I woke up at about ten in the morning yesterday, to roughly 800 notifications on my phone. From Slack messages, to group DMs on Twitter, I was flooded with the latest article that Stadium’s Brett McMurphy had posted. As I’m sure most Buckeye fans are now aware, that story, a massive, sparsely edited report stated that former Ohio State wide receiver coach Zach Smith had a “racially charged” altercation with former Buckeye receiver Trevon Grimes, among about a million other things that ranged from completely useless to intriguing but unfounded.
The report was pretty immediately met with a mountain of former and current players disputing the racial aspect of the altercation, and seemingly discredited by a number of Ohio State officials, including Gene Smith, Michael Drake, and Urban Meyer. That’s the most concise recap I can give, and if you need a deeper look, SBNation’s Alex Kirshner put together a great recap of it.
All of that is what it is. There are plenty of opinions people have loudly spouted on both sides of the story, plenty of people pretending to be lawyers online, and plenty of completely inane arguing on a story that matters very, very little. While all of that has its place (not in my mentions, please god not in my mentions), this isn’t it. For a couple minutes, I just want to talk about what, if anything, this whole thing means for Ohio State’s recruiting.
When I say thing, that doesn’t just mean the possibility of Zach Smith saying a racial slur to a player. I mean the whole Zach Smith saga of the past week or so, including Zach spending the last 72 hours or so tweeting about Tom Herman, Tom Herman’s wife, and a number of other perceived slights.
So, what does this all mean for Ohio State? To put it simply, not a whole lot. It’s pretty easy to figure out that having a coach meltdown on Twitter for four straight days would be bad for recruiting, as would having that same coach berating a player with slurs, but Zach Smith doesn’t coach at Ohio State anymore. He has no direct connection to the university, and his drama online is uniquely his. He’s not on the payroll anymore, and his actions won’t really impact anyone that plays at Ohio State anymore, unless he tries to sue the university, which he won’t do.
What does impact Ohio State recruiting, and the thing that has been impacting Ohio State’s recruiting for months now, especially recently, is Urban Meyer. More specifically, Urban Meyer’s future. Ohio State recruiting went dark in August, because no 18-year-old in the world would commit to a program with its head coach on suspension. Recruits don’t like uncertainty, for pretty obvious reasons.
It was generally thought, when Urban Meyer was ultimately reinstated, that recruiting would just go back to normal. Meyer was in Columbus to stay long term, the Buckeyes were about to enter a season where they were considered one of the best teams in the country.
The recruiting never really bounced back though. Sure, Ohio State has landed a couple recruits, but after recruiting at an awesome clip in the summer, things have slowed down exponentially since Meyer’s suspension, and even with his return to the team, things haven’t really normalized. For a couple weeks, that seemed like just a coincidence, and that Ohio State would get back on track soon. The Zach Smith thing hurt, of course, but he was gone.
Then came the in-game pain Meyer was pretty obviously experiencing, and the announcement that his brain cyst had gotten worse recently. Urban said he’d be back to coach Ohio State in 2019, and that he’d coach for as long as he could, but for a recruit making a decision on who he’ll play for the next four seasons, that’s not super reassuring. If you’re looking for a definitive answer as to why Ohio State’s recruiting is a little funky right now, Urban’s cloudy future, fair or not, is probably the closest you’ll get.
Now, how does Urban combat that? There’s certainly plenty of coaches saying to recruits that Urban won’t be around for long, and that’s a really tough thing for a coach to be up against. Urban Meyer can’t prove that he’ll be healthy enough to coach for the extended future, until, well, he actually does it. Until then, it’s just his word against everyone else’s, and the reputation of his word took quite a hit this offseason.
That basically means that the answer to Ohio State’s recruiting troubles is either Urban Meyer coaching at Ohio State well into the future, or retiring this offseason, and passing off his title to either Ryan Day, Matt Campbell, or some other worthy candidate. The former of the two might take a couple years, but if Urban just keeps coaching, he’ll eventually be considered stable again by recruits. If he retires (which he hasn’t indicated any interest in doing—this is purely hypothetical), whoever Ohio State’s new head coach is would also have stability, because a new coach, especially a good one like whoever Ohio State gets, isn’t going anywhere in the short term.