Urban Meyer on Hot Seat at OSU

The skinny on iconic college football coach Urban Meyer is that he is so driven to win his heart nearly gave out on him. A hero coach at the University of Florida, Meyer left the game “for his health” only to return a few years later, to helm the powerhouse Ohio State program. Meyer was back, prowling the sideline, focused and intense.

But the rumors that plagued him at UF were still stuck to him at OSU. Meyer would do anything to win, up to and including “tolerating misconduct” from players and coaches as long as it meant winning the SEC and competing for national titles. Years ago, it was so cliché as to almost be assumed that many top-tier college football programs let some things slide in order to field their best players on Saturdays. These days, though, it’s not so easy.

As a massive scandal continues to simmer in college hoops, Meyer and OSU are becoming the central figures in a scandal that could cloud the beginning of the 2018 NCAA football season.

To explain why Meyer is on the hot seat, here’s some backstory. OSU assistant football coach Zach Smith was recently fired, and, among those headlines was an allegation of domestic violence made by Smith’s ex-wife Courtney Smith back in 2015. Why does that matter now? Because Courtney Smith says “several people” close to Meyer knew about the allegations, and that he also knew this was not the first time the coach got violent with his wife. The first incident happened back in 2009, when Zach Smith allegedly shoved Courtney against the wall… She was pregnant at the time.

Meyer admitted he knew about the earlier incident. In fact, he said he suggested he and his wife, Shelley, help the younger couple get counseling and work things out. Meyer says he had no knowledge of the incident six years later, a denial Courtney Smith says is untrue.

In the past, denials such as these made by prominent coaches may have been taken at face value, and the program would go on, business as usual, even if the incident remained under investigation. But those days are not these days. After the scandals at Baylor and Michigan State, after the basketball debacle and the intense pressure from a shifting social culture, OSU could not afford to be seen as callous to domestic abuse. Thus, Meyer, one of the most prominent active coaches in the NCAA, has been placed on paid administrative leave less than a month before the season officially opens.

For Meyer’s critics, this suspension is more ammunition for their stories and an opportunity to put pressure on both OSU and the NCAA to “clean up” college sports. Already sports writers and fans are bringing up Meyer’s tenure at Florida, blaming the coach for allowing a locker room to spin out of control, creating a culture that, some say, is still holding the program back.

Regardless of what Meyer knew, and when he knew it, the past is blending into the present, and it’s creating a PR crisis, both for the coach and the program at a time when they need a positive, unified message. So far, neither the coach nor the university has tipped its hand to show the strategy it will employ… but it will be interesting to see what comes of this.

-Ronn Torossian, 5WPR CEO

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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