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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Phil Harrison

Where does ESPN rank Ohio State coach Ryan Day in its four tiers of best college football coaches?

Ohio State fans get it, and the rest of the college football world will, too — eventually.

When Urban Meyer rode off into the sunset, he literally handed the whistle to an up-and-coming talent, Ryan Day, who is going to continue to rise in the ranks to become a coaching star. He now has some of the respect the OSU brass and supporters knew would come, but he still doesn’t have the namesake others that have won national titles and been around longer do.

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Perhaps nobody put it better than where Day lands on the list of best coaches (subscription required) by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg recently. He came up with his own ranking of the best college football coaches recently and divided them into four tiers.

Day has done a ton of winning since his arrival. He seems to understand how to do things off the field, and he recruits at a high level. Yet, reviews are still mixed. After all, he inherited one of the all-time college football programs that was already winning a bushel of games and trophies.

Still, Rittenberg tried to slate Day into one of his four tiers — and the top one at that — labeled national contenders. Here is a ranking of all of those coaches that fell in the top tier, and what Rittenberg says about Day .

Nick Saban, Alabama

Jan. 9, 2016; Tempe, Arizona; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban during a football team practice in an indoor facility at Arizona State University. Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 70
Overall Record: 274-67-1
Conference Titles: 11 (10 SEC, 1 MAC)
National Titles: 7

Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Nov. 7, 2020; South Bend, Indiana; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney signals to his players in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 52
Overall Record: 150-36
Conference Titles: 7 (ACC)
National Titles: 2


Lincoln Riley, USC

July 29, 2022; Los Angeles, California; Southern California Trojans coach Lincoln Riley speaks during Pac-12 Media Day at Novo Theater. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 38
Overall Record: 55-10
Conference Titles: 4 (Big 12)
National Titles: 0


Brian Kelly, LSU

LSU football coach Brian Kelly speaks to the media following the first spring practice under him on March 24. USA TODAY Sports Network

What the Numbers Say

Age: 60
Overall Record: 166-62
National Titles: 0

Ryan Day, Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day watches during the spring football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on April 16, 2022. USA TODAY Sports Network

What the Numbers Say

Age: 43
Overall Record: 34-4
Conference Titles: 2 (Big Ten)
National Titles: 0

What RittenbeRg Says

“Five years ago, Day was a mostly unknown assistant working with J.T. Barrett, Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins in the Ohio State quarterback room. His rapid rise underscores his coaching talent, and he has made Ohio State — not known for elite quarterback play — a top spot for elite signal-callers. Day didn’t lose a Big Ten regular-season game until last year’s finale against Michigan, and reached the CFP in his first two full seasons at Ohio State. He also inherited one of the best jobs in American sport, from one of the Big Ten’s most historically dominant coaches in Urban Meyer. Day ultimately must win the national title to rise on this list.”


Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Jan. 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher talks to quarterback Kellen Mond (11) during a football game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Hard Rock Stadium. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 56
Overall Record: 117-37
Conference Titles: 3 (ACC)
National Titles: 1


Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Dec. 4, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana; Michigan Wolverines offensive line coach Sherrone Moore (left), head coach Jim Harbaugh (center) and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 58
Overall Record: 90-45
Conference Titles: 1 (Big Ten)
National Titles: 0


James Franklin, Penn State

Oct. 30, 2021; Columbus, Ohio; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 50
Overall Record: 91-49
Conference Titles: 1 (Big Ten)
National Titles: 0

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Dec. 31, 2021; Arlington, Texas; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell on the sidelines during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What the Numbers Say

Age: 48
Overall Record: 54-22
Conference Titles: 2 (AAC)
National Titles: 0

NEXT … What We Say


What we say about Ryan Day's spot

Ohio State coach Ryan Day celebrates with Buckeyes players after beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7, 2019, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Joshua A. Bickel  / Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY Network)

What We Say

It’s hard to be too picky with where Rittenberg has Day because he’s only been coaching at Ohio State for three full years. His record will speak for itself when it’s all said and done, but we do think he’s one of the best in the business. It seems not having a national title is holding him back but there are guys above him on this list without a national title, so I’m not sure the statement that he has to win won to be elevated against guys like Lincoln Riley or Brian Kelly makes sense. He’s a top three coach with what he’s done off the field with mental health and players’ performance in the classroom, his unbelievable 34-4 record, a CFP win (that should have been two), and his recruiting. But again, time will take care of that. Watch.

Note: To get a look at the other three coaching tiers and the coaches in each, visit the piece (subscription required) on ESPN and get a look for yourself.

Contact/Follow us @BuckeyesWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Ohio State news, notes, and opinion. Follow Phil Harrison on Twitter.

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