Urban Meyer’s Mishandling of Zach Smith is Another Strike on a HOF Career


UPDATED, Aug. 1:  Independent journalist Brett McMurphy (formerly of ESPN) reports Urban Meyer may have known of the domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith in 2015.

Urban Meyer will be inducted into the College Hall of Fame. He has checked off the requisite boxes, with the top box on the list being three national championships.

Accomplishments in competition are why those who decide on hall of fame members vote in the affirmative. If there are shady or sketchy off-field issues involving the candidates, those issues are often conveniently ignored (unless your name is Pete Rose).

Tuesday in Chicago during the Big Ten Conference’s football media days, Meyer exhibited and reinforced the reasons why Your Veteran Scribe believes Meyer is shady, sketchy and sometimes slimy. Meyer comes across as a smug genius who invented the game. Like many of his fellow coaches, he believes his comments are sacrosanct and unimpeachable.

YVS can’t help but note here that Donald Trump spoke at a VFW meeting in Kansas City Tuesday and said, regarding the “fake news” media coverage, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Meyer followed that advice in trying to talk his way out of his latest problem instead of issuing a simple, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

Monday night – the day before Meyer would take the podium for questions in Chicago – it was announced that Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith had been dismissed. With training camp starting in about two weeks, the timing is/was odd.

Monday morning, former ESPN newshound Brett McMurphy had broken a story about Smith’s history of domestic violence that went back to 2009 when he had been hired as a graduate assistant at Florida by Meyer.

Smith was arrested in 2009 for shoving his pregnant wife against a wall. She didn’t file charges (that’s a common occruence in DV cases). In 2015, while a member of the Buckeyes’ staff, Smith was investigated for a charge of alleged domestic violence/felonious assault and another for alleged menacing by stalking. In May, Smith was charged with criminal trespass upon showing up at his now ex-wife’s residence to drop off their 13-year-old son, and after she subsequently filed for a civil protective order against him.

For umpire Meyer, three strikes and you’re out.

Coach Meyer, who in 2012 – the year he hired Smith – laid down the law that his program’s core values included “zero tolerance” for abusing women. On a wall in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, a large sign commands: “TREAT WOMEN WITH RESPECT.”

The media, those who decry domestic violence and hypocrisy aren’t listed in that respect doctrine. Meyer disrespected Murphy’s reporting – based on police records – by wondering who would “create such a story.” He brushed off the 2009 incident involving Smith and his wife with a “he said/she said” explanation.

Hypocrisy? On the same day that Meyer was tap dancing through a mine field in Chicago, the Ohio State football team was hearing from Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor, activist and speaker. Her hash tag campaign #SetTheExpecation spreads the message to high school and college athletes that sexual assault, domestic abuse and other similar actions are not acceptable. Henceforth, Meyer can legitimately claim he missed class that day for Tracy’s lecture.

YVS was on hand for both of Meyer’s national championship game triumphs at Florida. YVS began developing a clearer picture of him once things went south in Gainesville. Numerous incidents – in particular, 31 arrests of Gators – during his six-year career at Florida combined with struggles on the field led to Meyer facing crises in confidence and health.

After the 2009 season, Urban Meyer announced his semi-retirement – a leave of absence due to health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family. After about three months, Meyer removed the “semi” qualifier and ended his leave of absence.

After the 2010 season (8-5, his worst record in Gainesville) Meyer left quit Florida due to health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family. ESPN, as it frequently does, offered a halfway house. Meyer spent the 2011 season as a studio analyst which miraculously improved his health and allowed him to spend time with his family. In November 2011 he pounced when the Ohio State job opened.

The fact that Meyer was able to “fall up” and be hired for a dream job has only enhanced his self-image. Add in that Meyer is coaching at an institution that uses a three-letter definite article – The Ohio State University – and there’s little wonder why he regards himself as an infinitely powerful royal ruler of a vast empire.

That also leads to a complete lack of self-awareness for what is happening in The Real World. And The Ohio State University is currently grappling with a sexual assault scandal from 20 years ago involving the school’s former medical doctor for athletes and, allegedly, current U.S. representative Jim Jordan, then an assistant wrestling coach.

Urban Meyer’s blind eye – until Monday – toward an assistant coach with a history of domestic abuse is a bad look for an institution that might need to start asking fellow Big Ten schools Penn State and Michigan State for copies of their Public Relations Disaster playbooks.

Meyer’s reaction to Smith’s 2009 “transgression” (my word, not Meyer’s) was the “everyone deserves a second chance/benefit of the doubt” explanation. In addition to out-sized egos, coaches like Meyer seem to believe they’re running either a football version of Boys’ Town or a rehab center. Plus, the second (and third and fourth) chances often go to someone who is either a talented contributor or has the right connections.

Zach Smith, hired by Urban Meyer as a graduate assistant, is the grandson of Earle Bruce, the Ohio State coach who hired Urban Meyer as a graduate assistant. If love is blind, so, apparently is loyalty. At least until forced by public opinion to open your eyes.

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