As quickly as it started, the Bill O’Brien era at Ohio State has come to an end. For 22 days, O’Brien was the offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes and yet, Ryan Day is going to have to restart the hiring process all over again.
While the initial hiring of O’Brien was slightly polarizing among Buckeye fans and college football fans alike, there was no denying he would have had all kinds of fun toys to play with in the Fall. Day reiterated that he was going to give up playcalling this year. However, he said that ahead of last year as well but that wasn’t the case, leaving Brian Hartline as the offensive coordinator in name only.
Day already had a list of candidates he was parsing through before the hire. Considering the talent and potential in the offense, the job should be a hot commodity yet again.
What’s Next as the Bill O’Brien Era Ends in Columbus
Remembering the Top Moments of the O’Brien Era
There is a joke somewhere that this section could just have a “404 Not Found” and be done with it. In three weeks, there was not much to say about O’Brien as the offensive coordinator.
In those three weeks, there were two big wins on the recruiting trail/transfer portal, of course. O’Brien’s influence as the offensive coordinator at Alabama helped the Buckeyes secure commitments from Seth McLaughlin and Julian Sayin. McLaughlin projects as an immediate starter on the offensive line and Sayin is considered a top-three quarterback in the 2024 recruiting cycle.
All jokes aside, the departure comes at an inopportune time. The Buckeyes are well into their off-season workouts and will be kicking off Spring practice on March 7th. With the expectations sky-high for 2024, Day had to find a replacement quickly to make sure the Buckeyes didn’t waste precious time getting ready for the Spring Game and so forth.
A Chip on Day’s Shoulder
Day wasted no time at all. In the wake of O’Brien bolting for Boston College, the Ohio State coach called up his old mentor and suddenly Chip Kelly became the next offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes.
The two go way back. Kelly was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire when Day was the quarterback. Then, in the NFL, Day was the quarterback coach for Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Day has Kelly to thank as much as he does Urban Meyer for getting him where he is today. Day’s first coaching gig was as the tight ends coach at his Alma Mater where Kelly was the offensive coordinator.
Kelly was the head coach of the UCLA Bruins over the last six years where he finished with an unremarkable 35-34 mark in a usually weaker Pac-12. His first three years were rough as he went 3-9, 4-8, and 3-4, respectively. Then, his Bruins went 8-4, 9-4, and finally 8-5 last year.
Kelly’s Offense at UCLA
While at the helm, UCLA finished in the top 20 in scoring offense three times (2020-2022) and top 17 in rushing offense four times (2020-2023). His offenses were the best when he had the likes of Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback and Zach Charbonnet at running back. If all it takes is NFL-worthy players at the key positions, Kelly’s offense should be fine in Columbus. Buy stock in TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins.
Another connection is Kelly and offensive line coach Justin Frye. During that period of prosperity at UCLA, Frye was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach (2018 just OL coach, 2019-2021 both positions). In those three years, Frye’s offensive line was top-third in terms of sacks allowed. Perhaps patience will be rewarded in Frye’s case and this year’s unit will be a bit better than last.
An area that has been a concern for Ohio State has been its execution in the red zone. In six seasons, UCLA scored touchdowns on 64%, 59%, 70%, 74%, 68% and 52% of red zone trips. Those numbers jump to 87%, 81%, 89%, 88%, 84%, and 63% when adding field goals.
Obviously, 2023 was not great. However, UCLA had to replace quite a bit on offense and that kind of attrition is not likely something he will have to deal with at Ohio State.
Kelly Before UCLA
The new Ohio State offensive coordinator is well-traveled. As a coordinator, Kelly had stops at Columbia, New Hampshire, Johns Hopkins, and Oregon. Then, in 2012, Kelly was promoted to head coach at Oregon where he posted a 46-7 mark and made four consecutive BCS Bowls. One of those was the 2010 BCS Championship where his Ducks fell to Auburn, 22-19.
Following his time in Oregon, Kelly jumped to the NFL and led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 26-21 record in just under three years. The 49ers hired Kelly but fired him after a single disappointing 2-14 season. He spent the 2017 season away from football before taking over the UCLA program in 2018.
There was a feeling that Day would take back the playcalling duties this year once the Buckeyes lost O’Brien. With Kelly joining the staff, those concerns have been exorcized. Kelly’s offense is likely to be similar to Day’s, albeit a little bit more dependent on the run.
It will be interesting to see how Kelly responds to having, arguably, the most talent he’s had at the college level. Ohio State has CFP-or-bust expectations in 2024 and those will not go away after this hiring.