Urban Meyer is a superb football coach. His record speaks for itself. In 14 seasons at four different schools he is 128-23. He went undefeated and won a BCS bowl game while at Utah. He won two national championships in six seasons at Florida and is 24-0 since taking over at Ohio State. At just 49 years old, he’s a lock Hall of Famer.
He is also everything that is wrong with college athletics today.
It isn’t just that Meyer is about winning and winning only. That doesn’t make him any different than 99 percent of the coaches who are paid millions of dollars to win at the big-time level in football and basketball.
What separates Meyer from most of his colleagues is his ability to sell the notion that he’s clean when there’s dirt and mud all over him. If you bring up all the Florida players who were arrested during his time in Gainesville, his defenders will howl at the unfairness of it all. Some charges were dropped, and some of the charges were relatively minor. That’s what the Meyer-backers claim constantly.
Meyer is very good at altering the story line for his convenience. When he became a hot coach at Utah, he said repeatedly that Notre Dame had always been his dream job. Then he turned down Notre Dame to go to Florida because the salary was higher and the admissions standards for football players lower.
In 2009, he retired as Florida’s coach for health reasons. About 15 minutes later, he un-retired. Less than a year later, he quit again, saying it was time to spend more time with his family. That didn’t last long. After one season as a talking head on ESPN, he was back in coaching at Ohio State.
The most dangerous con-men are the ones who are the best at what they do. Former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams once described one of his peers as, “the most dangerous man in college basketball today.”
Why was he so dangerous?
“Because he’s a good guy, a fun guy to be around, he’s really smart, he’s charming and he’s a hell of a coach,” Williams said. “And he’s a complete crook.”
Meyer’s not a crook, but he’s about as smarmy as they come.
The latest evidence came this past weekend after his team escaped with a 42-41 victory over a mediocre Michigan team to finish the regular season 12-0. The Buckeyes now play Michigan State for the Big Ten title on Saturday.
And starting guard Marcus Hall will be on the field. He will be on the field even though he completely disgraced Ohio State on Saturday. Hall was one of three players ejected in the wake of a first-half fight. After getting tossed, Hall went berserk — kicking things, throwing his helmet and, on his way out, giving the Michigan fans a double one-fingered salute that was captured for national television and posterity.
After the game when Meyer was asked about Hall’s behavior his answer was direct: “I’m disappointed,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”
Sunday, he did just that, announcing that Hall would play against Michigan State. His rationale was that both Hall and wide receiver Dontre Wilson had “lost a game” by being ejected and NCAA rules say that an ejection for fighting means a one-game suspension. If the fight had been in the second half, the two players would have had to sit out the first half Saturday.
That logic may apply to Wilson, but it doesn’t apply to Hall. His behavior went well beyond what happened on the field. Meyer claimed that Hall’s post-fight meltdown was being handled “internally.”
Here’s the problem: Hall’s explosion didn’t happen “internally” — it happened in front of millions. If he had flipped off a teammate in practice or a meeting room, that would be internal. This was not. Meyer had an obligation to Ohio State’s students, professors, staff and alumni to publicly say, “No one representing Ohio State will be allowed to act this way without serious repurcussions.” It would also be a pretty good object lesson for Hall and his teammates: Behave with class or face serious consequences.
But that’s not happening. Hall’s a very good player. The Buckeyes need him.
Of course, this is the part where Athletic Director Gene Smith or interim OSU President Joseph A. Alutto should step in and inform their coach that his explanation is unacceptable. That’s certainly not happening in Columbus. Remember former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, who was asked in spring 2011 if he might fire then-football coach Jim Tressel in the wake of the “tattoo-gate” scandal that ultimately cost Tressel his job.
In a burst of remarkable candor, Gee said, “Fire the coach? I just hope he doesn’t fire me.”
Clearly, neither Smith nor Alutto want to be fired by Meyer.
Which leaves Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, the man who modestly named the league’s two divisions “Legends” and “Leaders,” to step in and bring some sanity to the situation.
Monday night, Delany took bold action of “publicly reprimanding” Ohio State and Hall. Wow. He really showed them, didn’t he? Of course it should be remembered that Delany would willingly give an arm or a leg if necessary to get one of the teams from his downtrodden league into the national championship game. He may very well be negotiating with the minions from “Despicable Me” at this very moment to hack into the BCS computers to be sure Ohio State remains ahead of Auburn should both teams win Saturday.
Delany needs an Ohio State win almost as much as Meyer does.
Of course none of the alleged “leaders” are talking. An e-mail request for comment from Meyer, Smith or Alutto was, “passed along to Smith,” by an Ohio State spokesman. He didn’t respond. A request for comment by Delany sent to the Big Ten received an instant response: a copy of Delany’s statement announcing the “public reprimand.”
When all is said and done, the bottom line is the bottom line: Meyer cares only about winning although he will continue to pretend that’s not the case. The same is true for the leadership at Ohio State and the Big Ten.
They’re all pretty despicable.
And Ohio State will probably win Saturday because Meyer is one hell of a coach.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.