COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer is not in the clear yet. But the Ohio State coach can probably see the sideline at the Horseshoe again from where he’s standing.
The independent investigation into what Meyer knew about the Zach Smith incidents in 2015, when he knew them and how he handled that information hasn’t even completed a full day yet. But in taking ownership of his misleading, untrue statements about the issue at Big Ten media days and now making clear that he reported the matter through the proper channels, the odds of Meyer returning to the Buckeyes just skyrocketed.
Ohio State opened practice without him on Friday morning thanks to his paid administrative leave. But if all the details he outlined in his letter later in the day are true, Meyer probably isn’t likely to remain absent from training camp for long.
“Here is the truth: While at the University of Florida, and now at The Ohio State University, I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involved a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels,” Meyer posted in a letter on Twitter. “And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
“The power of what I say and how I say it, especially regarding sensitive and serious domestic issues, has never been more evident than now. My words, whether in a reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate and most of all, completely accurate. Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24, I failed on many of these fronts.”
Based on Courtney Smith’s accounts during a video interview on Wednesday on the website Stadium, it became impossible to believe that Meyer was unaware of what was happening with his wide receivers coach three years ago. And while there is a clause in his contract that would allow Ohio State to potentially fire him for cause due to acts of dishonesty, lying to the media seems almost comically unlikely to end the coaching career of a three-time national champion.
The one thing Meyer could not afford to do was lie to his bosses about what he knew about Zach Smith. And if his latest account winds up being the kind of truthful Meyer should have been initially, that might be all he needs to return to work.
“I understand that there are more questions to be answered, and I look forward to doing just that with the independent investigators retained by the university,” Meyer wrote. “I will cooperate fully with them.
” … Please know that the truth is the ultimate power, and I am confident that I took appropriate action. I deeply regret that I failed in my words.”
An apology alone isn’t going to fix everything. But it’s definitely a start for Meyer in the process of trying to reclaim his job.
That is definitely not a guarantee at this point, and that’s why the independent investigation is so critical for Ohio State. There are still questions that need to be answered at this stage, starting with exactly how many of the allegations with Smith that Meyer and the decision-makers at the university were aware of at the time. The fact that Smith was never charged with a crime and that the police reports in Powell were redacted and in some respects still being shielded from the public are likely another factor that would work in Urban Meyer’s favor.
Meyer will still have to address why he felt comfortable keeping Smith on staff for nearly three years when he knew about the allegations. That may well be an issue that comes up for administrators above Meyer, including athletic director Gene Smith. It also seems a bit strange that Meyer would risk his entire legacy and $38 million on a position coach who at best had an up-and-down tenure with the Buckeyes just on the field, even with his loyalty to Smith’s grandfather, Earle Bruce.
It’s still a real possibility that Ohio State may wind up deciding that there is too much of a public-relations stain to keeping Meyer around at this point. If the Buckeyes give him back his whistle, they need to be absolutely sure there’s nothing else out there that could damage the program or the university.
On Wednesday afternoon, it looked like Ohio State and the national-title winning coach parting ways might have been the betting favorite. But the odds have swung now, and that momentum might carry Urban Meyer right back to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center — and soon.