Picture this: It’s 1996 and Lou Holtz is hosting a golf media day. I arrive at the course in a walking cast, having broken my fibula playing softball. I’m a first-year Notre Dame beat writer, not about to miss a chance to access the coaches.
I look on the tee sheet. I’m paired with the receivers coach, a guy named Urban Meyer.
I introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Teddy Greenstein. I’ll be covering you guys for the Chicago Tribune.”
He sizes me up and replies, “You for us or against us?”
This is Meyer’s world, one of black and white.
He once said of coaches who lie to the NCAA about committing violations: “Your career is over. You’re not suspended for two games. … No, you’re finished. That will clean up some things.”
Bob Davie, Meyer’s jogging buddy when the two were at Notre Dame, once described Meyer to me as “maniacal … maniacal in a positive way. Whether it’s jogging or golfing or just enjoying an evening together, he can narrow his focus to what’s most important in that moment.”
One would never accuse Meyer of running a loose ship. If the lowest-level crew member flicked a cigarette butt in the wrong spot, Meyer would know it.
Yet here we are.
The independent group investigating what Meyer knew about former Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith’s domestic abuse allegations — and what Meyer did with that information — has until Sunday to submit its report.
After speaking to a half-dozen figures in the college football industry, I can tell you their expectation is clear: No way Meyer loses his job. Athletic director Gene Smith is a goner. He somehow survived the Jim Tressel tattoo scandal, he always takes the high road and his soft landing figures to include a nice severance package.
The debate is whether Meyer will get suspended.
One athletic director asked, “For what?”
Point being, he apparently did inform his athletic director of the 2015 incident in which Powell, Ohio, police were called to Courtney Smith’s home.
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I’m saying Ohio State officials will suspend Meyer for multiple games — and not only because of the likely public backlash (at least outside a 200-mile radius from Columbus) if they don’t.
Meyer damaged the program. He dragged down the name of the university.
He allowed an assistant coach with drinking and anger issues, at minimum, to coach and mentor his receivers. What Meyer would not tolerate among his players — at least not his less talented ones — he tolerated in Zach Smith.
And why? Because he is Earle Bruce’s grandson, and Bruce was a father figure to Meyer? Because Meyer figured if he put Smith out on the street, Smith would be finished in the business? Because Meyer thinks he can save every scoundrel? Because Smith had developed into a solid assistant coach? Because Meyer was worried that Smith, deemed a loose cannon, would turn on him if he were dismissed?
None of those reasons is good enough, of course.
Meyer will survive this, but his credibility tank is on empty. Lying to the media is hardly a capital offense. Coaches do it all the time regarding injuries, strategy and how they evaluate their players.
What’s warped is for a $7.6 million-a-year coach to step onto a podium in a formal setting airing live on the Big Ten’s flagship television network and, having been afforded hours to compose his thoughts, lie about what he knew and what transpired.
Meyer also failed to make clear that domestic violence will not be tolerated. He acknowledged that Smith finally got fired because some of his misdeeds had reached the public sphere, thanks to reporting by Brett McMurphy. And Meyer was foolish enough to essentially challenge McMurphy, who was sitting there in Chicago listening, by saying, “I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
That’s like daring an opposing coach to blitz and then telling your offensive linemen to take the day off.
What I hope the investigation reveals is exactly what transpired in 2015 after Gene Smith called Zach Smith and had him immediately return to Columbus from a recruiting trip.
Did Gene Smith advocate for Zach Smith’s firing? What did Meyer want done? Was university leadership made aware? What is the chain of command? Who runs the show?
Just seven years ago during the tattoo scandal, then-President Gordon Gee embarrassed alumni (at least I hope they were embarrassed) by saying he would never fire Tressel: “Let me be very clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
Let us be clear: This is how awful things happen in college sports — when coaches do what suits them, rather than allowing their superiors to make the proper call.
Coaches such as Meyer, Art Briles at Baylor — just about every one of them, really — cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to issues relating to suspensions, grades, arrests, even injuries.
Though we live in a world of grays, that is one absolute.
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