By JASON MARTIN (August 2, 2018)
Ladies and gentlemen, Urban Frank Meyer III cares about very few things in his life, and at the top of that short list, in addition I’m sure to his family, is the singular goal of winning football games.
In October of 2015, Meyer released a book, written alongside veteran New York Daily News sportswriter Wayne Coffey (who also penned multiple books for Carli Lloyd, as well as R.A. Dickey), entitled Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season. Here’s a portion of the description from the Penguin-Random House website about the project:
In only thirteen years as a head football coach, first at Bowling Green and then at Utah, Florida, and Ohio State, Urban Meyer has established himself as one of the elite coaches in the annals of his sport, with three national championships and a cumulative record of 142 wins and only 26 losses. But sheer statistics are not the measure of his true accomplishment, nor do they speak to his own extraordinary learning journey. Now, in Above the Line, he offers to readers his unparalleled insights into leadership, team building and the keys to empowering people to achieve things they might never have thought possible.
A student of psychology long before he became a coach, Meyer believes that trust is the bedrock of great achievements and healthy relationships, and explains how to build it, step by step—whether in a team, a family, or a Fortune 500 company. With trust in place, a deep bond unites us in common purpose, and cultivates what he calls “Above the Line” behavior—a learned, empowered response to the challenges we face every day.
Writing with his customary candor and humility, Meyer delivers insights both practical and profound—and applicable far beyond the football field. Packed with real-life examples from a storied season, Above the Line offers wisdom and inspiration for taking control and turning setbacks into victories.
The common purpose highlighted above is winning games. That’s it. With all we know of Urban Meyer dating back to his time at Florida and the sheer quantity of arrests of his players between the years of 2005 and 2010 alone, we recognize Meyer for what he is: a fantastic football coach with a win at all costs attitude.
The latest cost might be the biggest. It might be, probably will be, and almost assuredly should be his job. He valued a relationship with a wide receivers coach and a friend he thought might help him win football games over the realities of domestic violence. In 2009, Meyer knew Zach Smith picked up and shoved his new wife, Courtney, against a wall. He knew it took place when she was three months pregnant. And his response at the time was that he and his wife, Shelley, suggested they seek counseling, but that they were a “young couple” and “I saw a very talented football coach” and he decided to continue forward.
It’s the “very talented football coach” part here that illustrates Meyer’s biggest failing. He has prioritized football over everything, up to and including basic human decency. Ideally, you want the guy at the helm of your school being someone who cares as much as you do, but if you for one split second started feeling sad because this might cost Ohio State a chance at a title this year, you’re doing life wrong. Sports is an escape, designed and successful because it distracts its audience from some of the harshness and stress that accompanies our daily existence as individuals.
But, for Urban Meyer, football became the subject of his tunnel vision, and in order to stay as powerful, controlling, rich, and tenured as possible, he was willing to do or say whatever it took. That included not just helping to conceal the atrocities of a dirtbag on his staff, but also attempting to discredit Brett McMurphy, a heavily respected old-style shoe leather reporter that has broken plenty of stories over the years. Meyer channeled Lance Armstrong attempting to bury other cyclists, medical officials, media members, or anyone else that attempted to cast aspersions upon how clean he was in the dirtiest sport on the planet.
Just like Armstrong, Meyer appears to have stood and lied with a straight face, something more akin to sociopathic behavior than anything else, and as he attempted to pillory those that dared to challenge him, he knew he was guilty of much of the behavior in question. Again, it’s about winning football games. Zach Smith was a friend he had known dating back to 2002, and after what happened in 2009 and the second chance, Smith chose to terrorize his wife for several more years. Incidents in 2014, 2015, 2016, and even 2017 popped up, with nine separate complaints reaching police.
But Urban Meyer didn’t know? Please.
Urban Meyer didn’t want to know. Zach is the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who Meyer looked up to as a mentor for many years. Smith was also known as a tremendous recruiting asset, and was extremely helpful in landing elite classes for Meyer. And it still doesn’t matter. OJ Simpson was a hell of a running back.
He also murdered two people in cold blood. (Allegedly…cough).
There was another text exchange between Courtney Smith and Lindsey Voltolini, whose husband, Brian, was known to be a loyal Meyerite on the Ohio State staff. Here’s a portion of it, which was part of McMurphy’s lengthy Wednesday Facebook post:
Courtney: “[Zach’s] trying to make me look crazy bc that’s what Shelley is saying [he’s doing]”
Lindsey: “[Urban] just said [Zach] denied everything”
Courtney: “I hope urban is smarter than that”
Lindsey: “[Urban] doesn’t know what to think”
Courtney: “I don’t really care. Ya know”
Lindsey: “Yeah, don’t worry about urb”
“Urban just said Zach denied everything” and “Urban doesn’t know what to think” is where my focus finds itself, because it would indicate the level of care Meyer had for what was taking place. He’s confused he says. He’s not sure what to do or what to believe. Zach said he didn’t do anything. How fast do you think Meyer shut down the conversation after that and simply said, “Okay, just wanted to know. Got it. Case closed.”
Zach DID do something in 2009 and Meyer knew it, so there was a history of drunkenness and violence early in the marriage. But, he said he didn’t do it, so he must not have done it? And rather than look into it further or attempt to do the right thing, this was just the end of it?
It had to be. It’s about winning football games and protecting someone he knew.
If there’s any wiggle room, it’s that Courtney Smith said she didn’t have confirmation that Shelley Meyer told her husband of the issues in 2015. Kristen Balboni asked her that question in the Stadium interview that circulated yesterday, and Smith said “No she didn’t. No she didn’t.” If you want to create a Chinese wall between Urban Meyer and the crimes of his receivers coach, this is where you have to plant your flag. But, you then have to make people believe that Shelley Meyer was acutely aware of what Urban might have to do if he knew what she did, and that SHE then placed his job and Zach’s career over Courtney’s safety and welfare.
Either she allows her husband to roll the family station wagon over her reputation and then park the Ohio State team bus on her prone body, or he’s toast. Even if she does attempt to claim she never told him, it’s still a scenario where people then have to believe her. It seems unlikely anyone will, because married people recognize that they tell each other about everything short of their own infidelity (should that be a fact in the situation). When Brian Colangelo was under fire earlier this year, ultimately resulting in his end in Philadelphia with the 76ers, speculation was his wife may have been behind the anonymous Twitter burner accounts.
It was believable because everyone again realized he told her everything, because that’s what people do. There are exceptions to every rule, but this one has to be nearly universal. And, because of it, it’s implausible at best to believe Urban Meyer wasn’t in the know long before he said he was. Further, in towns throughout this country, when an athlete or a member of a program runs afoul of the law, who is on the end of the first call from law enforcement? It could be the parents, but in many cases, it’s the coach. “Hey coach, yeah we had to bring X in. He was drunk downtown and turned over a jukebox.” That’s where you have to go to buy this.
However, the one thing left to be determined is whether there’s a direct link to definitive proof of Meyer’s first-hand knowledge of the 2015 incident. Are there text messages we haven’t seen? There certainly could be, but we haven’t seen them FROM or TO Urban Meyer as of yet. We believe he knew and find it almost impossible to believe otherwise, but when you look at Title IX concerns and the legal side of this mess, there might be an out.
The school isn’t going to have the same choice. The burden of proof for the university isn’t as important at this stage as the public response and the optics. Ohio State will need to look larger than its football program and to its standing as a major university, and once it does, Meyer can’t stay in that job. Some will disagree, but even as powerful as Urban Meyer and his 7+ million dollar salary are…
Al Capone went down for tax evasion.