Urban Meyer's Ohio State tenure currently hangs in the balance. Placed on administrative leave Wednesday, Ohio State is investigating whether or not he knew of former Buckeyes wide receivers' coach Zach Smith's history of domestic violence acts committed while he was in Meyer's employ. The future at this point is unwritten. It's possible he's reinstated next week and coaches the Buckeyes for the next decade. It's possible he never coaches another down. The probability between those two extremes varies depending on your perspective, but it's inarguable that the Zach Smith affair will be -- in the parlance of our times -- on Meyer's Wikipedia page for eternity. In fact, it's on there right now.
Given the magnitude of the current moment, it's important to remember how we got here.
Last Monday, Brett McMurphy broke news on his Facebook page that Smith was arrested for aggravated battery of a pregnant victim while working under Meyer as a graduate assistant at Florida. Hours later, McMurphy followed that report with details on another domestic violence allegation against Smith, this time in 2015 while Smith was Ohio State's wide receivers coach. (Smith had also been arrested for criminal trespass in May of this year, which Ohio State was aware of.)
There's never a good time for such a reports to break, but these happened to fall at a specularly bad time for Ohio State. Ohio State's turn to appear at Big Ten media days was the following day. Smith was officially fired Monday night, but Meyer would have to answer for the program's actions and his knowledge of Smith's history.
We know how that went. (Emphasis added.)
“In 2009, Zach was an intern,” Meyer said. “As I do, as I imagine most coaches or people in leadership positions, the first thing you do is you tell your boss. Let the experts do their jobs; I’m certainly not going to investigate it. It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened. Shelley and I actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised for counseling and wanted to help moving forward.”
“I got a text late last night that something happened in 2015. There was nothing. I don’t know who creates a story like that.
“And then this recent one, you press pause. It’s something our team lives by: E+R=O. You get an event, get your mind right and step up, press pause and gather information, get your mind right and step up and do the right thing. That’s the position that I hold and that’s how I did that.”
Given a night to prepare his response to a question he knew was coming, Meyer flubbed it. His response, specifically the third paragraph, was confusing. It did nothing to quell the avalanche of negative columns from the people in the room or watching across the country. And it directly created the situation Meyer now finds himself in.
Eight days later, McMurphy broke the story detailing Courtney Smith's intimate correspondence with multiple Ohio State coaches' wives, including Shelley Meyer, leading to credible questions about how Meyer himself could not know given his wife's involvement in the 2015 incident and, as he admitted at Big Ten media days, the Meyer couple's involvement in the 2009 incident. Questions that Ohio State itself is now asking of Meyer, as the Buckeyes conduct training camp without him.
As McMurphy explained on The Audible podcast, Meyer's absolute response -- "There was nothing. I don't know who creates a story like that." -- directly challenged McMurphy to dig deeper.
"For my purposes, that was the perfect quote," he said. "What he said was absolutely perfect, cut and dried that he did not know about it. Monday night, I reported about the 2015 incident and now he's saying it didn't happen, I made it up out of thin air. His direct quote was, 'Who would create such a story?' Well, I would create such a story because I had the police documents.
"What that made do is it made me report more and follow the breadcrumbs and here we are, waiting to see the ultimate fate of Urban Meyer."
Anyone who's followed Meyer closely over his 17-year head coaching career knows Meyer has a habit of speaking in absolutes.
This habit tends to back Meyer into unnecessary corners.
There were a number of ways Meyer could have wiggled out of the 2015 incident -- "I wasn't as proactive as I should have been" "We learned from that" -- but he left himself none by saying there was nothing and then following it up by calling McMurphy's report, essentially, fake news. Call it what you want -- a verbal tic, hubris -- the words that flew out of Meyer's mouth last Tuesday backed him into a corner entirely of his own making.
Words matter. That's true for all of us, especially so when you're the head football coach at Ohio State and answering questions about an alleged serial domestic abuser in your employ. Meyer may have to pay for those words with his career.