I’ve gone back and forth on the Urban Meyer story. When I initially heard about it, I thought it was blown out of proportion but studied it in greater detail and thought it would result in Meyer’s termination. But I continued to dig and more information came out and I started to think that Meyer did what he should have done. This was always a very complicated story. I was always curious to hear results of the investigation and report. I defended him as the investigation continued.
But in the first full day after the report, after the suspension, part of me questions if he should have been dismissed.
The standard line I’ve heard from Buckeye fans who want to defend Meyer is “He’s not the police. It’s not his job to investigate these things.”
That’s true but that’s not the issue.
Urban hired Zach Smith. Zach Smith has had issues with drinking, issues with other substance abuse. He’s misused university funds. He’s had affairs. He has skipped out on recruiting visits and instead gone to strip clubs. And Urban kept him around. Urban hired him, when he shouldn’t have in the first place. Smith was hired because of who his grandfather is. And Smith ran wild.
Zach Smith was never charged with domestic violence (how he wasn’t, I still don’t understand).
But even without that, he was engaging in many, many, many behaviors that should have resulted in him losing his job and Urban kept him around.
Some try to defend Meyer as just being really loyal. If you’re loyal to the point where you’re blind to ethics and standards, your loyalty is no longer a virtue. It makes me question what else he allows, and as a fan, that to me is part of the issue. Meyer’s judgment and leadership.
A lot of Buckeye fans want to blame Ohio State president Michael Drake for how he handled the situation. Want to blame Gene Smith. Want to blame, shame, and discredit Courtney Smith. Want to question the integrity of Brett McMurphy. Want to blame the media. Want to blame culture. Want to blame everyone and act like Meyer is an innocent dove in all of this. Like he was just a guy who was so loyal that he was unwittingly taken advantage of. Meyer shares in the culpability.
It’s an embarrassment to the university. While Ohio State fans are happy, most of the rest of the country looks at this as the school putting the football program over values and objectivity. It’s a dark cloud over one of the most prestigious programs in college football. Urban did that by keeping Smith around and then lying to the media about it. Meyer did that. That’s on him. That’s his fault.
Amazingly, the report says they don’t believe he lied. Mary Jo White said in the press conference last night, “While those denials were plainly not accurate, Coach Meyer did not in our view deliberately lie.” That strikes me as a leap in logic.
Some OSU fans blame the #metoo movement and act like Meyer is the sacrificial lamb at the alter of political correctness. None of those change that Urban kept Smith around, he lied (or was oblivious to what was going on in his program), he deliberately concealed information from the investigation. That’s on him.
The report was released after the press conference. It had come on a day after 11 hours of meetings. But the issue with that is it seems Drake, Meyer, and Smith will never really have to answer questions in light of the contents of the report. Sure, Meyer will be asked, but he can always say, “We’re here to talk about football, going forward, etc.” He lied. People can justify that but the State of Ohio has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this investigation and these people should have to answer for that.
Instead, no answers, keeping people in the dark. The very thing that created this mess.
The report states that Gene Smith had not been made aware of the investigation into Zach Smith when he and Meyer were at Florida. I found it interesting in the press conference that Meyer talked of how often he and Gene Smith speak. Apparently not about that. That’s a failure on Meyer’s part. So Urban and Gene have great communication. Urban and Shelley Meyer have great communication, however he denied never having seen the text messages between Shelley Meyer and Courtney Smith. I’d like to give Urban the benefit of the doubt but when he’s already lied in this situation, I still struggle to believe him when he says that.
He preaches great values publicly but he had a major failure in this instance. We do all make mistakes. But with the damage that has been done to the university and to the reputation of his program, I question if that’s something he can truly ever establish again. That’s the damage that undermining your own integrity can do.
The investigation seems like it was less of an investigation and more of a concerted effort to justify and exonerate Meyer. If Meyer weren’t one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, I don’t think he’d still have this job.
Some want to compare this to Penn State. It’s not that. It reminds me more of Ole Miss, and how their (former) coach Hugh Freeze preached a big game of integrity and values but that wasn’t really what was happening behind the scenes within his program.
As I said in the beginning, I have less respect for him today than I did yesterday. I have less respect for him today than I did before all of this came out. Should Meyer have been fired? I don’t know. But as I look at all of the harm that this has caused, I struggle not to think that a clean break and a fresh start would have been in the ultimate best interest of the program and the university.
This is worse than what Jim Tressel did.
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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.