COLUMBUS — The lesson has already been painfully learned by Ohio State before, but now it’s getting another reminder: There is never anything to be gained with a coverup.
The truth almost certainly would have been enough for the Buckeyes this time around. Maybe it’s not even too late, although that’s now a matter that will be decided at a higher level than Urban Meyer’s office.
This wasn’t tattoos, and anything relating to violence against women is a far more serious matter, particularly at a program that plasters that message on the walls of the practice facility. But at the risk of sounding insensitive to the nature of those allegations, Urban Meyer could have protected both his future and the program’s with one completely honest press conference at Big Ten media days.
Now, both he and the Buckeyes could be in serious, honest jeopardy.
And for the first time heading into Meyer’s seventh year in charge, he’s actually given his skeptics a reason to doubt all of the the positive work he’s done with the Buckeyes.
The latest report from Brett McMurphy on Wednesday morning makes it practically impossible to believe that Ohio State wasn’t aware of the incidents regarding former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Considering the people who were informed according to Courtney Smith, there isn’t a plausible explanation for somebody with Meyer’s famous attention to detail being unaware that one of his staff members had multiple off-the-field incidents in his past.
“As I do many times, most coaches and people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs,” Meyer said last week. “We’re certainly not going to investigate. It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened. And Shelley and I actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised for counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.
“And 2015, I got a text late last night something happened in 2015. And there was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing — once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
All Meyer had to do was acknowledge there was more to it, much like he did when addressing the 2009 charge that was dropped. He’s not a lawyer or a criminal investigator, so if he had to pass that buck and didn’t ever see charges that would necessitate firing a family friend and a long-time assistant, so be it. There will obviously be critics of that choice, and it’s not even unreasonable for some to believe that Smith should have never been hired in the first place thanks to his 2009 allegation at Florida.
Honestly, there’s no point in debating any of that now. Smith can’t be fired twice, and Meyer ultimately did the right thing in parting ways with the grandson of his beloved mentor, Earle Bruce. But the way he handled it publicly last week has now opened Meyer and Ohio State up to legitimate questions about whether it should have happened sooner.
No charges were ever held against Smith. He was never convicted of a crime. The 2015 police reports had Smith’s name redacted and were never made available until last week. Assuming there were conversations within the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, it’s also still likely true that Meyer was in the middle of a he-said, she-said situation involving people he trusted on both sides of the dispute. Again, that’s in no way an attempt to downplay the severity of the allegations, but much of what Meyer said about it last week holds up under inspection.
The problem for Ohio State, though, is that Urban Meyer almost certainly could have said more. And now it’s possible that the Buckeyes might end up with another reminder that nothing good ever comes from a coverup.