Column: Control freak Meyer suddenly “knows nothing”
College coaches are notorious control freaks.
From making sure every minute of practice is accounted for to fretting over what players are putting in their bodies at the dining hall, no detail is too small for a coach’s prying eyes.
They have to know everything.
Which is why it’s ludicrous to believe that Urban Meyer turned into Sgt. Schultz – the ”Hogan’s Heroes” character famous for saying “I know nothing. Nothing!” – when asked about multiple domestic abuse allegations involving one of his assistant coaches.
Which is why Meyer will probably soon be Ohio State’s ex-football coach.
Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday while Ohio State conducts an investigation into what he knew and when he knew it, but we all know where this is likely headed.
Like so many who came before him – Joe Paterno, Rick Pitino, et al – Meyer was more consumed with winning at all costs, protecting his program’s reputation and covering for his buddies than doing the right thing, the obvious thing, what should’ve been the easy thing.
For Meyer, the handling of former Buckeyes assistant Zach Smith is simply the latest episode in a disturbing pattern of playing dumb, even while keeping track of such minute details as a player’s heart rate at practice .
In his previous job at Florida, Meyer captured two national championships but never seemed all that concerned about the staggering number of players – more than two dozen in all, enough to fill out a complete offense and defense – getting into trouble off the field.
Then there was Aaron Hernandez.
No one knew what kind of monster he would turn out to be during three seasons with the Gators, but plenty of NFL teams sure had their concerns after he entered the 2010 draft. Hernandez plummeted all the way to the fourth round before he was picked by the New England Patriots, amid reports of multiple failed drugs tests while at Florida.
Hernandez wound up in prison for murder and killed himself behind bars. We’ll never know if this tragic story would’ve taken a different turn, if only Meyer had dealt more forcefully with such a clearly disturbed player during his time in Gainesville.
Let’s not forget Meyer’s mysterious departure from the Gators. He resigned after the 2009 season, citing health concerns, but changed his mind a day later. He coached at Florida one more season and quit again, this time saying he wanted to devote more time to his wife and children. Apparently, one year on the sideline was all the family time he needed. No wonder his critics referred to him as ”Urban Liar.”
In 2012, Meyer returned to coaching at Ohio State, taking over a storied program in his home state after another national championship-winning coach, Jim Tressel, was forced out for lying to the school and the NCAA about violations committed by his players.
Meyer won a national title of his own with the Buckeyes.
And, now, it looks like he’s headed for the same ending as Tressel.
This possible cover-up involves Smith, whose ties to Meyer run deep.
Smith is the grandson of late Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, a mentor to Meyer and one of the most influential people in his life. Smith played for Meyer at Bowling Green. When Smith decided to get into coaching, it was only appropriate that Meyer was there with a job.
But Smith’s personal life has long been troubled, and Meyer certainly knew at least part of the story. Last week at Big Ten media days, the coach said he was aware of a 2009 case in which Smith was accused of aggravated battery on his then-pregnant wife while coaching at Florida.
The charge was dropped because of insufficient evidence. Meyer said he and his wife, Shelley, addressed the incident with the Smiths, but that’s about as far as it went.
When Meyer was hired by the Buckeyes, Smith again joined the staff as a receivers coach and ace recruiter.
The strife at home didn’t let up. Police reports obtained by cleveland.com detail nine domestic incidents involving Smith and his now ex-wife Courtney between 2012 and last month. Most troubling, that includes an alleged incident of domestic abuse on Oct. 25, 2015, shortly before the couple divorced.
Courtney Smith told Stadium that she told Shelley Meyer in 2015 that Zach Smith had assaulted her . Courtney Smith provided text messages to former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy between her and Shelley Meyer about Zach Smith’s behavior, and threatening text messages she said were sent to her by Zach Smith.
”Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney Smith told Stadium. ”I said: `That’s fine, you should tell Urban.”’
Courtney Smith concedes that she does not know if Shelley Meyer ever told her husband about the allegations. If we’re to believe what Urban Meyer said last week, his wife kept quiet about the whole affair, not even bothering to mention at the dinner table, ”Hey, you’ve got an assistant coach who might have a problem.”
Urban Meyer could even be throwing his wife under the bus. As a university employee herself, she will surely face questions about whether she violated some sort of Ohio State policy – or, at the very least, failed to meet a moral obligation – if she indeed failed to report an allegation of domestic violence against someone who works at the school.
”I can’t say it didn’t happen because I wasn’t there,” Urban Meyer said during Big Ten media days. ”I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light. I’ve never had a conversation about it. I know nothing about it.”
Zach Smith was finally dismissed by Meyer on July 23 after an Ohio court granted a domestic violence protective order to Courtney Smith against her former husband. Zach Smith has never been convicted of a crime or charged with assaulting his ex-wife, and his attorney said he will be exonerated when all the facts come out.
Even so, Meyer’s claims of ignorance seem downright implausible.
If that proves to be the case, he should be out of a job.
Of course, this being college athletics, Meyer wouldn’t be out of work for long.
There will always be another school that cares more about his success as a coach than his failings as a human being.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul newberry
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