Wojo: No surprise, Meyer and Buckeyes condone fibs for wins

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Urban Meyer answers questions during a news conference Wednesday night.

Urban Meyer is who we thought he was.

Ohio State is what we thought it was.

Many major college football programs are what we think they are.

This is the sad – and not remotely surprising – conclusion from the circus in Columbus, where an independent committee painted Meyer as a serial liar, harshly questioned his handling of assistant Zach Smith’s domestic abuse allegations, expressed concern Meyer may have wiped out text messages on his phone, and revealed ugly details about Smith that Meyer knew, should have known, or somehow forgot.

And then, after a two-week probe and an 11-hour meeting, school president Michael Drake essentially declared there was just enough wiggle room to retain the celebrated coach. This was high comedy and low tragedy, and all the while it was recounted Wednesday night, Meyer sat there stone-faced, looking and sounding like an irritated victim.

It was a sideshow sham, all the more disgusting because the outcome was pretty much expected, because we’ve seen many times the dangerous power a successful coach wields. If anything, the length of the suspension was the only surprise, three games instead of one or two. I never expected he’d be fired, although the depth of the 23-page report gave Ohio State ample opportunity to do so.

If Meyer wasn’t 73-8 there, he’d be gone. Just like any coach without a gaudy record at virtually any program would be gone.

Meyer is who we thought he was – great coach, bad actor. You can guess by the length of the deliberations that a battle was waged, and that Meyer was fighting the punishment. Asked if he thought he deserved to be suspended, his response was curt and evasive.

“I trust and support our president,” he said, more than once.

No emotion, no contrition, no apology to anyone other than “Buckeye Nation,” all arrogance and duplicity. Once again, the very traits that make coaches great can make them horrible managers of people and hypocritical moralists. Meyer ceded the high moral ground long ago, back at Florida in 2009, when Smith was first alleged to have attacked his wife, Courtney.

Other priorities  

The Ohio State investigation concluded Meyer and AD Gene Smith didn’t condone or cover up domestic abuse, although that takes a leap of logic. They certainly looked the other way, or simply couldn’t be bothered to look deeper, much like another legendary coach, Joe Paterno.

Hey, there were players to coach, recruits to recruit and championships to win, even as Zach Smith reportedly was acting like a despicable human and an awful employee. There were more domestic abuse allegations in 2015, although he was never convicted of a crime. There was documentation of sexual activity between Smith and an Ohio State secretary in the football facilities, large strip-club bills on recruiting trips, and shipments of sex toys.

A coach less successful than Urban Meyer in the wins and losses columns likely would have faced a different outcome.

There were so many scarlet flags, even beyond the texts between Courtney Smith and Meyer’s wife, Shelley, depicting the volatile relationship with Zach. And why did Meyer not take it more seriously? Sadly, he probably didn’t believe all of it, right up until he fired Smith on July 23. Other possible reasons range from laughable to illogical.

Zach Smith is Earle Bruce’s grandson, and the former Ohio State head coach was one of Meyer’s mentors. For a ruthlessly competitive coach who makes all sorts of difficult decisions, Meyer picked an odd time to be compassionate.

Or maybe it was the medication that confused Meyer at Big Ten Media Days July 24, when he lied and said he knew nothing about a Zach Smith incident in 2015. That’s not a fanciful theory, it came directly from Ohio State’s report: “We also learned during the investigation that Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus.”

I’m not minimizing anyone’s mental health. I am wondering, if Meyer is legitimately impaired in that way, how he can make so many sensitive, high-level decisions.

That's who he is

If Meyer was trying to generate sympathy for his plight when he spoke, he failed miserably. If Ohio State was trying to dodge the perception it’s just another Lunkhead State University, it also failed. Particularly galling was that the school released the report after the press conference, thus evading questions about some of the findings.

For instance, the probe showed that after reporter Brett McMurphy broke new details about Courtney Smith’s complaints on Aug. 1, Meyer and director of football operations Brian Voltolini discussed how to delete old text messages. When the school obtained Meyer’s phone the next day, old text messages were gone.

Again, without explicitly accusing Meyer, the report damned him: “It is nonetheless concerning that his first reaction to a negative media piece exposing his knowledge of the 2015-16 law enforcement investigation was to worry about the media getting access to information and discussing how to delete messages older than a year.”

The report raised doubts about Meyer’s implausible claim he hadn’t read his wife’s texts concerning Courtney Smith. It also insinuated Meyer lied when he said he met with Smith in 2009 and she recanted the allegations.

In various instances, Meyer seemed to dodge culpability and skirt sincerity, and when he spoke Wednesday night, he never said a word about Courtney Smith. When asked what he regretted, he offered what appeared to be a half-hearted half-truth.

“I wish I’d done more,” he said. “I wish I’d known more.”

Based on the school’s investigation, he knew more than he acknowledged, more than enough to fire Smith long ago. I’d say Meyer’s reputation is irreparably damaged and forever altered by this, but that’s not completely true, not as long as he wins. More likely, this pretty much confirms who he is, and probably always has been.

Twitter @bobwojnowski