COLUMBUS — Ohio State replaced one offensive coordinator with NFL and college head coaching experience with another.
Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said goodbye to Bill O’Brien and, hours later, brought aboard his mentor, Chip Kelly, as the program’s next OC.
Ohio State will have to pay a $1.5 million buyout for Kelly, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported, citing sources.
“It was quick work by Ohio State,” Thamel said on SportsCenter Friday. “Ryan Day is in the process of hiring Chip Kelly, who’s already resigned from UCLA and is expected to go become the Ohio State offensive coordinator.”
Thamel also noted: “They have deep, deep ties. Chip Kelly wants to go call plays again. Ryan Day doesn’t want to call plays anymore. It seems like a pretty good fit, especially with that loaded Ohio State roster for 2024.”
After 21 days as OC/QBs coach in Columbus, O’Brien is replacing Jeff Hafley, who surprisingly left BC to become the new defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 31. Hafley, co-DC and defensive backs coach for an Ohio State defense that ranked fourth in points per game allowed in 2019, spent four years (2020-23) at BC, compiling an up-and-down resume with three bowl-eligible seasons but a record of 22-26.
Kelly, like Hafley, is leaving a head coaching job for a coordinator position by choice. After garnering some interest for NFL offensive coordinator gigs this winter, the 60-year-old Kelly is departing UCLA but staying in the college ranks to pilot a well-stocked Ohio State offense. He finished 35-34 in his six years as the Bruins’ head coach, except he notably posted eight or more wins in each of his final three seasons, at one point even leading UCLA to a No. 9 ranking in the AP Top 25 during the 2022 season.
Kelly and Day go way back.
Kelly was University of New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator while Day was the quarterback at UNH from 1998-2001. Day finished his UNH playing career as the program’s leader in pass completions (653), touchdown passes (53), completion percentage (59.9 percent) and total offense (8,492 yards), although those records have since been surpassed. Then Day started his coaching career under Kelly at UNH, serving as the Wildcats’ tight ends coach in 2002.
Day and Kelly reunited in the NFL. Kelly, a few years removed from his successful — and innovative — six-season run at Oregon, hired Day as his quarterbacks coach in 2015 for his third and final season with the Philadelphia Eagles. After that, he brought Day with him to San Francisco to be the QBs coach there in his lone season with the 49ers.
The next year, Day joined the Ohio State staff. One more year, and Kelly launched his UCLA tenure.
Now, they’ll be back together again.
This time, with Day as Kelly’s boss.
Day said Wednesday that he was planning to hand off play-calling duties to O’Brien. When asked about O’Brien’s potential departure, Day said he’d ideally still give up play-calling.
That said, he emphasized that it would have to be the right fit.
“It isn’t just one of those situations where you take out one guy and put another guy in there, and it’s like, ‘OK, move on.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Day said Wednesday.
“We did talk to different people for that position. And we’ll have contingency plans in place. Hopefully we don’t have to go down that road. But if we do, then we’ll adapt.”
Ohio State did adapt. Quickly, and with someone Day trusts.
Kelly also notably hired Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye at UCLA back in 2018. Frye was then promoted to offensive coordinator from 2019-21 before he left for his current post with the Buckeyes.
While in Westwood together, Kelly and Frye cooked up the No. 2 rushing offense in the Pac-12 back-to-back years (2020-21).
Like the O’Brien move, hiring Kelly makes a lot of sense for the Buckeyes.
“This is Ohio State,” Day said when talking about the offensive coordinator position Wednesday. “We cannot have a bad day, we’re not allowed. So it’s a very, very unique person who — let’s call it for what it is, the expectation here is we score 60 every game. And when we don’t, it’s like, ‘What happened?’
“So that’s a very unique person who has a tremendous background.”
Unique usually indicates one of a kind. Ohio State, though, found a second match.