COLUMBUS — The sexton is off watch.
Michigan is back on it.
Urban Meyer will coach the Ohio State football team this season.
At a university where the bell has tolled without favor for every football coach since Paul Brown — the last to leave on his terms — its latest icon was spared the same fate, assuring its gridiron machine will roll on.
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer makes a statement during a news conference in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.
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That’s what’s most important, no?
Well, no. Contrary to popular belief, a football program that generated $90 million last year is attached to a $7 billion university, and Meyer, in keeping a sleazebag of the highest order on staff for more than six years, diminished its name.
But just the same, the investigation into Meyer’s handling of fired former assistant Zach Smith reached its just end late Wednesday night.
After a marathon board session, Ohio State announced Meyer will be suspended the first three games, along with the remainder of fall camp.
If the national narrative will cast Ohio State as the win-at-all-cost bad guys — a cheerleader, not a leader — know this: no school in America would have fired a three-time national champion coach under these circumstances.
Hell, some schools would have bowed to fan pressure, reinstated Meyer immediately, and had the band perform Script Urban before the opener. Judging by Meyer’s spaced-out gaze in the press conference, he strongly resisted any punishment.
In that context, credit Ohio State.
The $38 million question was whether or not Meyer covered up allegations of spousal abuse against Zach Smith in 2015, as his less than truthful statements at Big Ten media day suggested. An investigation led by big-hitting former prosecutor Mary Jo White concluded that to not be the case.
The two-week inquiry that included interviews with more than 40 witnesses and reviewed more than 60,000 emails and 10,000 texts judged Meyer did not exactly follow proper reporting procedures, but he did alert his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, who also faces a suspension. Meyer and Smith fell short “based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation,” a summary of the report stated.
“Neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith,” it said.
If Ohio State committed a half-million dollars to an exhaustive investigation — and the panel in their heart believes that to be the case — then Meyer deserved to keep his job.
While we do not know exactly what happened between Zach Smith and his ex-wife, Courtney Smith, we do know Meyer and Smith should have done more.
Which is why Ohio State fans should not view this as a day of celebration.
Let us first remember the woman whose repeated pleas for help is at the heart of this sad case. Keep Courtney Smith and her children in your thoughts. It was disappointing that neither Meyer nor any Ohio State administrators addressed her in their press remarks.
As for Meyer, he needs to rebuild his team’s trust.
No matter the spin and rationalizations, it is inexcusable he continued to employ a man who was three times accused of domestic abuse — whether charges were filed or not. “Simply relying on law enforcement to take action in the face of such allegations is not in our view an adequate response,” Mary Jo White said. And that’s to say nothing of Zach Smith’s list of red flags: the drunk-driving arrest in 2013, the reported office flings with a football staffer, the generally reckless lifestyle.
Here, Meyer’s preachings of above-the-line living and his practice are at deep odds, and he must reconcile that with the players he held to a standard 100 times higher than the one to which he held Smith.
It will be a long process.
But it is one any coach with Meyer’s equity would be afforded. For what it is worth, I believe he tries to do right by his players and the university, his morals no more pliable than any big-time coach.
“I’m fully aware that I’m ultimately responsible for the situation that has harmed the university as a whole and our department of athletics and our football program,” Meyer said. “I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation. I followed my heart, not my head. I fell short in pursuing full information, because at each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt. As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather, Earle Bruce, who was my mentor and like a father to me, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years.”
If Ohio State and Meyer use this as an opportunity for improvement, perhaps some good will come of this. Just not yet.
For now, the only victor is Ohio State on Saturdays.
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