At this point, what can save Meyer's job and legacy?
Only a confession.
Sadly, the latest developments at Ohio State don’t surprise me in the least. I predicted this exact turn of events as soon as I heard Meyer make his statements on Big Ten Media Day last week.
As a marketing exec and former coach with more than a little PR experience, personally, I groaned the moment that Meyer claimed that he knew nothing about the 2015 incident, since it strained credulity to the fullest, not that I think Meyer is quite the monster that the national media is now making him out to be, a perception which Courtney Smith is understandably determined to assist as the possible basis for a future lawsuit and/or perhaps as some form of payback for whatever she’s sadly endured—and it does seem like she's put up with a violent, self-indulgent jackass (major understatement), no matter how much she might have contributed to their marital problems.
Mind you, I'm not saying she ever baited him. I'm just addressing the meatball crowd here, and to be perfectly fair, none of us has any idea about the full story of what happened behind closed doors, although the police can testify to the existence of bruises. Beyond that, nobody knows what went on, not even Meyer.
That said, simply knowing that there was physical abuse is enough.
If anybody doubts that, or is somehow able to put their conscience to the side, I refer you to the headlines of the past year.
In any case, my guess is that in 2015, Meyer probably didn’t know what to make of the most recent indecent. After all, it’s not as if turmoil in the Smith household was anything new.
Being as generous as possible here, Meyer probably didn’t know what to make of the latest twist; he probably wished it all went away (who wouldn't?); and then when Smith continued to visit his wife and kids so that it appeared as if the problem just might go away, Meyer probably figured it was all a continuation of the prior years of marital craziness and he-said/she-said chaos.
And a police matter to boot.
BTW, I'm not saying this was the proper way for him to treat the matter.
I'm just making an educated guess that this might approximate what happened. Otherwise, we'd have to believe that Meyer is indeed a monster who has a "to Hell with the bitch!" mindset, and while Urban might be a highly imperfect human being and coach, I just don't see him as that kind of guy.
The trouble is, by now making what clearly appears to have been a dubious public proclamation of ignorance, Meyer has made himself vulnerable to ultimate consequences, assuming that proof ever shows up that he was lying. That's no tall order. Beyond documentary evidence turning up, all that needs to happen is for Zach Smith to simply say, yes, Meyer was informed about the incident.
Meyer should have understood that he'd likely be fired for lying about this matter, yet he went ahead and took a gamble that he could proclaim his innocence and everything would go away. Unfortunately for him, this decision tells you something about the sort of mindset that ignored the 2015 incident.
Yet the stakes couldn't be higher for him.
Any proof of a lie (which, I hasten to emphasize, doesn’t exist… not yet, although the trend lines don't look good), would make Meyer look like a nefarious enabler of a wife abuser as opposed to being a dumb football coach (not a police officer or psychologist) who only knew that a young couple with years of troubles was having yet another dispute, in which case, he didn’t—and couldn’t—know exactly what actually happened.
Trouble is, fair or not, that won't be the standard upon which Meyer might be judged. Certainly not in the court of public opinion, which is churning out its perceptions as we speak. (FYI, OSU is a "public" university, so public opinion counts).
As so often happens, it's not the crime that gets someone, it's the coverup.
Like it or not, right now, Meyer is one scrap of coverup evidence away from losing his job and his legacy.
The problem is, he’s left his fate in the hands of people who now have a clear adversarial relationship with him, such is their self-interest, starting with Zach Smith, whom he just fired and has nothing to lose by turning on Meyer, and of course, Smith’s wife, Courtney, who seems to sincerely feel that she’s been wronged by Meyer, but beyond that, it can’t be ruled out that she’s bitter about having the rug of financial security and wealth suddenly being pulled out from beneath her, and she wants to claw some of that money back.
After all, fat chance that Zach Smith is ever going to be fetching an annual salary of half a million dollars or so in this lifetime.
To that end, for starters, I am a little surprised that Courtney Smith is willing to throw Shelley Meyer under the bus, since even she admits that Shelley has been personally and sincerely supportive of her every step of the way, even at Zach's expense. Nonetheless, if Urban's reputation and future earnings go down, Shelley and her family will go down with him. That's a heckuva betrayal, and it underscores the sort of tortuous drama that these situations invite.
Some would say these development say much about Courtney Smith's character, too, but whatever one thinks, she's playing the only card she has. I think we all can agree that she should have spoken up more loudly in 2015, publicly bringing the matter to the attention of Ohio State's administration, in which case, nobody would be dealing with any of this, but it appears that the paychecks were more important than any moral issue or physical threat--not that I blame her. I honestly can appreciate the difficulty of the Sophie's Choice that she was forced to make.
Nonetheless, now that the checks are gone...
Hmm... I smell a lawsuit coming at some point seeking compensation for mental pain and suffering, as well as her future loss of earnings, which is what I suspect is the main motivation for her coming forward now.
Call me crazy, but I'm guessing she's gotten some legal advice somewhere.
The question is, if Meyer did indeed make a tragic decision to be, shall we say, less than forthcoming about his knowledge of the 2015 incident, what should he do now?
To me, at this point, as painful as it might be, and as risky as it night seem to give this story further life, I think Meyer and the administration have no choice but to let the smoke clear for a while (which is, I suspect, is what the current "administrative leave" is all about), gain some good legal advice, and then later hold a press conference where Meyer "clarifies" matters and (most likely) confesses the following:
“Yes, I did knew ‘something’ about the events of 2015, but not all the legal specifics, which is what I was referring to on Big Ten Media Day. I should have made it my business to know more, but I didn't, and so I made the mistake of misjudging this situation, as well as not being more as specific as I should have been on Media day. I guess I hoped that might go away, too, which is part of the problem in the first place.
Simply put, I saw the 2015 incident as yet another he-said/she-said situation in a very troubled marriage, where such events seemed to occur on a routine basis, and for which, frankly, I grew wary of my ability to play referee or meaningfully change someone else's relationship for the better.
In hindsight, I should have looked into the specific matter in question much more closely and then taken the action that I took last week to let Zach go. More than that, at a much earlier date, I probably should have put him on leave to work out his marital problems.
I'm not making excuses. At the same time, I hope the public can appreciate that domestic problems are difficult situations to handle from within a household, much less from the outside looking in, especially as they bleed into the workplace, or... they remain relatively hidden or imperfectly described.
I'm neither a professional psychologist or law enforcement professional, but I am a boss, and sometimes, I fail to adequately judge of how to handle a difficult situations, which I'm paid to do. That obviously was the case here, or I wouldn't be here making this statement.
I did my best to understand and react to the countless difficult situations that arise in my job, or as the case may be, to non-react, which is often the advice given to people when it coms to getting involved in the internal affairs of other people's relationships, and especially their marriages. It can be hard to know where to draw the line, but that's part of what I'm paid to do.
The fact is, I’ve always wished for the best for all of parties involved, whether Courtney or Zach or their children or my players or the university, and I still do. However, despite my best intentions, I made a highly regrettable mistake by not looking further into the 2015 incident and misreading a very chaotic relationship. I own this mistake.
Nonetheless, I refuse to own the notion that I approve or consciously and knowingly condone any form of abuse. I do not. I will not. I never have and never will. Not in my personal life and marriage nor in my professional life, nor for my players or coaches. Moreover, I've tried to cultivate a culture that is dedicated to opposing bad behavior, while instilling good habits.
There are many people who can testify to this orientation as a matter of fact. But just as I try to win every game, I often make mistakes. And when I make them, I own them.
To that end, one of my biggest regrets is that this situation gives the credible appearance of intentionally 'looking the other way" vs. making a misjudgment where I effectively looked the other way. This is the truth of the matter, and I have to live with that.
I'm sure it won't be my last misjudgment, but I also know that my life won't be defined by a poor judgement with respect to one relationship.
Still, to be perfectly clear, I have never told Zach Smith or any other spouse that it's okay to be anything other than a good and loving husband. If Zach misread my failure to be more proactive as a case of looking the other way or thinking abusive behavior might somehow be okay in any respect, which is a fair question in this case, that would be his misinterpretation and you'll have to speak with him about that. But to the extent that my failure to be more proactive relative to that incident lead to that impression, I own it, and I fully and humbly apologize."
To me, if Meyer offers anything less than the above type of confession and transparency, he's history. A disreputable history. So...
Please do the right thing, Urban, even though it's the hard thing.
Just like you coach your players to do.
You can do it. After all, guess what today is, Coach?
It's a "Real-Life Wednesday."