Ohio State head coach Ryan Day pushed back on the narrative surrounding Justin Fields' work ethic, saying it's "reckless" to criticize someone he feels was a sensational locker room leader for the Buckeyes.
Day spoke at length with Peter King of NBC Sports about the situation:
"The whole idea that he doesn't have a very good work ethic? I mean, to me, that's crazy. He got done with the Clemson game [the loss in the College Football Playoff in the 2019 season], and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what's he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don't accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don't love the game if you're doing something like that. This kid loves the game.
"I heard something about the last one to come in, first one to leave. First off, the scouts weren't in our building all year. Last one in? Every morning, at least every morning we could be in the building, early, he's in with [football sports performance czar] Mickey Marotti. The guys who were self-motivated and could do things on their own, those were the ones who made it. He was unbelievable. He changed his diet, he got stronger. He did better than most."
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky took criticism last week for passing along information from sources who called Fields "a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback" during an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show. Orlovsky has since apologized for the comments and spoke to Fields privately about the matter, saying he "wasn't good enough in that moment."
The comments did not come directly from Orlovsky, but his sources seemed to have the opposite information from everyone at Ohio State. Buckeyes coaches and players have praised Fields' leadership and work ethic, and Day is correct in noting the Big Ten may not have had a 2020 season without Fields leading a coalition of players.
However, Day's own comments to King were reckless in saying players who opted out of the 2020 season do not "love" football. Several players opted out over health concerns during a worldwide pandemic; their decision has nothing to do with the love of the game. Some of those players may have had concerns about their physical well-being—both in terms of the virus and avoiding injury in a pandemic season—while not receiving a salary in a multibillion-dollar industry.
It was unfair of Day ($6 million salary) to question any player with whom he is not familiar, just as it was Orlovsky's sources to question Fields.
The criticism of Fields did not seem to stick; if anything, it's led to more people praising his work ethic in an effort to end the bad narrative. Fields could go as high as No. 3 in this month's NFL draft and will certainly be taken in the top half of the first round. While it's not clear if he'll wind up being a superstar as a pro, odds are his success (or lack thereof) will not come because of a lack of work ethic.