Last night, exactly three weeks after Brett McMurphy’s initial bombshell story broke, Urban Meyer was suspended three games by Ohio State for his failure to properly handle the domestic abuse allegations of his former assistant coach, Zach Smith. The suspension came after a lengthy internal investigation from the university, as well as an 11-hour long Board of Trustees meeting yesterday.
And yet, the suspension rings hollow. Based on the haphazard press conference, as well as the contradictory report released afterwards, it’s hard to tell if Meyer, the university, or the OSU fanbase has really learned anything. The lack of remorse or apology toward the victim yesterday was also stunning, and OSU, ostensibly an institution of higher education made its priorities abundantly clear - winning games is more important than properly dealing with abuse allegations, and that one man is more important than the university.
Let’s start with Meyer. Even if you believe, at the most basic level, that Meyer’s job is mainly to coach and win games for the school, then you have to wonder why he was so insistent in keeping Zach Smith on staff, even after a 2009 arrest and a 2015 police investigation. Was Smith that good of a position coach that it was worth it to overlook everything to keep him on his staff both at Florida and Ohio State? It doesn’t seem like he was. Did Smith’s status as Earle Bruce’s grandson make Meyer overly loyal to him? And why did Meyer never disclose Smith’s 2009 arrest to the university, and continue to lie that he had no knowledge of the 2015 incident until pressed on it? Was it worth it all for a wide receivers coach?
OSU findings: Zach Smith "promiscuous & embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, possible NCAA violation & lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence & cybercrimes" yet Meyer never disciplined him— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 23, 2018
Meyer’s performance at last night’s press conference did not demonstrate a man who learned his lesson either. The same guy who hired Kevin Wilson and Greg Schiano as his top assistants at OSU seemingly tried to brush this off all as an unnecessary distraction on the road to another national title. He apologized “to Buckeye Nation” that this happened, and when pressed to apologize to Courtney Smith, he said “I’m sorry we’re in this situation.” Emphasis on the we here. That half-apology makes it seem like Meyer is sorry he got caught and had to be suspended from team activities for almost a month, not that he actually feels bad about anything that happened to Courtney Smith. How is this a normal human reaction?
I mean...Urban Meyer had a massive stage to show some accountability and denounce domestic violence in front of the country...and he went with:— Gabe Ikard (@GabeIkard) August 23, 2018
“I’m sorry that we’re in this situation.”
Furthermore, the public records that OSU released after the press conference are also damning for Meyer, who deleted old texts from his phone, brushed aside concerns from his wife Shelley about Zach Smith, and claimed memory issues when he contined to lie about Smith at B1G media days last month. (Sidenote: If we’ve learned anything about successful head coaches of college programs, it’s that they’re incredibly micro-managing and detail-oriented down to every aspect of their program. So the idea that Meyer conveniently forgot some aspects of the case when talking to the university or at Big Ten media days is hard to imagine. And if he does have significant memory issues, as the report claims, wouldn’t this affect his ability to coach?)
But beyond Meyer, this is not a good conclusion for a university that once immediately fired its greatest coach in history. Ohio State, before yesterday, was one of the few schools that could truly say that no one person was bigger than its football program, or its school for that matter. They no longer have that high ground. By suspending Meyer for only three games, as well as giving Teflon Don athletic director Gene Smith a two-week suspension next month, OSU president Michael Drake and the Board of Trustees chose the easy way out. But in doing so, their school lost respect today, proving that wins and losses are the only thing that matter right now in Columbus, and they’re okay with their head coach lying to them, because it wasn’t “deliberate.” It’s an unfortunate, but also unsurprising, commentary on the overall state of higher education right now.
Lead investigator Mary jo White says, "Coach Meyer did not in our view deliberately lie."— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) August 23, 2018
The unfortunate side effect of this entire situation is also that a rabid, win-crazy fanbase will now attack anyone who tries to say that OSU got it wrong here. Even capital-J Journalists last night were attacking media members who are Michigan alums who are “mad” and just “haters” because OSU beats them every year.
It’s impossible to have an honest conversation with OSU fans about this because of the tribalism inherent in college football, where winning is the only important thing and acting decently no longer really matters as long as your guy’s in charge. OSU fans have shown their true colors over the past few weeks, and it’s an ugly look.
During the Tattoogate controversy under Jim Tressel at Ohio State in 2011, former OSU president Gordon Gee joked that wouldn’t fire Tressel because he had to worry most about Jim Tressel firing him. Tressel later resigned, but Gee’s quote still stands out - the football coach has more clout than the school president or any other administration or board member at OSU.
If this is the case, then shouldn’t we hold Urban Meyer to a higher standard as well?