National Columnist

Hiring Meyer is only way OSU's Gee, Smith can survive


OSU AD Gene Smith (right) and president Gordon Gee were loyal to Jim Tressel to a fault. (US Presswire)  
OSU AD Gene Smith (right) and president Gordon Gee were loyal to Jim Tressel to a fault. (US Presswire)  

Only Urban Meyer can save them now, and by "them" I don't just mean the Ohio State Buckeyes -- the football team. Them also includes the two people in charge of this debacle in Columbus, president Gordon Gee and athletics director Gene Smith, who have mishandled a smallish scandal to the point where it has blown up, mushroom-cloud like, into something that threatens to blot out everything else, including the future.

Unless Urban Meyer is hired.

He would save them -- the Buckeyes, yes, but also Smith and Gee. All of them. Urban Meyer could do that. But only Urban Meyer.

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Ohio State fans know it -- as boldly, baldly proved by a fan website devoted to the Buckeyes, something called, something I'd never heard of until this weekend when it "reported" that Penn State has been in contact with Meyer about replacing Joe Paterno.

I don't believe that report, but that's not the point. The point is, OSU fans are so hell-bent on landing Meyer that they're trying to scare Smith and Gee into acting, now, and negotiating, now, with Meyer lest the former Florida football coach (and current ESPN analyst) ends up at Penn State.

Look, what you believe is up to you, but for me that website story inspires zero belief. Would Penn State really disrespect Joe Paterno that way, by speaking to Urban Meyer in the middle of football season? Would Meyer really disrespect a legend like Paterno that way by speaking to Penn State? And assuming the meeting even did take place, how would a fan from a competing school be the one to hear about it?

None of it adds up, but still I can see the ruse working. I can see Gordon Gee and Gene Smith waking up to that report the other day and stupidly freaking out. Gee is the most obtuse smart guy I've seen in some time, and as for Smith? Well, I don't know what to make of Smith. Until this Ohio State scandal, I'd assumed Smith was one of the sharpest men in major college athletics. That's been his reputation for more than a decade, but over the last year he has made one dull move after another. Maybe he was sharp at Arizona State. Maybe he was sharp at Iowa State. But at Ohio State? His blade is dull. He's a butter knife.

No need to dredge up the missteps -- no time, either; I'm not writing an opus here -- but Smith allowed Tressel to fool him, lie to him, then spin him until the fallout got so bad that finally someone at Ohio State realized Tressel had to go. And since then, even after Smith allowed Tressel to embarrass him and even after Gee uttered that glorious quote about the football coach hopefully not firing the school president, they've continued to screw up.

There have been more violations, more scandals, more empty statements from Smith and Gee blaming everything on Tressel and accepting no responsibility, and then on Friday when the NCAA lowered the boom on previously-suspended receiver DeVier Posey and suspended him five more games for more violations, Smith said he couldn't understand why the NCAA would be so tough on a repeat offender like DeVier Posey at a consistently offending football program like Ohio State's.

So I take back what I wrote earlier about Smith: I do know what to make of him, and it's this: He has no idea what he's doing, and needs to be fired. And after Gee fires Smith, whoever's above the president at Ohio State needs to fire Gee. This is a school dominated by its football program, which is fine as long as that football program is a beacon of light and not a continued source of embarrassment. But the football program at Ohio State has become an embarrassment, and it keeps making embarrassing news, and Smith and Gee should answer for that.

Unless they can save themselves with one hire: Urban Meyer.

Meyer is that good, and that belief is coming from someone -- from me, of course -- who has made it a point, over and over and over, to criticize Meyer. Players at Florida were arrested under his watch and allowed to return to the field, repeatedly, and it was embarrassing to me as a Florida alumnus.

Even so, Meyer is the hire Ohio State must have to save itself -- all of itself. The football team, the AD, the president. Everyone.

Meyer wins huge everywhere he goes, from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida, and he does it within NCAA rules. He allows too much nonsense from his players off the field, but I have a feeling that would change at Ohio State. The momentum of arrests at Florida -- first one player, then two, then 20, then 30 -- turned that first snowflake into an avalanche, one he couldn't figure out how to stop. But Meyer is a smart man, and my guess is that he's learned from the Florida experience and would crack down hard on the first player who screws up at his next job, wherever it is.

Ohio State is one of the handful of schools that would seem to entice Meyer -- Ohio-born and Ohio-bred, and a former Buckeyes graduate assistant in the 1980s -- and OSU needs a home run hire. Meyer would be a walk-off grand slam into the light tower, something straight out of The Natural, sending sparks of electricity floating onto the field at Ohio Stadium.

Someday when he walks down the street, people might just look and say, "There goes Urban Meyer, the best there ever was in this game." And that's what it would take to rescue Gee and Smith from this disaster of a football program, one Gee had the nerve last week to call "the poster child for [NCAA] compliance."

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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