Upon becoming Ohio State head coach in January 2019, Day gave Washington a call and coaxed him to leave Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan.
That was thanks not only to Washington’s reputation as an up-and-coming coach who was recruiting Ohio high schoolers for the Wolverines but also their pre-existing relationship.
The two worked together at Boston College in 2013-14 when Day was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and Washington was the running backs coach.
“Obviously it’s well-documented I’ve known Ryan, and Ryan is a very influential person to me professionally,” Washington said. “I’ve known him personally for years, so I’ll start with him. He’s a great leader. He’s an elite person to mold yourself after because of his habits and the way he lives his life. So, I’ll start with that, but then you go to the defensive side and we’ve got some great guys.”
He name-checked defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and associate head coach/defensive line coach Larry Johnson, too, but said everyone on the staff merited mention.
“Kerry Coombs is an unbelievable leader and a great person,” Washington said. “Larry Johnson — I mean, I could go on and on, both on the defensive and the offensive side.”
Of course, with Washington the people are only half the story.
“The second piece for me personally is this is home,” Washington confirmed.
He grew up in an Ohio State household in Ohio State’s backyard.
His father, Al Washington Sr., was a linebacker for the Buckeyes, and the younger Al played at Columbus Bishop Watterson High School before going on to a career at Boston College.
He began his coaching career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on the East Coast before working at North Carolina State, Slippery Rock and Elon.
He spent five years at his alma mater, where he crossed paths with Day, then first returned to his home state in 2017 as defensive line coach at the University of Cincinnati.
After a year in Southwest Ohio, he went to Ann Arbor for a season.
After circling the area, it was time for Al Washington Jr. to come home — and he’s not quite ready to leave yet.
“On Sunday, my mom had a chance to come over, and she drove 20 minutes instead of 12 hours and she was able to see my kids, her grandkids,” he said. “They get to know her as ’Ya Ya,’ and they really get to know her. My father is over all the time, and he shares his opinion all the time. He knows the players, he’s around it and it’s unique.”
While the lure of home is strong, Washington indicated that alone would not keep him at Ohio State.
“You could have a job on Mars, but if it’s good people, I feel like that makes it a better job and a good job,” he said.
He confirmed he has aspirations to be a defensive coordinator (a position reportedly offered by the Vols) and head coach some day but feels those goals are attainable from the seat he occupies now.
Day and Washington both expressed frustration the Tennessee situation played out so publicly, but both made it sound like that is water under the bridge at this point.
“I love Al, always have,” Day said. “He and I go back a long, long ways. He’s like a brother to me, and I always want Al to have great opportunities. That’s why he came back here. We talked about that when he came here that I want Al to be a coordinator and a head coach one day, so he’s always going to have great opportunities and this was just one of those opportunities. I’m obviously glad he’s still here and so are the guys on the team.”
Dallas Gant, an upperclassmen in line to become a starter this season but sidelined this spring by a foot injury, confirmed the latter during his meeting with reporters Thursday.
“Coach Wash is an incredible coach,” Gant said. “He got offered a great job. As a player for him, you don’t want to see a good coach like that leave, but obviously it was a great opportunity for him to be a defensive coordinator.
“So whatever route he took you would be supportive, but he said firmly that he wants to stay with us and all the guys were excited to have the back. He’s just a guy who’s capable of so much. You’re happy for him either way, but you love to have him.”