Urban Meyer Is Complicated

My social media timeline has been overwhelmed by the breaking news of Urban Meyer’s impending retirement from the Head Coach position at Ohio State. As an OSU alum and a former Ohio resident for 25 years, I really can’t escape it, thanks to all of my friends and colleagues who care deeply about the football program. (Spoiler alert—I don’t care at all.) Meyer has had serious health issues during this past season, including the Indiana game (pictured above) when he did his best Hillary Clinton impersonation, falling to a knee on the sideline.

The numbers are impossible to ignore—three national championships (2 at Florida, 1 at OSU), seven conference championships, countless players drafted by the NFL. For Ohio State fans, the most important number was his spotless record against the University of Michigan—7-0, the only Buckeye coach to never lose in the Big Game.

Of course, that’s the just tip of the iceberg when it comes to Meyer and his story.

On November 23rd, 2011, when OSU hired Meyer, I posted the following to my Facebook page:

“Ohio State just fired a coach for failing to control his players and subsequently lying about it. Now they want to hire a coach who had 31 players arrested in 5 years at Florida. Great idea!”

Of course, I was referring to former OSU coach Jim Tressel’s termination for lying about Terrelle Pryor’s sale of his uniform pieces and other trinkets, a serious violation of NCCA rules, as well as their hiring of Meyer, who had a questionable record at Florida, to say the least.

This is a guy who has been accused of looking the other way when talented players broke the law, most notably with Aaron Hernandez, who was involved in several incidents (including a double shooting) during Meyer’s tenure at the University of Florida. Hernandez was later found guilty of murdering Odin Lloyd after he left Florida.

He was also accused of looking the other way when one of his assistants, Zach Smith, was accused of abusing his wife. Smith’s wife claimed that Meyer was aware of the abuse. Her lawyer shared texts that Courtney Smith had sent to Meyer’s wife, Shelley, detailing her husband’s abuse of her, including photos. Meyer first said that he knew nothing of the allegations, and then later said that he “misspoke.” Meyer was ultimately suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season.

But college football is a funny game. The players aren’t really the stars—they only play on Saturdays for a couple of years before they move on. The coaches, whether it’s Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, or Brian Kelly, are ultimately the stars of the game. They become of faces of massive institutions. And when they win, they become icons, maybe even gods. While Columbus, Ohio is a much bigger city than Tuscaloosa, Alabama or South Bend, Indiana, it’s still a college town at its heart, and Urban Meyer was the biggest name in that college town because if there’s one thing Meyer knows how to do, it’s win. In that way, Urban Meyer has been, for all intents and purposes, the Ohio State University for the seven years.

It’s also notable that Meyer chose to retire after his team was left out of the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season, despite a 12-1 record and a Big Ten Championship. If Ohio State had been selected over Oklahoma for the final playoff spot, I don’t think that there’s any way that Meyer announces his retirement today. But they’re a big favorite in the Rose Bowl against a mediocre Washington team, and Meyer will likely get to ride off into the sunset as a winner in a game that he has never coached in, a game that he has always said was a “bucket list” game for him.

I’m neither a college football fanatic nor a “woke” SJW, but I do know the game of football inside and out, so perhaps I’m in a unique position to judge the Meyer Era at Ohio State. He won a national title, and he never lost to Michigan. Despite what the east coast media wants to say about his “legacy,” it’s safe to say that he’ll never pay for a meal again in Franklin County. But outside of Central Ohio, I think it gets a little bit more complicated. He was suspended in his final season, a victim of his own bad decisions in the #MeToo era. Much like Woody Hayes and The Punch and Jim Tressel and The Tattoos, whenever Urban Meyer’s name is mentioned in the future, The Texts will be mentioned.

This is the second time that Meyer has “retired” from coaching, the first being in 2009. That retirement lasted but a year before Meyer accepted the job at Ohio State. Pundits on ESPN have spent much of the morning wondering if this retirement will be similarly short, or if this is the real deal. He’s only 54 years old—Nick Saban is 67. Meyer could go to another school, say, Notre Dame, where he also has ties, and have another entire 10-15 year run there. All accounts of Meyer say that he’s obsessed with his legacy, his place in the history of college football. If it ends here and now, he won’t have a chance to clear his name. My money would be on his return to college football, maybe in a year or two, to a high-profile program. He claims that the stress is killing him, but most men like Meyer would rather die on the sidelines than retire comfortably to the rest home.

So no, I can’t definitively say that Meyer will be remembered as either a hero or a villain. Neither can he. And I think that’s what will ultimately drive him back into coaching. He’ll want to be the good guy. Don’t we all?

22 Replies to “Urban Meyer Is Complicated”

  1. Ronnie Schreiber

    College football rivalries are cool but if you knew nothing other than the fact that one doctor graduated from Ohio State’s med school and another went to the Universtity of Michigan, which would you choose for your sick child? if you knew nothing other than the fact that one veterinarian graduated from Ohio State’s vet school and another went to Michigan State University, which would you choose for your sick pet?

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Outside the Ivy League I suspect about 90% of the public only knows whether a school is good or not based almost entirely on whether the school has a consistently good football or basketball program (or a past glorious history of championships) unless they have a personal history with the school themselves.

      Reply
      • CJinSD

        In 1993, I graduated from Virginia Tech and sought my fortune in Manhattan. Many of the people I encountered in the white collar world of the day thought I went to a vocational school or maybe simply made the school up. Thanks to Frank Beamer and Michael Vick, the situation had changed by the time I went to work for Deutsche Bank as a consultant in 1999. Tech’s football program has done more for the school’s profile than hip hop/dog fighting and a mass shooting could undo. Does anyone even know that there was a beheading on Virginia Tech’s campus while Obama was being inaugurated? If you have a good football program, there is nothing else to say. Hope may not be warranted at this juncture.

        Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth

      For the doctor, I would say OSU, no second guesses. I despise the university and its various corruptions but their med school is legit and then some.

      Reply
        • Harry

          +1, while rated #5, I think they deserve to be higher on account of the balance of research between large animal and companion animal.

          Reply
      • Ronnie Schreiber

        It’s legit, no doubt. My friend and neighbor, who is medical director of a large hospital group’s pediatric clinic, went to OSU. I’d have him treat my grandkids. He also says Michigan is a better med school. So do the U.S. & News Report rankings (not that those aren’t necessarily gamed).

        University of Michigan
        #15 in research
        #7 in primary care

        Ohio State
        #32 in research
        #26 in primary care

        Ohio State’s veterinary school is indeed ranked higher, #5, than Michigan State’s, #12. That wasn’t always the case. Cornell and UC Davis are at the top, as they’ve been my whole life.

        Reply
  2. sgeffe

    As a Michigan fan, born and raised in the state (and moved to Ohio when I was fourteen, and whose brother went to OSU—but married a UM alumna), let me offer a perspective. (I almost “rescinded” that affiliation after that disembowelment on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, because my supply of “next years” for which to wait ran out about three years ago, but I digress!) My alma mater, Bowling Green State University, was Meyer’s first head-coaching gig (and Nick Saban, ‘Bama coach, was head coach for a season at the University Of Toledo, just up I-75), so my area in the Mid-American Conference is an incubator of coaches, of sorts.

    Obviously, I wish the best for Urban in terms of his health! (Agreed with Jack that I’d go to Columbus in a heartbeat if needed! OSU, UM, and the Cleveland Clinic are within a three-hour drive of me! All are excellent!)

    Unfortunately, as Jack indicated in the comments, there is definitely a culture of corruption that permeates OSU. We saw it with Jim Tressel, and with Coach Meyer. Winning is everything, no matter the cost in terms of integrity. Given how others in media and the popular culture fell like dominoes after the #MeToo movement took hold, Meyer should have resigned or have been removed by the powers-that-be. As Detroit Free Press sportswriter, columnist, and bestselling author Mitch Albom related back when Meyer was suspended for three games, “the facts only show he has a sensitivity to getting caught in cover-ups, and only apologizes when left with no option. That’s not the pattern of a man who sees the responsibility of power. It’s the pattern of a man who thinks power puts him above it.” Humility is nonexistent in the man, and hubris is most certainly present. He was God in Columbus, and everyone from the university president and the Board of Regents on down to the guy mowing the grass at the Horseshoe knew that!

    Wither Michigan, then? I’m sure that some rules (and mores) are broken at every sports powerhouse school to some degree. But Harbaugh seems to run a clean program. (So did Lloyd Carr back in the day, and Bo Schembechler before him; we’ll leave Gary Moeller, Rich Rod and Brady Joke out of the discussion for now, except that Moeller resigned after a drunk-and-disorderly arrest, child’s play compared to the Meyer cover-up! The other two just decimated the program in general, but again, I digress!) Unfortunately, in today’s world, nice guys often don’t finish first.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      As important as the big sports programs are at Michigan, the people who actually support the programs, the alumni, not the so-called Wallmart Wolverines, ultimately hold academics above athletics. They’re smart people who take some pride in their own intelligence. “Arrogant asses” is a common description. They’re not interested in winning national championships at all costs. They’re more interested in their kids getting into Michigan or the Ivies (or Chicago or Northwestern, maybe Madison or Berkeley).

      That’s why Michigan fans who have actual ties to the school can deal with losing to Ohio State or Michigan State. At the end of the day, they think they’re smarter.

      Michigan’s athletic program has not been without scandal. There was the Bobby Martin scandal with the Fab Five era basketball team, but I don’t think Michigan alums are interested in paying for the stuff that’s gone with some of the big time football and basketball powers.

      Reply
  3. jc

    So, big-time college football programs hire thugs to play football (and impersonate students in their spare time) so the colleges can earn lots of football money, and their supervisors (oh, excuse me, “coaches”) enable and cover up their thuggish activities?

    I am shocked, yes, shocked to find out that this occurs.

    Reply
      • jc

        Well, I am not a Michigan fan, and OSU means “Oklahoma State University” to me.

        But I am a graduate of a Division 1 football university and I observed the behavior and treatment of start football players, and I don’t think my characterization is all that far off base.

        Reply
  4. HarryC

    I think you’re leaving out the obvious, Jack: Coaching is killing Urban Meyer.

    He’s got a documented cyst on the brain, and stress aggravates that. He’s struggled with anxiety, depression, workaholism, dependence on ambien.

    You’re positively right: Columbus is a college town, and the OSU fanbase accepts only beating Michigan and winning national championships (in that order).

    IMO, he’s stepping away to save his life.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth

      Just as a note: my brother wrote this. He is the football player in the house; as Cosell said, I never played the game.

      Reply
    • sgeffe

      Heaven knows he almost paid the ultimate price when he was at U Of Florida, as well.

      Yes, there is a two-pronged goal at OSU, and the first one (beating That Team Up North) doesn’t seem to be reciprocated at the school in the city rhyming with “Fan Harbor,” at least according to the Detroit sportswriters. There was acrimony under Schembechler’s reign, to be sure, but that lessened under subsequent coaches! (The Bo/Woody years were really when the rivalry grew into what it is today. I’ve been waiting for someone to walk into a UM presser, take their shoe off and bang it on the lectern just as Khrushchev did, exclaiming “we will BURY you, OSU!” Recall that Jim Tressel cited the number of days to the next meeting of the teams on the gridiron during his introduction in 2001, then kept the promise that next year! Unfortunately, that would be too politically incorrect to take place at UM now.)

      Reply
  5. Cliffg

    I have decided without any factual bases whatsoever, that he quickest way to end all of this “free college for everyone” nonsense is to explain to the Ivy Leagues that henceforth attendance will be based on first come first served, and for Stater’s to show that all major college athletic programs will be gone. What is the point of any major school if their football team is just another Div. III program?

    Reply
  6. AoLetsGo

    The next logical step in this hypocritical, escalating, hysterical world of BIG TIME college football would be….
    Michigan to fire Harbaugh and hire Myers.

    Reply
  7. Daniel Sharpe

    I’m not guite sure about this time but the timing of his first retirement was suspect.

    I’m a Florida State fan but I live in SEC country. Tim Tebow even then said after Meyers first retirement that the stress was getting to him. It looked like Florida was going to be really rebuilding that year and those of us with our tin foil hat believed he bailed because the talent was limited.

    I’m in the middle of that argument basically believing that he did have health issues and possibly couldn’t deal with a rebuilding year. And as stated by Mark, he didn’t always have full control of his program at Florida either. The spotlight on Florida and it’s player issues is dimmed as soon as he leaves.

    He probably ought to get out of coaching.

    Reply

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