“Intellectual virtue is truth. You have to accept the truth.”
The man who uttered those words, back when Urban Meyer was the football coach at Utah, was the single greatest force in Meyer’s life. They came from his father, Bud, who did more to shape the philosophies, the mindset, the attitudes, the drive, the success of the coach than anyone else.
Bud did not say, “Intellectual virtue is truth. You have to accept the truth … unless you have your job and $40 million hanging in the balance.”
Determining where that truth is in the case of Meyer and his former assistant at Ohio State, Zach Smith, who was recently fired, accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife Courtney, has not yet been completely determined. First, Meyer said he knew nothing of the abuse, then, after being suspended, he pivoted, saying, yes, he did know about it all the way back in 2015. And, he has now said, he properly passed the information along to his superiors at the school, conveniently passing the buck, as well. A so-called investigation is ongoing, to eventually be tidily wrapped up within the next couple of weeks, before the Buckeyes’ season starts.
We’ll have to wait on the results of that.
What we don’t have to wait on is the condemnation of knowing something awful took place — have you seen the photos of a battered Courtney Smith? — and not taking strong action on it.
Loyalty to an assistant coach is one thing, ignoring or minimizing the kind of evidence available to Meyer years ago, and sitting on it, waiting this long to see Smith fired, then lying about what you knew, and finally making claims about reporting the incident to higher-ups, once it’s proved that you did know, is quite another.
A man with the kind of power Meyer wielded — I dunno, should we use the past tense? — at Ohio State, a coach that studies and controls every single detail the way he has at every single turn, should in no way be passive on such an important matter. Unless, of course, in the blind eyes of the coach king, winning and loyalty is deemed more important.
It isn’t. It never should have been.
Shame on Urban Meyer, then, for his negligence in this regard.
In review, it’s worthwhile to study — but not excuse — Meyer’s influences and his relationship to the truth from his past, a relationship that, at least when it suited him and his own best interests, has been fast and loose.
Ask the big-money boosters at and around the University of Utah, who were told by Meyer that he had every intention of staying at the school — if they would gift their hundred thousand here, their hundred thousand there, even as he made plans to jump to bigger programs with bigger donors resulting in a bigger paycheck for him.
He didn’t have to lie. He likely could have reaped his success and satisfied his ambition without it, but he went ahead and lied, anyway.
Why? Because he had to ensure that success.
He had to win. Not just win, he had to conquer. Failure for Meyer has never been an option. He once told me during an extended interview that after a defeat, he could barely tolerate being alive: “I can’t function as a human being after a loss. I can’t eat. I can’t shave. I can’t hug my kids.”
That stance on coaching, on winning, on living, stemmed from Bud’s influence, Bud’s demands. In the elder Meyer’s household, adherence to strict rules and the garnering of profound achievement wasn’t just hoped for, it was expected.
As Bud put it, some 15 years ago: “It just takes a little more effort to do things right. Urban had the disposition to accept direction. He adapted himself to the conditions that prevailed.”
When Meyer was a kid, he feared his dad, who fined him 25 cents when he struck out in a junior baseball game and who paid out a dollar when his son hit a home run. Sometimes, for major goof-ups, Meyer had to run 50 laps around the family’s house in Ashtabula, Ohio.
When Meyer was just 4-years-old, he was running away from his father’s justice on account of some unacceptable error he had made, and, as Meyer said it, “was about to get a whupping.” What he got instead was a near-death experience and a trip to the hospital, after stepping in front of an oncoming car on the road in front of his family’s house. That collision resulted in the young Meyer being bound in a body cast for five months.
Bud’s “conditions” included excellence in the classroom, where Meyer felt pressure from his two sisters, who were dedicated students: “They always got straight A’s. It became a competition between us. It was expected. You didn’t want to be the only dope sitting there with a bad grade. Even in college, whenever I got an A, or later, when I did something well in my career, Dad was the first one I called. I never wanted to disappoint him. I couldn’t have looked him in the eye. In that way, the old man, he was always there, always with me.”
If Meyer got hurt playing sports — football and baseball — Bud expected him to play on: “Dad said, ‘Suck it up.’ There was no such thing as getting hurt. He was a hard, hard guy.”
Meyer eventually earned All-State recognition as a prep player in his two sports. When Bud was asked about those achievements, he said: “Well, he was ordinary.”
After Meyer was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and sent to rookie league ball, where he struggled as a 17-year-old prospect, he got frustrated and missed football. He called his father to tell him he was going to quit and come home.
“He told me, ‘OK, but don’t plan on setting foot in this house again. There never will be a quitter in this family.’”
The biggest influence in Meyer’s coaching life, other than his father, was former Buckeyes and Colorado State coach Earl Bruce. “The two of them were exactly alike,” he said. “There was no gray area.”
He added: “Other than my father, he was the person I respected most.”
What does all or any of this background have to do with Meyer’s situation now?
That one word: Pressure.
Meyer still hears the voice of his father, who has since passed away, even now. Winning remains the only option. He will not walk away from all of his success at Ohio State, and an extra $40 million, without a fight. I do not know exactly what Meyer did when he found out about the accusations against Smith, his former assistant and, interestingly enough, Bruce’s grandson.
I do know what he should have done. Three years should not have passed before Smith was fired.
I also know the strain, the duress he feels, the unacceptability of failure, regarding “not being a dope sitting there” with missteps made, errors committed, particularly pertaining to an issue as significant as alleged abuse put on a woman.
“I’m not afraid of losing as much as I”m horrified of underachieving,” Meyer said, all those years ago. “The last thing I would ever want to do is disappoint my dad. I’m still trying, I guess, to live up to his expectations and to make him proud.”
Meyer should have heard and remembered all of his father’s words three years ago: “It takes a little more effort to do things right.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.