COLUMBUS — Three days later, Ryan Day came clean.
Winning his first Michigan game brought more of a sigh of relief than a sense of pure joy.
“Relief, yeah,” the first-year Ohio State head coach said with a smile. “It wasn't even close. I didn't know what I would feel, but it was absolutely relief, yeah.”
Instead of out recruiting like some of his peers, Day was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center preparing for another football game Tuesday.
Here are five takeaways from his weekly press conference to preview a Big Ten Championship game matchup with Wisconsin:
1. He is happy to be 1-0 in The Game.
Day stressed the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan game all week, but he maintained a good poker face when talking about it.
“To say that I didn't internalize a lot of emotions that week leading up to that game would not be accurate,” he admitted Tuesday. “A lot went into that. It's not just me, it's my family, it's the staff, it's this team. There's just so much that goes into that.”
Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who is in his first year at Ohio State, pointed out to Day walking around the facility after a loss would be pretty awkward.
“Imagine walking in the Woody with all the signage up on the walls and not winning that game, have to walk by it 365 days, not winning that game,” Day said. “I don't even know what that would be like.
“There’s so much that goes into that, we play it year-round. To get that win the way we did means a lot.”
2. This week he is encouraging his team to “accelerate through the finish line.”
The Buckeyes are 12-0, but they’ll need a baker’s dozen wins to be able to call themselves Big Ten champions for a third straight season.
They are coming off back-to-back games against top 10 teams, and the 10th-ranked Badgers will present a third, something Day and his staff anticipated long before the season started.
“Once we crossed the border back into Ohio (from Michigan), it was on to the next game. That has to be the focus here,” Day said.
“Our message has been to the team that the end of the first race is coming on Saturday night at 8:00. We have to accelerate through that finish line. As much as these games have been emotional, emotional wins, big wins, they don't mean anything if we don't win this game.
"That's what's great about playing like this in this format, the games get bigger as the season goes on. We have to do a better job of preparing this week.”
3. He believes three Buckeyes deserve to be Heisman Trophy finalists.
Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, now the quarterback at LSU, is considered the front-runner for the sport’s most famous statue, but Day thinks he should see some familiar faces at the awards ceremony in New York City on Dec. 14: Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, running back J.K. Dobbins and quarterback Justin Fields.
“Because of the way the season has played out, maybe they haven't had as many reps or opportunities as some of the other guys in the country,” Day said. "Their efficiency on the field to me has been the best in the country.
“Joe and (Oklahoma quarterback) Jalen Hurts have had unbelievable years. I am not taking anything away from what they've done because those guys are playing tremendously. I just think Justin and Chase, all their own moments, have had Heisman moments and they deserve to go to New York.”
4. He understands he will have coaches who are candidates for other jobs that are opening up around the country.
Hafley and linebackers coach Al Washington have already been written about as candidates for head coaching jobs, but Day said he asked his staff to put the current team first.
“One of the reasons that you come here is to be a part of this special family, but it also opens up opportunities for you down the road,” Day said. “I think it's healthy and it's good for families. I support that.
“The one thing I'd ask is to those guys, if that situation were to come up, make sure we finish through this finish line first. We made a commitment to these guys. Most people who are looking for coaches at this time would understand that, what that means.
“We got a lot of guys who want to be here. I don't expect any changes or anything like that to come up, but it's part of the profession.”
5. Hafley thinks Day should get some hardware.
While Hafley is a candidate for the Broyles Award as the nation’s best assistant coach, he was happy to stump for Day being named Big Ten Coach of the Year — if not more.
“First-year head coach takes over a job obviously one of the best jobs there is,” Hafley said. “First-year head coach goes undefeated through the regular season, has some things he has to go through during the season. The way he handled it, the way these players play for him, the way these players care about him.
“Take out the record: The way he treats these players and his staff and the way these players play for him and the way these coaches coach for him, and then combine that with the record, I don't think there's a better coach in the country.
“You can debate me on that, but that's how I feel.”