Manchester, New Hampshire might soon be as well known for producing college football coaches as it is comedians.
When Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer steps down following the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, the Queen City will add another son at the helm of one of the country’s most prestigious college football programs in Ryan Day. During a press conference this week, Meyer told reporters that the knowledge that he would be succeeded by the 39-year-old offensive coordinator made his decision to retire easier than he had anticipated.
Day’s history with Meyer goes back to their days coaching at the University of Florida. But long before he was in the scarlet and gray of Ohio State or the blue and orange of the Gators, the New Hampshire native made his name for Manchester Central High School’s Little Green.
“He was beyond his years as a high school quarterback,” Jim Schubert, the former Central football coach, recently told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
While the Granite State wouldn’t be confused as a football hotbed, the 111,000-person city has produced two other top-tier college coaches: UCLA coach and fellow Central alum Chip Kelly, who helped make the Oregon Ducks a championship contender (before going on to coach the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers) and current Gators coach Dan Mullen, who won the 1988 state championship as the quarterback just up the hill at Trinity High School.
Day also led Central to a state championship, albeit several years later in 1995. As the starter at quarterback for three seasons from 1994 to 1996, Day set a number of state high school passing records, including career yards (4,099) and touchdowns (57), according to the Union Leader. Schubert said he even sent the teenager to the line with two or three options for a play and allowed him to call audibles.
“He was 10 steps ahead of where the team was when it comes to game prep and how to look at the game,” Matt Pinkos, a former Central teammate of Day, told the Manchester-based paper.
Following his senior year season in 1996, Day was named New Hampshire’s Gatorade Player of the Year. But the three-sport athlete didn’t only excel at football. As the floor general for Central’s basketball team, Day also crossed paths with another of the state’s few high-profile athletic exports. Matt Bonner, who went on to play 12 years and win two championships in the NBA, recalled facing off against Day’s team in the high school semifinals in 1997 in an interview with Yahoo Sports this past summer.
“Ryan was the quarterback of the team,” Bonner said. “Making sure everyone was in the right spot, yelling ‘Kick it!’ and ‘Pull it out!’”
Despite being “heavy underdogs” in the game, Central had the ball on the final possession, down by one, with a chance to win it. Following a broken play, Day retrieved the ball and fired a contested three-pointer from the top of the key — which just barely missed.
Have a profile coming out on @OhioStateFB interim Ryan Day (@ryandaytime.) Story centers around his path to perhaps the highest profile interim gig in recent football history. @mattbonner_15 passed on this video from their epic NH high school duel in 1997. How didn’t that go in? pic.twitter.com/1SSLO5qcvu
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 27, 2018
“I still can’t believe it didn’t go in,” Bonner told Yahoo.
After high school, Day was recruited to play football at the University of New Hampshire by Kelly, who was beginning his first year as the football team’s offensive coordinator and was well aware of the Central star.
“I’ve known him my whole life,” Kelly told Yahoo. “We went to the same elementary school, junior high and high school. I knew his mom [growing up] and know both of his uncles really well. It’s a town of 100,000 people.”
Day played football at UNH from 1997 to 2001 and was the starting quarterback for the Wildcats for three seasons. According to the university’s website, he set nine school records at the time, including career pass completions (653), touchdown passes (53), completion percentage (59.9 percent), and total offense (8,492 yards).
His records also include the single-game record for passing attempts (65) during a 2000 game, in which he led UNH back from a 31-3 deficit with less than two minutes left in the third quarter to defeat Delaware — the then-No. 2 team in Division I-AA, led by future Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy — by an overtime score of 45-44. The wild game included a successful fourth-down hook-and-ladder play and a 53-yard touchdown pass from Day to even the score at 38-38 with 42 seconds left in regulation.
After graduating in 2002 with a degree in business, Day stayed on at UNH as the football team’s tight ends coach. By all accounts, he became Kelly’s protege. However, Day’s early coaching career consisted of him bouncing around several programs.
After two seasons as a graduate assistant at Boston College, he first encountered Meyer in the same role at Florida in 2005. After another single-season stop at Temple University as wide receivers coach, Day returned to BC to coach receivers in 2007, the year Matt Ryan won the award for the country’s top college quarterback.
Day eventually became BC’s offensive coordinator under longtime coach Steve Addazio. In his final two years at the school, he made the Eagles offense a rushing machine. In 2013, running back Andre Williams rushed for 2,177 yards and was named a Heisman Trophy finalist. In 2014, the team averaged 254.4 rushing yards per game.
Day then went to the NFL to reunite with Kelly in what would be the fellow New Hampshirite’s final season with the Eagles in 2015, and followed him to the 49ers in 2016. Day was the quarterbacks coach for both teams. And despite those teams totaling a 9-23 record, the two seasons bolstered Day’s reputation as a “quarterback guru,” according to ESPN:
Under Day’s tutelage, quarterback Sam Bradford completed 65 percent of his passes, throwing 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with the Eagles in 2015. The next year, Colin Kaepernick completed 59.2 percent of his passes, throwing 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while playing under Day with the 49ers.
When Kelly was fired after a season in the Bay Area, Day bounced back to the college game, joining Meyer as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2017.
His first big moment under the national spotlight came earlier this season, when Meyer was suspended for three games for mishandling domestic abuse allegations against another Ohio State assistant coach. Day was chosen as interim coach, and the Buckeyes scored 169 points in the three games under him.
Having passed the initial test, the program felt comfortable giving him the reins following Meyer’s announcement that he would retire.
“My witnessing of the work Ryan has done made this decision not as difficult as I thought,” the accomplished coach told reporters Wednesday.
“Everybody has been eyeballing him since he was a young graduate assistant,” an unnamed Ohio State colleague recently told ESPN. “He is known for getting his guys on the right track, he’s always sharp with his reads, he understands the game so well and he’s so passionate about it.”
While those around Day say he’s known for his competitive drive, their accounts also describe a leader who is known for staying composed and forward-thinking. Kelly, his former mentor, told Yahoo that Day is “built for this,” but won’t do anything “radically different.” Rather, Day’s expected to serve as an extension of Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, which resulted in a 85-9 record and a national championship for the Buckeyes.
“He’s unique,” Kelly told Yahoo, referring to Day. “There’s always a sense of calm when you’re around him. I don’t think people will see a guy drunk with power. He has the ability to make everyone else feel calm.”
Perhaps above all, Day’s promotion signals yet another remarkable rise from a small northeastern state to a perennial college football powerhouse, where he’s signed up to make $4.5 million annually for the next five years.
“He’s a New Hampshire guy through and through, from Manchester Central to UNH,” Sean McDonnell, the longtime UNH football coach, told the Union Leader on Wednesday. “Now he’s at one of the top programs in the country.”