jameson Williams, just like these guys have done in the past, then you’re only going to get better. There’s a great template for that in our past and we continue to use that in recruiting.
Q. You mentioned Julian. What separates him as one of the nation’s best receivers?
COACH DAY: I think he’s physical. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s mature. I think so far his work ethic has really shown that it matters to him. He really cares. And his attention to detail is strong already, as a young player, but we’ll see. We haven’t got to the field yet but play-making ability — God gave him some great talents. And then how does he create the discipline and skill that he needs to play at this level. That will be between he and Hart. I think he’s got the right tool set and the right mentality.
Q. When you guys were at the — throughout the entire process and even at the end seemed like you guys wanted to take two running backs. And I know you had to walk away for one because, with what Dan was saying about the spots, but is Cameron Martinez a potential solution to that? Is that what you were implying when you said offense — is he a running back in college?
COACH DAY: He could be, he could be. You saw what he did in his highlight film when he was a running back. He has the ability to do that. We’ll start him at that H who can come into the backfield, like you said, and take some handoffs. And who knows, that’s what’s exciting about him. I think he does have the ability or he could go play nickel or go play corner.
And I think that’s what’s exciting about Cam. We’ll allow him to have a lot of feedback in this. We want him to have a bunch of say in what he likes and feels most comfortable with. But he’s definitely an option.
Q. As a coach I know you have a strong bond with a guy like C.J. Because he’s been a captain and in this program for a long time. But you also have numbers that you have to hit. How do you strike that balance emotionally when you have to sometimes make a hard decision between do you take the next guy that — like the other running back you were recruiting was a really good player — do you take the next guy or do you stick with somebody who has been around for a while?
COACH DAY: I think one of the keys right now to our success in moving forward a year into this is the balance of young talented recruits who come in here, who want to play early, and then having the maturity of guys who are fourth- and fifth-year seniors who have been in the program, who bring a certain level of leadership and maturity that the team needs to go win the whole thing.
And I think balancing that is part of the job as the head coach and figuring that out. And C.J.’s maturity, his leadership, the talk he gave at the Big Ten Championship game at halftime was unbelievable. Guys like Justin Hilliard getting up in front of the group already and mat drills and just talking about a bunch of stuff moving forward.
We need that leadership and maturity because we do recruit a lot of young talented guys. But you don’t want to an immature group when you go play those bowl games in January. That’s the balance that — we’re trying to figure out that chemistry.
Q. There were a few players out there that said they watched the Fiesta Bowl at home. And then when they came here to Ohio State they were coming at the same time that the team was returning, who played in the game. They lived through the pain and the things that you guys had to revisit and break down when they got back. And they felt like they lost the game, too. And one of them even said they almost cried while watching some of the stuff. Is that when you know you’ve got the right thing cooking here, when people that haven’t even been here yet or weren’t playing in the game are feeling the pain that you guys are feeling like it happened to them?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I do. I do. I think the way we’re recruiting right now — and like you said, there’s a family atmosphere here right now. And I think these recruits and these families will see as time goes on, just like we talked about, they’re going to be treated the same way they’re recruited, in that we’re recruiting this thing tight and you are family.
There’s certainly a business side to it but it’s not a business. It’s a family. We’ve been talking about that all along. Even through the recruiting process we start to recruit at such a young age that that relationship builds over time. And you’re talking about years.
Paris Johnson, shoot, we were recruiting him, Jaxon Smith, these guys are two years in, so certainly the relationship has gotten stronger as we’ve gotten into it. Even when they come in here for their first day their relationship has been building here for multiple years before they get here.
Q. Along the lines of Kerry and Greg and those guys figuring out what works best for your defense, is that within the framework of the single-high shell you guys did last year, or is that also adaptable if that’s what your personnel dictates?
COACH DAY: Yeah, we’re definitely going to start off with where we started and then figure out what the adjustments are going to be from there. I think that that was — we played off each other really well last year. I think it’s the right thing to do personnel-wise. But there’s certainly things we can do to adapt to evolve as time goes on for sure.
Q. In this class, it seems like there are maybe more guys than usual you could look at and see a couple different positions for them in their future, whether that’s some guys in the offensive line or in the secondary or linebacker. Is that by design to recruit guys who are versatile like that and might have different paths, or does it just kind of work out that way with this class?
COACH DAY: You want to get the right fit. So first off you have to figure out academically if it’s the right fit and figure out socially if it’s the right fit, the family, the personality, the work ethic, all those things.
And then you start talking about football. And then you try to go, okay, get the best available. And if that means that it’s somebody who is versatile, we’ll figure that out. If it’s something that’s very specific and this is their job, then we’ll recruit them, too. Like Dawand Jones is only going to play tackle. That’s all he’s going to play. That’s fine, that’s good because he checked those boxes along the way. But so much is the culture fit.
Q. Does it change what your board might look like at all in terms of the position? Just, for instance, if you say we need, we’re light on defensive ends so we need defensive ends, but we recruit a guy like Mitchell Melton, who is a linebacker but could potentially project to that? Do you see him filling that need and do you have other guys in that class who on the paper don’t look like they fill a need but could down the road?
COACH DAY: Yeah, but for the most part we bring them in. Cam is probably an exception for the most part. Mitchell will play linebacker for us. And most of the guys we bring in we bring in for a certain role.
Q. When Cam said that he needed more time and wasn’t going to sign in December, how did you react to that?
COACH DAY: Well, I totally understood. I talked about the continuity and that I’m going to go hire the best coach I can in the country. And Kerry was my number one pick and that worked out. And a place like Ohio State, you’re going to have great coaches here. And I told him it’s my job to make sure he has the best coach he can possibly have and that’s what we’re going to do.
But at the same time I told him if he needs to go look at other places, that he can do that. I said I’m not going to like that too much, but at the same time I respect your family enough that you can go ahead and check some places out. Now he never really ended up doing that.
But I think he really understood that and respected the fact that we didn’t hold him to the fire, anything like that. We said, listen, you want to go check out some schools, feel free. Once we get the secondary coach and coordinator in place, I know you’re going to love it. And he did. It all worked out.
Q. You had to deal with it a little bit with Paris and Lejond went through it. They’re not all the same case. But some schools issue these ultimatums and stick by it. Why is this the approach you go with?
COACH DAY: I think — I was talking about this with Kerry, there used to be a time where at 7:01 you were checking the fax machine to see if things were coming through. We weren’t doing it with Cam. Because the relationship has been built.
And I think in today’s day and age, whether you sign or not, if the kid’s not happy or doesn’t really pick the school for the right reasons, he’s going to end up in the transfer portal and leave anyways. It’s not just about getting the kid to sign on the dotted line. It’s not that way anymore. Now it’s having trust and having the relationship with the family and common respect for each other that things are going to go in a certain way.
And I think that’s the way it is with Cam and I think that’s the way it is with all the recruits in that they know they’re going to be treated the same way they’re recruited — I mean, treated the same way they’re here as when they were recruited.
Q. You mentioned at the top how anti-climactic this day is. Since the early signing period you signed five guys in February two years ago, two last year, one this year. How much of a priority is it to build the class and have them all intact in December?
COACH DAY: Well, I just think based on how many guys want to come at mid-year, I think that’s important. And I think that’s the trend. Although, we don’t really prefer it one way or the other. If somebody feels like they want to be here for their senior year we don’t put any pressure on them. That’s their decision. But we also see the benefit of it.
And being here and going through these mat drills and going through spring practice and being here for six months before you start preseason camp certainly helps. And so the more those situations that we can have, the more those guys will have an opportunity to play. And as that is the trend, then we want to be on the front end of it.
But I do think, like you said, the December signing period has just kind of moved everything up and that’s really when everybody is signing nowadays. I think the numbers are well over 95% of everybody signs.
Q. Did that surprise you when this rule first came into effect?
COACH DAY: Again, anytime you change a rule, I’ve learned this at a young age, there’s so many other things that come with it. There’s a ripple effect of things that happen that you don’t quite know at that time.
And at the time we thought that the guys who committed early would just kind of sign and maybe there would be a third of them or maybe half at the most. I don’t think anybody saw this many people signing this early.
Q. And just one more on one of the kickers, Jake Seibert, who signed in December, will he be on scholarship this year, will he grayshirt? Does he count towards the 85 this year?
COACH DAY: That will depend on how things go. We do have flexibility with that one.
Q. Kerry is the only guy who will have defensive coordinator, no? Nobody else on the staff?
COACH DAY: Greg will be co-defensive coordinator. That didn’t change. And when we brought Kerry in we gave him the defensive coordinator title.
Q. We talk a lot about Mookie and his size and how that’s an asset. Is there also a mentality you feel like a slot guy needs to have? How does he fit into that?
COACH DAY: Like you said, he’s very versatile, an inside receiver who can operate in short areas, has that good burst. And really good with the ball in his hands. Hoping he can do some returning for us and those type of things. But, yeah, there has to be a toughness inside.
We look at the best slot receivers, there’s an edge and toughness in there. There’s a edge there, a toughness. They have to catch the ball in the middle. Most of their work is inside the hashes dealing with safeties and linebackers. And you’ll take hits in there. You have to be tough. If he’s going to motion in the backfield, do some of those things we have with Paris and those guys, we toss it to them on speed sweeps or hand it to them on different things, he’s going to have to be a little bit like a running back as well and reverses and those type of things.
Q. Using Paris in both tackle spots right now, is it tougher to bring a true freshman like that get him up to speed on both sides of the ball?
COACH DAY: It’s still too early for that. Whether we start him at left or right, stud will figure that out as we get into March.
Q. When Kerry was here the first time, he prided himself on we only play or almost exclusively press man-to-man coverage. Obviously you guys have gotten away from that to some degree. What’s the understanding of the balance now with Kerry coming back?
COACH DAY: So I think it’s going to be a combination like it’s been. I think there’s just a lot of different things at play now he certainly has two more years of experience in the NFL of different coverages and what we’ve done I think with the cover three stuff has been really good for us and we want to keep building off of that. But then like you said diversify. I think there was a time where that trend was really strong I think it’s gone the other way now. So again if it’s playing more man-to-man we will but we’ll have to kind of decide over the next month and then as we get through spring ball see how our guys are, see what fits and go from there.
Q. What kind of jolt has his personality given to the coaches room?
COACH DAY: Jolt, there’s a lot less coffee right now in the building. Everybody’s drank about four pots of coffee a day. But you could hear them coming down the hallways and hear them outside. I said to somebody he had more, like, tweets and a hashtag in the first day than I had in the last month. He’s out in front of it.
But I think what happens, I think the guys they really feel his energy. He’s very positive. And the guys feed off of that. The players feed off of that. He’s strong and he’s out in front and he’s got a lot of energy. But when you listen to his message it’s always positive. He’s in their ear talking about how to be elite and toughness, he’s talking about all the right things.
And I think he has a tremendous skill set. Not too many guys have had an opportunity to be head coach in high school, coached and won a national championship, coached first-rounders at Ohio State. Also coached in the NFL and now has come back, a chance to be a coordinator. Has a unique resumÃ© and we’re really excited to have him back.
Q. One question about Paris Johnson. How realistic is it for him to be able to really compete for a starting job as a true freshman?
COACH DAY: I know that’s his mindset right now. And he’s going to have to do that. But you don’t know where that goes or anything like that until we get into August. Right now it’s learning the playbook, learning where to go to class, learning all that stuff, learning the calls. He’ll do that.
He’s very detail oriented. He wants to do it right. He’s very determined. And we have high hopes for him.
Q. Talking about Jack and C.J. out there today, they both understand the idea that it’s not all that common to have two quarterback recruits that highly ranked in the same class. We know every position here has competition. Even if the guy is not in the same class you’ll have competition. But how are you going to monitor that, because it is just a little unusual? And what have you guys sensed at all with the Jack and C.J. relationship just in the short time they’ve been here?
COACH DAY: I think they both started off really well. They really haven’t been in the classroom all that much. It’s really been mostly on the field and competing. And they’re both off to a good start.
But it’s not going to be any different than if those guys were in different years. They’re still going to have the same reps. They’re still going to compete the same way. And it’s okay to have really good quarterbacks in a room together in an offense that’s exciting, and we’re going to keep developing quarterbacks the way we have. I know that’s a huge part of why they’re here.
And regardless of how it all plays out for either of them, they’re going to get developed at a high level. They’re going to be exposed to a high level of offense and they’re going to be coached the way that they want. And they get a chance to compete against really good players. And they get a chance to sit in there with Justin and see what it’s like to be around a Heisman Trophy finalist and be in an offense that has two Heisman Trophy finalists in the last two years. That’s part of it. And regardless they’ll keep growing year after year.
Q. When you were here with — when you were an assistant and Kerry was an assistant — what did you think of Kerry back then? And what did you think when he left? Why do you think he left?
COACH DAY: I obviously had a lot of respect for what he’s done in his past. I knew that when I came in here. And then I just watched the way he worked and the way his players played for him and just the energy he brought every day. And I just loved that part of his game.
I thought he wanted to go experience what it was like to go coach in the NFL. And a guy that he coached with before in Mike Vrabel, who obviously we all have a lot of respect for here, and see what that was like. And he did.
But I think he just had that feeling he wanted to get back in coaching college kids again.
Q. What made you think that you could get him back? And then also, you talked about sort of with hiring Corey that you would like some continuity here. You guys played a defensive coordinator in the playoff who’s been there eight, nine years. Brent Venables could have gone to a lot of place but he stayed. At the coordinator level, how do you strike the balance between I want the very best guys who are going to have opportunities, but I also don’t want guys who are going to leave every year? That seems like a very hard balance to try to strike.
COACH DAY: It is. Look at LSU. They just won the whole thing. They lost both their coordinators. And it’s something that goes on throughout the country. And I certainly think that what Dabo has done with Brent and Brent staying there, it’s tremendous. That has a lot to do with why they’ve been successful.
But at Ohio State you have to look at it as go get the best but get the right fit. And when you look at what Kerry’s background is, it was the right fit for us. And I know Kerry wants to be here. He wants to be here a long time. His family is in Ohio. He’s kind of tasted the NFL. I’m hoping he’s here for a long time. And I think that’s the best you can do.
Q. The inside receivers you’ve talked — C.J., Mookie, Jaxon — you said he’s starting inside. Is it because you need to replace K.J.? Is that why you have so many guys that you’re looking at right now?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I mean, if C.J. were to get that sixth year that would give us — yeah, that would give us a little bit of flexibility there. But right now we had played in a little bit more 12 personnel, as you know. And then we had K.J. And we didn’t really have — when we lost C.J. we didn’t have an H that we felt great about, that we could put in the game, to be frank.
That’s a huge deal for us figuring out where that inside guy is going to come from. But again really the only guy that’s been a starter is Chris. All those other guys, Garrett and Jameson all those guys, have to step up. And you’re talking about Jaylen Harris and Ellijah Gardiner and Jaelen Gill, those guys have to step up their game up now. They’re now at three years into the program. They have to take the next step for us. So, yeah, H is a concern but really all those positions are.
Q. Does Jaxon have a legit shot to get that two-deep —
COACH DAY: They all do. They all do. I mean, it’s not like we’re coming back with five or six returning starters like we have in the past couple of years. That’s a huge emphasis point. Brian has his hands full this spring, making sure we get guys ready to go.
Q. When you took over, it seemed like Buckeye Nation was, like, yeah, this guy can coach, he can coach quarterbacks, he can score points, he can run an offense. But the thing I heard was, wow, can he recruit like Urban. How much did that motivate you and how satisfied are you that it’s pretty on course right now?
COACH DAY: Yeah, I don’t get too much into reading all that stuff, but certainly you want to prove yourself as more than just, like you said, an offensive guy. And so, yeah, we’re competing at the highest level and trying to recruit the best players.
But, again, for us it goes back to the fit. We want to have great players, the best players in the country but the right fit for this program and this culture. I think that’s what I’m the most proud of right now. When you look at the kids coming into this program, when you look these guys in the eye, they’re beautiful kids. They’re made of the right stuff and have the right work ethic, the right families. And we’re getting ahead in recruiting right now. And it’s exciting to be part of Ohio State, which in that case it’s fun to be the head coach.