Meyer’s re­tire­ment comes four months too late

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour

There is a differ­ence be­tween be­ing a good coach and be­ing a good man.

That’s worth re­mem­ber­ing as Ur­ban Meyer is lauded and cel­e­brated af­ter his de­ci­sion Tues­day to step down as Ohio State’s coach, a de­ci­sion he should have made four months ago, mind you.

A de­ci­sion that should have been made for him, re­ally, af­ter it be­came clear he’d en­abled a do­mes­tic abuser and then lied about it to pro­tect his rep­u­ta­tion.

Meyer is, with­out ques­tion, a great coach, one of the best the col­lege game has ever seen. Three na­tional ti­tles, a ca­reer win­ning per­cent­age of .853 ahead of his final game, and dozens of play­ers who made it to the NFL.

But he is also cal­lous and cal­cu­lat­ing, will­ing to bend his morals to fit his needs. While he spoke of­ten about the im­por­tance of char­ac­ter and ac­count­abil­ity, and how he in­sisted on both from his play­ers, his true guid­ing force was self-preser­va­tion.

That was made abun­dantly clear this sum­mer, as Meyer lied about what he knew and when about for­mer as­sis­tant Zach Smith’s his­tory of al­leged do­mes­tic abuse, and did what­ever he needed to cover his tracks. The “mis­state­ments” at Big Ten me­dia day. The sud­den cu­rios­ity about eras­ing text mes­sages. The un­usual lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween him and wife Shel­ley about her knowl­edge of Smith’s po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence.

“I didn’t feel that I’d seen high-in­tegrity be­hav­ior,” said Jeffrey Wadsworth, who stepped down as an Ohio State trustee in protest of what he saw as the school’s light pun­ish­ment of Meyer.

Yes, Meyer was sus­pended for three games. But they were not games of con­se­quence, be­cause God for­bid Ohio State im­pose dis­ci­pline that might ac­tu­ally send a mes­sage or — gasp! — have an effect on the sea­son. Had Meyer re­ally wanted to set an ex­am­ple, to show his play­ers that ac­count­abil­ity is more than some word scrawled across a white board in a locker room, he would have owned up to his mis­takes and stepped down in July. Or Au­gust. Or Septem­ber.

In­stead, he made ex­cuses for him­self and be­came in­dig­nant when pressed for an­swers.

Worse, he did and said noth­ing as a woman who’d been al­legedly abused by her hus­band was vic­tim­ized again, this time by the court of pub­lic opin­ion. It was a month be­fore Meyer even both­ered to men­tion Court­ney Smith’s name, and if he’s made a sin­cere apol­ogy for his role in the hurt she’s been caused, I’ve yet to see it.

By his in­ac­tion and in­differ­ence, Meyer re­peat­edly put Court­ney Smith, and even­tu­ally her chil­dren, in harm’s way. En­dan­gered other women, too, by dis­miss­ing the idea that abuse oc­curred sim­ply be­cause there were no crim­i­nal charges. How that squared with the 2009 ar­rest re­port in which Gainesville, Florida, po­lice la­beled Zach Smith the ag­gres­sor, Meyer never has quite ex­plained.

Some­how, Meyer made it so he and Ohio State were the ag­grieved par­ties in all of this. He’s still do­ing it, too. When asked if the scan­dal and sus­pen­sion had any­thing to do with his de­ci­sion to re­tire, he called it “a very difficult time” and said it was one of many fac­tors.

And in try­ing to make a case for Ohio State to get the last spot in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off on Sun­day, Meyer said his team de­served credit for win­ning the Big Ten ti­tle af­ter what he called an “emo­tional year.” That’s right. In Meyer’s book, the furor that erupts from cov­er­ing for a do­mes­tic abuser is not an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse but, rather, a bur­den to be over­come.

That’s not lead­er­ship, and it’s sure not a sign of good char­ac­ter.

Meyer ac­knowl­edged that he cares about his legacy, and his mis­han­dling of the do­mes­tic al­le­ga­tions against Zach Smith will likely cloud it. Yet he con­tin­ued to in­sist he did things at Ohio State “the right way.”

If he means win­ning, there’s no ques­tion. But as a role model for his play­ers, Ohio State fans and ev­ery­one who cares about the broader im­pact sports has on our so­ci­ety, Meyer fell far short. And for that, he will not be missed.

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