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Football: Urban Meyer’s reputation tarnished following suspension

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during his first press conference back from suspension. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Going into Big Ten Media Days, Urban Meyer’s name meant many things.

One of the winningest coaches of all-time, three-time national champion and the Ohio State head coach that brought the program back up following a 6-7 season in 2011.

Now, less than two months later, Meyer’s name brings mostly one thing: controversy.

“This is a window of time that I made an error,” Meyer said. “I’ll keep saying it, really, for the rest of my life — this was about trying to help a troubled employee with work-related issue.”

That troubled employee is Zach Smith, the former wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator who was fired on July 23 following allegations of domestic violence involving his ex-wife, Courtney Smith.

Meyer, who also had Smith on staff during his tenure in Florida, hired Smith at Ohio State in 2012, keeping him on staff despite knowing about the allegations from 2009 and 2015.

The lack of action Meyer took back then, along with his words at Big Ten Media Days, caused him to miss the first three games of the season from suspension.

Meyer apologized for his answers at Media Days, and said that he had no intent of lying, that he misspoke after being ill-prepared for the questions on July 24.

“I want to be really clear that there is zero intent to mislead,” Meyer said. “I did not answer questions with the accuracy that I should have.”

But after eight weeks of allegations, statements on Twitter and a 12-hour meeting involving the fate of the coach that has led the Buckeyes to a 73-8 record in his tenure, Meyer’s record on the field has vanished from relevancy.

Meyer said this is something with which he is struggling.

“It’s tough to take. I’ve spent 30-plus years in coaching. Never been perfect. Tried extremely hard,” Meyer said. “I did not lie to the media. I did not do a very good job. Now everybody has a decision to make and a choice to make. I was very clear about why I was doing, why I said what I said. And I apologize for that. If that destroys a guy’s credibility, then I apologize for that.”

At the press conference on Monday, Meyer’s first appearance since his suspension on Aug. 22, the head coach answered questions for 56 minutes, with the focus rarely reaching the subject of football.

The topics Meyer discussed went from his knowledge of the Zach Smith case, to if he lied at Media Days, to if he regrets his decisions from the past and to what he can do to avoid this happening again.

Now, after a coaching career with more acclaim than almost any before him, Meyer’s reputation remains tarnished, and could continue to be tarnished for the foreseeable future.

“I’m hoping that people listen. And I can only say the truth. I can only let you know. I’d like to say over 30 years that I — I have been accused of helping players too much, giving them too many opportunities. That’s an accusation I accept,” Meyer said. “I understand that this will take time. Maybe never. But that’s my job in a press conference like this.”

Meyer takes back the role from acting head coach and offensive coordinator Ryan Day, and he returns to an Ohio State team that is 3-0 with a win against a ranked opponent.

But, much like the press conference, the focus won’t be on football for Tulane. Instead, it will be on the 56 minutes Meyer used answering questions on everything that has diminished his reputation that was once focused on a team striving for a championship a mere two months before.

 

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