Everything I needed to know about Urban Meyer, the man and the myth, was set in concrete more than a decade ago.
My name is Chris and this is my story:
On Sept. 18, 2004, the USC Trojans defeated Brigham Young in Provo on their way to an undefeated season and the national championship.
I covered that game for the Los Angeles Times but also had my eye on another school—and coach--that weekend.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, I steered my rental car into the coaching complex at the University of Utah.
I’m no memory genius, by any stretch, but I remember that day like it was yesterday.
I met Meyer in his darkened office and we watched film of his team’s 48-6 win at Utah State the previous day.
Utah improved to 3-0 and No. 14 in the polls on its early way to its own undefeated season. I loved, throughout my career, to jump on stories early and find the "next best" player or rising superstar coach.
Urban was very high on my 2004 list. I thought he could be the next Pete Carroll. (He was).
“He’s everything you want to be at 40,” I wrote for the LAT two days after our interview.
As we watched film that Sunday morning, Meyer locked in on a punt-coverage formation he used against Utah State just to, as he put it, “F with them.”
We talked at least an hour about all sorts of things. On my way out he handed me his business card, gave me his cell number and told me to call him anytime because, you know, Los Angeles was a big recruiting area for him.
A few months later, Meyer became a hot coaching candidate and was being chased, literally, around Salt Lake by representatives of Notre Dame and Florida.
He never returned any of my calls but did communicate with the New York Times.
Ok, fine, that’s life, and Meyer ended up taking the job at Florida.
The next summer, I went to Gainesville to interview Meyer again. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
He looked at me stone-faced.
“Glad to meet you,” he said.
No, Urban, we met last season, remember? I have your cell phone number.
I got nothing--it was like he was staring at a telephone pole.
Another national writer, who sat in on the interview, was embarrassed for me.
“What the F was that?” my colleague said after we left the interview.
It’s just a story, but I have not trusted Urban Meyer since that summer day in 2005.
Childish of me, maybe, but he rubbed me wrong from the start.
I vowed to be professional about his triumphs and still consider him to be the second-best coach in college football behind Nick Saban.
I just don’t believe a lot of the things he’s said and done under the auspices of doing things the right way.
Urban was named after a Pope, but it wasn’t Pius.
I believe he knows more about the tragedy of Aaron Hernandez, at Florida, and more about the tragedy of Zach Smith in Columbus.
Meyer now faces the crisis of his career and he keeps saying things I just can’t rally around. He claimed at Big Ten media day last week that he had no knowledge of a 2015 domestic violence incident involving assistant coach Zach Smith.
I don’t believe him.
He chastised the reporter, Brett McMurphy, who broke the story.
I believe Brett.
McMurphy doubled-down Wednesday with a bombshell report that detailed text messages proving Zach Smith’s ex-wife was in contact with several wives of Ohio State coaches.
One of those wives was Shelley Meyer.
Shelley knew of the 2015 abuse allegation against Courtney Smith and said in one of the texts she would have to inform her husband, Urban.
Meyer has said repeatedly he and Shelley talk about everything…but not this?
I don’t believe it.
Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of Zach, believes that Urban Meyer knew.
I believe her.
“I know Shelley did everything she could,” Courtney Smith says in McMurphy’s story.
I believe that.
We are all anxious to hear Urban’s version of events. His only way out, it appears, is to claim Shelley never told him about the 2015 incident.
Again, who should I trust?
In my 2004 story on Meyer, he noted the main reason he took the Utah job was that Shelley wanted to live in the Rockies.
“She’s always weighed in as my best friend and soul mate,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Day. “She’s been right there with everything. Especially when you’re dealing with – not who’s going to carry the ball on third down, she has an opinion on that too – we chat about people. She has a great spirit. A great love of people. Her heart is always in the right place. She’s phenomenal. Absolutely I rely on her.”
Shelley Meyer is a nurse who works for the school. I don’t believe she would risk her job or reputation to protect Zach Smith.
I’m still trying to figure out why Urban Meyer would risk his job and reputation to protect Zach Smith.
Courtney Smith, in McMurphy’s story, provided one possible clue: “Zach once told me if he ever got fired and this all comes out: ‘I’ll take everyone at Ohio State down with me.'”
There are so many things we still don’t know: Ohio State announced Wednesday that Meyer would be placed on paid, administrative leave while it sorts things out. That was the right move and maybe the school has learned something after clinging so long to "Honest Jim" Tressel's story a few years back.
(I never trusted Tressel either but that's another story based on a face-to-face meeting with the man).
My instincts, though, from my personal experience, are to believe Urban Meyer the way I do those notes in fortune cookies.
But that’s just my story. You may have yours.