- The Buckeyes' head coach denied knowing of an assistant's domestic abuse in 2015, and the three-time national champion is never one to question himself. But how long will Ohio State side with Meyer as more details to the contrary emerge?
Update: Urban Meyer has been placed on paid administrative leave until the conclusion of an Ohio State investigation into his handling of former receivers coach Zach Smith.
“I would not want football to drive a line of cleavage in our university. Football is not worth that.” — Woody Hayes
The price of college football has only gone up in the last half century, but we keep paying it. We love to pay it. We beg to pay it. They gleefully pay that price in Columbus, where Urban Meyer keeps doing what he has always done: win a ton of football games, and sell his version of the truth. Hey, it’s a package deal. You pay for one, you get them both. You’re welcome.
Well, Ohio State has a choice now. The choice is not—yet—whether to fire Meyer. It is whether Ohio State even cares about the truth, about the integrity of its coach and how Meyer handled domestic violence accusations against assistant coach Zach Smith. Does Ohio State care if Meyer has been honest about this? The overwhelming evidence is that he has not.
Go read veteran college football reporter Brett McMurphy’s damning report. McMurphy makes a strong case that, despite denials, Meyer knew about a 2015 accusation against Smith, which led to Smith’s wife Courtney getting a restraining order against him. There are text messages between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife, that make it fairly clear that Shelley Meyer knew this was a severe situation.
And now the question that looms over The Ohio State Football … er, The Ohio State University: Are administrators willing to venture down a path that could lead to Meyer’s firing? Or are they too scared of that possible endgame to even risk it?
If Meyer has a side to the story, he is entitled to tell it. But everything he has said so far makes it hard to believe anything he says from here. At last week’s Big Ten media days, he minimized the 2009 accusation, effectively casting doubt on Courtney Smith: “What was reported wasn’t actually what happened.” Well, McMurphy reported Wednesday that, according to the police report, Smith “picked (Courtney) up, by grabbing her T-shirt and threw her against the bedroom wall.” Who the hell is Urban Meyer to say that didn’t happen?
Meyer also said, of the 2015 incident, that, “there was nothing ... I don’t know who creates a story like that.” He later modified that statement to say he learned of the 2015 incident just this month, when McMurphy started reporting on it. Meyer fired Smith after McMurphy’s initial report. You would have to be extremely naïve to think Meyer did not learn of the 2015 incident until this month.
Look: Urban Meyer did not wake up one day and say, “Gee, if it helps our football team, I’m O.K. with domestic violence.” This is not that simple. He just continually falls back on his unwavering belief in the righteousness of Urban Meyer. His recruits are good people because they are his. His coaches have the right values because they work for him. He is a lot like the thousands at Ohio State who revere him: He believes what he wants to believe about his program, because it’s easier that way. (And there are thousands of fans like that at every major school.)
That attitude is what leads a coach to believe his assistant, instead of his assistant’s accuser.
That attitude leads a coach to give somebody a “second chance,” because what could help an abusive person more than working with the great Urban Meyer?
That attitude leads a coach to go on the offensive instead of undergoing self-examination. The honorable and decent thing for Meyer to do last week would be to say, “I am sickened by these stories, and while I was aware of accusations in the past, I did not fully appreciate their severity. That is entirely my fault. My heart goes out to Courtney Smith. I am questioning every way I handled this, from start to finish. I understand that other people will—and should—question me, too.”
Of course, Urban Meyer did not win three national championships by questioning himself. He got there by convincing his players that, as he often says, “the system is infallible.” What a shame if he believes that about himself. What a tragedy if Ohio State believes that about him.