Ohio State has put Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave while it investigates claims several people close to him knew of an alleged domestic abuse incident involving assistant coach Zach Smith in 2015. The clock is ticking while the rest of the college football world stands still. This is a monumental step indicating the university believes Courtney Smith’s allegations worthy of a fact-finding mission. To put the second-best coach in the sport on ice is significant.
Reading the tea leaves, the weightier foot will eventually drop. And we could have seen it coming, had we been looking hard enough. Meyer, a three-time national champion, ascended to the top of his craft with a Hand of God leadership style. He fashions himself, to steal a phrase from George W. Bush, as The Decider.
He preaches the gospel of responsibility and has built an altar to leadership, parlaying his position into great wealth and book sales. Like all of us, he believes he, and he alone, is the great knower of lines and casts those who challenge his rulings aside.
For all the praise, honor, and baubles, there’s been an undercurrent running through his career. His Florida feats were built on the back of second chances and, perhaps, willful indifference. His flight from Gainesville was sold as a virtuous quest to spend more time with family and focus on his health.
When he re-emerged in Columbus, fit and hungry for more, a seed of doubt was put in the minds of many. Perhaps this is a man who is not totally forthright. There have been whispers, and rightly so. It’s a serious charge with no way of proving. But coupled with other incidents where the quest of winning has superseded the virtuous principles Meyer espouses led to a derisive, tongue-in-cheek nickname.
Meyer now finds himself in purgatory. The incident in question has an answer. Either he knew or didn’t. It is possible Shelley Meyer never spoke to her husband about the texts she received from Courtney Smith. It is possible she presented a different reality. The court of public opinion is going to find that difficult to believe. Then there’s the problem presented if Meyer didn’t know because, well, a ruler like him should have.
An investigation should reveal the truth. And if it’s found that Meyer ignored the 2015 incident, then lied about it at Big Ten Media Days, there’s really no decision to be made. He must go. Especially in 2018. Especially in the current climate. Especially because the leadership he’s evangelized dictates such a move.
Zach Smith is not Chris Rainey, Carlos Hyde, or Aaron Hernandez. His second chance came later in life. It’s possible he was also given a third with the hope no one would ever find out. Time will tell. If an earnest internal investigation is conducted.
One of Meyer’s five core values, printed on a wall at the football complex, is “Treat Women With Respect.” Respect necessitates a thorough, dispassionate examination of the facts. At a minimum.
The handwriting may already be on the wall. Meyer, who was so firm in his denials just a week ago, has consented to be judged. For now he sits in purgatory, but his seat is getting hotter.