I've spent the evening trying to unpack everything that went down in Columbus last night, and honestly, as I type this there's a big part of my still trying to sort through the 23 pages of investigative findings that was released late last night, the odd, tense press conference held after a day of waiting to find out what Urban Meyer's fate would be, and the torrent of reaction from people who either want Meyer to never coach again or who demand that OSU's coach return to the sideline with little more than time served.
But I've gotta tell you, I've got a question, and I don't think asking it is going to make me very popular, but here it goes anyway...
If we all agreed to wait to judge Urban Meyer until after the results of the investigation, should he really have been suspended?
There's a passage in the summery of the investigative findings and university actions report that was released just before last night's press conference....
Although Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith failed to adhere to the precise requirements of their contracts when they concluded that they needed to await a law enforcement determination to file charges before they reported the otherwise disputed claims of spousal abuse against Zach Smith, they did so based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate a disciplinary action in the absence of law enforcement action. Other than their misunderstanding of the requirements triggering reporting obligations, neither Coach Meyer nor Athletic Director Smith violated any policy, rules, law or contractual obligation in connection with the alleged domestic abuse claims against Zach Smith.
So basically, Meyer and Smith did the bare minimum, basically not doing anything - in what investigators conclude was "good faith" - in part because they believed Zach Smith's accounts of the abuse claims, and in large part because no criminal charges were filed. Meyer and Smith might not have done what was right, but they did, essentially, do what was required, or at least what investigators think Meyer and Smith believe was required.
If the whole purpose behind the investigation was to find out who knew what and what was done about what was known, aren't Meyer and Smith - and specially, Meyer - covered? Is anything in the board's final report damming enough to suggest that Urban Meyer egregiously violated his contract?
There's more layers to the report, many of which make Meyer look like he was basically trying whatever he could to protect Zach Smith out of loyalty to his grandfather, and other of which make Smith look like a rotten guy who was flaky on the job and irresponsible with his time and money. I read a sad portrayal of the Meyer/Smith relationship that casts neither in a positive light but I don't read anything in the accounts of the kind of person Smith was or what Meyer knew about his assistant's less-desirable traits that really rise to the level of the head coach's contract being violated.
And while I'm amused the semantics at play in the report when it comes to detailing Meyer's performance at Big Ten Media Days. The report says it could not conclude that Meyer “deliberately” lied about the 2015 incident in question, and adds a weird allusion to Meyer “periodically taking medication that can negatively impair his memory, concentration and focus.”
I personally find these passages both mildly comical and a little troubling. You either tell the truth, or you don't and if Meyer required medication that compromise his memory and focus, it is worth wondering if he should be running what's essentially a college football corporation. But the investigators almost seem to let Meyer off the hook for how he handled media questions about Zach Smith's firing, and even if you found his performance in Chicago that day to be part-amusing/part-intelligence-insulting, the questions that launched the investigation weren't about his honesty or lack thereof, but whether Urban Meyer lived up to the responsibilities dictated by his contract.
Which, according to the way I read the report, he kind of did.
There is a distinction between what the investigation was going to reveal and how people were going to react to whatever Ohio State did, and it seems to me that in suspending Meyer, Ohio State President Michael Drake put more thought into appeasing all corners of public opinion that acting commensurate to investigators' final conclusions.
What resulted last night was a weird, tense, almost-diastrous press conference that went further to raise more questions that it did provide answers, with the focus shifted from what Meyer knew to whether he lied about what he knew to the media three weeks ago, which never seemed like the point of the probe to begin with. Meanwhile, Drake, Smith, and Meyer each looked like kids who got caught fighting at recess and were forced to face the principal together. Meyer's first public appearance since this all began was particularly striking; he rushed through his comments, barely making eye contact with the assembled crowd, and he clearly looked like a man who was definitely not on board with the school's decision.
Meyer came off like a guy who feels like he did nothing wrong, at least aside from being oddly and exceedingly loyal to Zack Smith, and when he answered a question about what he'd say to Zach Smith's ex-wife by saying that he was "sorry that we're in this situation," it became clear that Meyer doesn't believe that Courtney Smith is much of a victim.
Meyer is being ambushed by criticism for his robotic demeanor and his tone-deaf remarks, and Ohio State is being crushed from all sides, with Buckeye sycophants frothing at the mouth that Urban will be absent from the sidelines for three games and people who wanted Meyer's head on a stick apoplectic over the fact that he still has a job.
In trying to placate everyone, Ohio State appeased no one. They'd be better off either firing Meyer outright or issuing no punishment at all, satisfying at least someone instead of angering everybody.
Instead, OSU attempted a compromise that feels more like a pre-ordained attempt to make this go away with as little damage done to both the football program and the school's reputation as possible, while a $500,000 check is being cut to pay for an investigation that now feels like it wasn't necessary.