Urban Meyer's first six years at Ohio State were arguably the best start to an Ohio State coaching career ever. Ohio State won more than 90 percent of its games, going 73–8 over those six years, and won a national championship in 2014. As of just a couple weeks ago, Ohio State had had a virtually drama-free offseason, and appeared to be well on its way to contending for another national title with Meyer at the helm in 2018.
Now, however, it's unclear whether Meyer's seventh season at Ohio State will ever happen.
Ohio State placed Meyer on paid administrative leave on Wednesday evening, about eight hours after a report by Brett McMurphy that suggested Meyer knew about domestic violence allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith in 2015, which he previously denied knowledge of at last week's Big Ten Media Days.
While offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day has been named acting head coach with fall camp set to begin on Friday, the clock is now ticking for Ohio State to make a permanent decision on Meyer's future with just one month remaining until the season begins.
Although an administrative leave is often a precursor to a separation, that decision probably hasn't been made yet. Ohio State said in its statement on Wednesday that it is "conducting an investigation" and is focused on "getting to the truth as expeditiously as possible." Meyer said in his statement that the administrative leave "allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction," and suggested optimism toward a return.
"I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter," Meyer said.
If Ohio State's investigation determines that Meyer was aware of domestic violence allegations against Smith and did not report them to the university, that could be grounds for firing him. Per a clause that was added to Meyer's contract in April, Meyer is required to "promptly report to Ohio State's Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Athletics any known violations of Ohio State's Sexual Misconduct Policy (including, but not limited to, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking) that involve any student, faculty, or staff that is in connection with a university sponsored activity or event." Failure to do so, per the addendum, would be grounds for Ohio State to fire Meyer with cause.
Ohio State could also fire Meyer without cause or ask him to resign. It took the latter approach in 2011 with Jim Tressel, who was originally suspended for two games, then later for five games, before his resignation on May 31, 2011 after it was revealed that he knew about but did not report NCAA violations by his players.
Regardless of whether Ohio State ultimately decides to stand by Meyer or move in another direction, the university will want to complete its investigation "as expeditiously as possible," as said in the statement, with the season set to begin on Sept. 1.
If the Buckeyes decide to move on from Meyer, it's likely that Day will serve as the interim head coach for the 2018 season, much like Luke Fickell in 2011, as it would be far too close to the season beginning for Ohio State to hire a new head coach now. They would then, however, have to begin thinking ahead to the 2019 season, and determine whether Day – who was already viewed by some as Ohio State's potential head coach of the future – could be the permanent hire, or whether they need to hire a more established coach from elsewhere to fill the vacancy.
Ohio State will also want to act quickly for the sake of recruiting, as every day that the Buckeyes' coaching situation remains in flux could stall their pursuit of future Buckeyes. Of course, that situation might not be resolved until after the season if the Buckeyes end up moving on from Meyer, but if they decide to stick with him, they'll want to make that decision as quickly as possible in order to make up for lost time in recruiting.
The immediate concerns of how Meyer's administrative leave could affect Ohio State's upcoming season and its current recruiting efforts, however, might have to take a back seat to the bigger issues at play, as the Buckeyes' ultimate decision – whether that means keeping Meyer or moving on – could be one that has a ripple effect on their program for many years to come.
It isn't easy to replace a coach with Meyer's credentials, but it also isn't easy to deal with the questions that Ohio State will certainly face if it keeps him employed. Ultimately, it's a decision Ohio State will have to make based on whether it believes Meyer handled the situation correctly or incorrectly, and whether it believes irreparable damage has been done to his reputation, or will be done to its reputation if it keeps him employed.