The Urban Verdict: How Should OSU Proceed?

posted by Bruce Hooley - 

There are a lot of smart people at Ohio State.

Many with PhDs, MBAs and other degrees of every sort in almost every academic speciality.

It used to be said of OSU that it offered a degree in everything but oceanography, and that's only because it didn't have an ocean.

That may be true, but it's sure swimming in deep water now as head football coach Urban Meyer's future hangs on the outcome of an investigative committee looking into how he handled domestic violence issues involving fired assistant coach Zach Smith.

OSU has promised to conclude that investigation within 14 days of its inception.

Tomorrow will be Day 12.

So the end is coming, and while Ohio State may not yet know the Committee's final rendering, it has certainly had time to ponder how best to frame the findings, whatever those findings are.

Therein lies the ticklish issue within the larger issue of what the school will do with Meyer.

OSU has undoubtedly mustered its best crisis management minds to brainstorm how the spin will be spun, but it will get only one chance to get this right in a charged environment where the competing agendas awaiting the outcome poses little chance for universal approval of whatever decision is made.

If Meyer is fired, the local zealots will howl.

If Meyer is exonerated, the national pundits will scream.

If Meyer is suspended for several games, neither faction will be completely satisfied, but both may be grudgingly appeased.

A suspension gives Meyer’s critics an indelible stain on his career resume.

Likewise, Meyer’s supporters will eventually get their coach back, albeit much later than they prefer.

Ohio State can’t gauge the fallout from its decision or eliminate the possibility of a foot-in-mouth rebuttal if it announces the Meyer investigation’s result at the same time it takes questions from reporters about how it arrived at that decision.

But would OSU risk allowing the vitriol to build over a weekend if it unveiled Meyer’s fate in an anonymous news release late Friday, Saturday or Sunday, pledging to answer questions on Monday?

That latter plan would give the school’s crisis managers a preview of both the national and local reaction to whatever discipline OSU President Michael Drake deems necessary after processing the Committee’s findings.

Should Meyer be restored to the field immediately, it will be seen by those who wanted more punitive action as a whitewash.

And there will also be blow-back on the local front from those wondering why, if Meyer is immediately restored to duty, he was sidelined at all.

Meyer certainly sees his absence since being placed on administrative leave Aug. 1 as a stiff penalty.

For every intervening day, he’s been barred from campus, from communicating with his coaches and players, from recruiting, and from the use of his university issued telephone and electronic devices.

It is certain Meyer sees that as more than enough of a scalding rebuke for how he handled the explosive nature of Smith's behavior.

If Meyer gets whacked with more sanctions, will he be able to pull off a calm, humble, accepting response that convinces everyone he won't be carrying a boulder on his shoulder for bosses that he deems knifed him in the back?

The last time Ohio State faced something this radioactive involving an iconic football coach, things went horribly wrong when then President E. Gordon Gee tried to make light of the embattled status of Jim Tressel.

The last thing OSU wants to do when announcing the Meyer matter is to make a joke that casts itself as the punchline.

Because, ultimately, not only did Tressel fail to survive that foray into choppy waters, but so did Gee.

Can Drake, athletic director Gene Smith, Meyer and everyone else charged with giving the Ohio State version of events these past three weeks avoid stepping on a landmine whenever this decision is announced?

That will hinge on whether the university’s deep-thinkers are also quick thinkers.

For no amount of being book smart ingrains the requisite street smarts necessitated now.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Bruce Hooley

Bruce Hooley

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