Hartman: Ohio State does the right thing putting Urban Meyer on leave

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer answered questions Tuesday afternoon about what he knew regarding reports of domestic violence involving assistant coach Zach Smith and how he handled the situation.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Facing uncertainty following reports Urban Meyer might have known one of his assistants repeatedly committed domestic violence, Ohio State did something rare: the right thing.

The way I see it, the university had three options Wednesday: Fire Meyer outright, move forward with him as head football coach as if nothing happened or press pause.

OSU chose No. 3, a departure from history for both Meyer and the school.

»RELATED: Who is Ryan Day, the Buckeyes’ acting head coach?

The coach might not be in this mess if he hadn't acted hastily last week, saying he had staff members look into an alleged incident between Zach Smith and his now-ex-wife Courtney in 20015. Meyer said his lieutenants determined — in a matter of a few hours, apparently — nothing happened.

(Aside: If Meyer did know about it and thought that explanation would hold up forever, he’s a lot dumber than I could have imagined. But then again powerful people seem to be making a habit of doing incredibly dumb things at an increasing rate these days, so it’s hard to ever rule that out anymore.) 

Meyer’s denial was reminiscent of Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith declaring almost eight years ago the situation that would come to be known as “Tattgate” had been checked out and taken care of — including NCAA-approved punishments — in a matter of days when those things typically take years.

Something didn’t smell right on that fateful December day, and guess what: There turned out to be a lot more to the story, and it was really bad for Ohio State and coach Jim Tressel (whose eventual exit ironically paved the way for Meyer to become the Buckeyes’ head coach).

Putting Meyer on paid leave was seen by some as a first step toward the executioner's chair, and it might well be.

Perhaps the school determined Meyer violated his contract but needs time to work out his exit agreement.

The powers-that-be might also intend to keep him in power if at all possible but haven’t figured out how to justify it yet.

Or, you know, maybe they just don’t know all the facts and want to gather them before making a final decision.

Crazy, huh?


I’m going to resist the urge to tell them what they should do because there is just too much that remains uncertain to me.

I agree with those who think Meyer’s wife, Shelley, probably told him what Courtney Smith told her about the terrible treatment she endured, but there’s also at least some chance she didn’t in order for him to maintain plausible deniability.

There’s also a possibility one or both of the Meyer’s violated the law by not reporting the allegations against Smith to a superior, but deferring to authority also could offer a way out.

“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,” Urban Meyer said in Chicago last week. “We're certainly not going to investigate.”

That justification and the lack of charges being pressed against Zach Smith could give Meyer a shield against arguments he should have done more, as does at least some of the legal records involving the couple reportedly being sealed until this week.

(That might be why his assistants didn’t find anything in their “investigation” a week ago.)

>>EARLIER: Meyer explains what he knew and when regarding Zach Smith

But remember Urban Meyer is a redeemer.

Redeemers are supposed to redeem.

Sometimes that gets them in trouble -- especially with the sizable portion of the population that just doesn’t seem to get where redeemers are coming from and thus view them with skepticism, perhaps more than is warranted.

Meyer is also famously a control freak, which makes it harder to believe he would stay out of any situation involving his team even if there was no good reason to think he could fix it.

If he knew, of course.

That might be what this all comes down to — what he knew, and what can be proven he knew.


So what’s next?

Some seem to think Meyer’s goose is already cooked, but I see multiple possibilities.

The proverbial smoking gun could be discovered while Meyer is on leave, leading his bosses to decide he doesn’t deserve the job and has to be fired -- or maybe they decide they can take the public relations hit and reinstate him anyway.

Then again maybe they already know (or at least strongly suspect) there’s too much he said/she said ambiguity involved in this situation to conclude he has to go and just bought themselves time to craft an acceptable explanation for why Meyer will be reinstated.

Unlike the the aforementioned past episodes, this time it might actually look like they had time to do a proper investigation, so what they come up with might be easier to swallow whether he goes or stays.

I guess that’s progress.

» RELATED: Twitter reacts to Meyer news

I’ll also add this: If the ultimate decision is for Meyer to keep his job -- and I tend to think that’s the favorite at this point, but I don’t know what is out there to discover or how a handful of humans will react to what they find (or don’t) -- that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

At the very best, critical communication and judgement breakdowns occurred even if they weren’t severe enough to cost Meyer his job (and even if they weren’t all committed by the coach himself).

Meyer will need to admit mistakes were made, and some punishment will probably still be in order (along with that doled out by the court of public opinion).

Whether that is a suspension, a heavy fine or something else, I don’t know, but serious issues have been raised here, and the status quo isn’t going to cut it.

Such ambiguity in dealing with an employee accused of these crimes can’t be repeated the next time.

Not only must that decision be made, it must be communicated to the rest of the world.

That way everyone knows Meyer and Ohio State get it, which might also mean the message gets through to others.

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