SportsPulse: Urban Meyer’s suspension can be debated, one thing cannot: Ohio State and Meyer botched their reaction and explanation of the decision. USA TODAY Sports
The saddest part of watching Urban Meyer’s Hall of Fame coaching career devolve into a 23-page report that depicts him as a serial liar, aspiring cover-up artist and reckless personnel manager who protected a risky employee is that human beings actually read what was on paper and concluded that he should remain as the coach at Ohio State.
At least now it makes sense why it took 11 hours of deliberations Wednesday before the Board of Trustees settled on a three-game suspension for Meyer: A group of serious, successful people had to come to terms with a decision that was decidedly unserious in the name of King Football.
What’s remarkable, however, about Ohio State’s decision to retain Meyer despite a rather overwhelming narrative in the investigative findings that would have brought down practically anyone else is the utter lack of self-confidence displayed by one of the top five college football programs of all time.
In other words, the conclusion Wednesday was that Ohio State University needed Meyer more than Meyer needed Ohio State University, which isn’t just an embarrassment for one of the top public institutions in the country but a failure to understand their own history and a lack of faith in their brand.
Ohio State has been good at football, more or less continuously, for a half-century. The Buckeyes were competing for national titles long before Meyer arrived and will do so long after he leaves. The institutional investment in winning football games is too deep, and the natural advantages of history and geography are too powerful, for Ohio State to ever be reliant on one person for its success.
And yet Ohio State is apparently so afraid of what happens after Meyer that it was willing to all but ignore the findings of its $500,000 report, which offered a crystal clear roadmap to fire him, perhaps even with cause.
Even if you strip away Courtney Smith’s domestic violence accusations – which Meyer was obviously skeptical of based on his responses to the investigators and his lack of compassion at the press conference Wednesday night – just think about what the report was able to corroborate.
How many times over the years did Meyer sit in his office, asking himself what would happen if Zach Smith’s behavior ever became known outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center?
Surely Meyer had those thoughts in 2014 when he learned, according to the report, that his wide receivers coach had rung up a $600 bill at a strip club with one, or perhaps multiple, high school coaches while on a recruiting trip in Miami. But instead of firing an eminently replaceable employee, he changed his coaches’ manual, issued a warning and failed to report the misconduct to his athletic director.
Surely Meyer had those thoughts in 2015 and 2016 when Smith was late to practices and workouts and skipped scheduled recruiting visits that he falsely claimed he had made, leading athletics director Gene Smith to suggest firing him.
Surely Meyer had those thoughts in 2016 when Smith was admitted to a drug treatment facility for “addiction to a stimulant prescription drug used to treat ADHD” and, again, didn’t inform his athletic director.
But time after time, Meyer failed to take drastic action, never mind what should have been obvious warning signs about a domestic abuse history with multiple allegations and a sexual relationship with an Ohio State football secretary that Meyer may or may not have known about. Even if you accept the investigative report’s conclusion that Meyer didn’t know about that relationship and the other lewd sexual activities occurring at the OSU football facilities, what does it say about the culture of Ohio State football that the people who did know thought it was more important to protect Smith than to report it to Meyer and stop it?
When you add it up, the bare minimum takeaway is that Meyer failed to properly manage an employee who wasn’t just problematic, but a massive human resources risk. Every day Smith showed up to work, he presented the potential to drag Meyer personally and the Ohio State football program into a legal, moral and human resources morass. And yet at every turn, there was little more than a stern warning not to do it again, pointing to Meyer’s reckless disregard for his role as the steward of not only Ohio State football, but the university’s reputation.
In the end, after poring through the 23 salacious pages that were made public after his press conference Wednesday night, it’s going to be hard to take seriously anything Meyer says ever again. Even the investigative team wrote in the summary that they believe he lied to them about his role in cleaning up Smith’s 2009 arrest and whether he communicated with his wife about abuse concerns in 2015.
Moreover, they concluded Meyer omitted relevant information he possessed about Smith on numerous occasions when it would have perhaps raised the alarm level around Ohio State and intimated that he might have wiped his phone of old text messages after Brett McMurphy’s Aug. 1 report that revealed communications between Shelley Meyer and Courtney Smith.
Following that report’s publication, the report says Meyer and director of football operations Brian Voltolini “discussed at that time whether the media could get access to Coach Meyer’s phone, and specifically discussed how to adjust the settings on Meyer’s phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted.”
And when Meyer handed over his phone for the investigators to examine the next day – voila! – there were no messages older than a year.
Regardless of what those communications contained, investigators believe Meyer suffered from “consciousness of guilt,” thinking immediately about deleting texts after the damaging story went public.
In the end, though, without reason for any NCAA or legal action against Meyer directly, this was always going to be about what Ohio State wanted, not what made sense based on the factual findings in a 23-page report.
Make no mistake, the ultimate outcome for Meyer and what is in the report are directly in conflict. And the only way to look at what investigators found and conclude that Meyer should be retained is to see Ohio State as a weak institution that has acquiesced its history, its standards and its pride for the sake of a football coach it deems irreplaceable.
Might as well just go all the way and rename the place. From now on, it’s Urban Meyer State.