Ryan Day vs. Lou Holtz? The Ohio State coach is fighting the wrong battle

If Ryan Day wants to prove Lou Holtz wrong, that can only be done on a November afternoon in Ann Arbor.

The problem with getting into a war of words with an 80-something retired coach — let alone one who never walked silently past a microphone in his life — is that it isn’t just going to end because you won a football game. It’s not like the attention-starved octogenarian has anything better to do.

Current Ohio State coach Ryan Day, 44, is somehow embroiled in a feud with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, 86, and as much as Day’s frustrations about what people think about him and his Buckeyes are understandable, this all seems unnecessary, or at least unproductive.

To briefly recap, Holtz was kicking around South Bend before Saturday's Ohio State-Notre Dame game. He wound up on "The Pat McAfee Show," and a man known for his bluster as much as the national title he won with the Irish in 1988, made a prediction.

"[Ryan Day] has lost to Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan twice — and everybody who beats them does so because they're more physical than Ohio State," Holtz said. "I think Notre Dame will take that same approach."

It didn’t seem too offensive. Yet after the Buckeyes earned an emotional and dramatic victory, 17-14, Day immediately unloaded.

"I'd like to know where Lou Holtz is right now," Day said on national TV. "What he said about our team, I cannot believe. This is a tough team right here. We're proud to be from Ohio. It's always been Ohio against the world, and it'll continue to be Ohio against the world."

Day was fired up. It was an over-the-top reaction, the release of a lot of pent-up pressure, a bit of entertaining WWE showmanship.

The man is 49-6 in Columbus and came within a last-second field goal from probably winning the national title last year. Yet all anyone wants to talk about are consecutive losses to arch rival Michigan.

The problem with responding to Holtz is multifaceted.

First off, it gave attention to what Holtz said, namely by implying the Buckeyes aren’t as physical as other elite programs. That’s clearly not a thing Day wants discussed. Until Day brought them up, however, Holtz’s comments had garnered little to no attention. It didn’t require addressing.

Why give a guy who left ND in 1996 and hasn’t coached anywhere since 2004 the oxygen?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 23: Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day celebrates after a play in action during a football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Ohio State Buckeyes on September 23, 2023 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ryan Day celebrates after Ohio State beat Notre Dame in South Bend. (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Second, the quote wound up overshadowing a great team win for the Buckeyes. Media coverage focused on what Ryan Day said, not what Kyle McCord and Lathan Ransom and TreVeyon Henderson and everyone else in scarlet and gray did.

And finally, since Holtz wasn’t coaching the Irish on Saturday, he didn’t have to just slink away.

And so Holtz didn’t. He went on an "Outkick" talk show with Dan Dakich and went right back in on Day.

“He doesn’t want to talk about Michigan and 0-2,” Holtz said. “He doesn’t want to talk about the big game coming up against Penn State and against Michigan again.

“He’s a great coach, he’s done a tremendous job, he’s a great offensive mind …” Holtz continued. “Ohio State’s a good football team, but I don’t think they’re a great football team and he can go after me all he wants.”

Day is a great coach. He’s won and won and won at Ohio State. His recruiting is exceptional. Yes, the Buckeyes have struggled against the Alabamas and Georgias of the world, but everyone struggles against the Alabamas and Georgias of the world.

Urban Meyer won the 2014 national title at Ohio State, but that doesn’t mean such things should be considered a birthright. It’s hard. And yes, while Meyer did dominate The Team Up North, the last two iterations of Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines have been particularly good. And physical.

Such is the nature of the rivalry.

You can understand the demands of the job getting to Day. You can understand the narrative that the Buckeyes aren’t as tough as Michigan grinding him to wits end. You can understand him wanting to stand up for his guys, especially after such a physical, intense contest against the Irish.

You can understand the pride.

It’s just that there is nothing Ryan Day can say, certainly not on a September night in South Bend, that will change Ohio State’s reputation for being “soft” (fair or not).

That can only be accomplished on a November afternoon in Ann Arbor. They are going to have to beat the bully.

Until then, it’s all noise. Some old coach saying some old thing can be great for a private motivational speech or some personal rage, but engaging with Lou Holtz does nothing for anyone other than Lou Holtz.

And on one point, Lou is most certainly correct.

Penn State is coming. Michigan, too.

If Ryan Day’s team is as tough as he believes it is, then he can talk all he wants.