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Column: Urban Meyer gambled his legacy on Zach Smith. He lost.

Meyer put his legacy on the line for Smith. It was a bold strategy that didn’t seem to payoff.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Urban Meyer had the track record of a legend. He won three national championships, won at every stop, and was able to produce NFL talent. Whether it be Alex Smith at Utah, Percy Harvin at Florida, or Joey Bosa at Ohio State, he molded talent for the big-time lights.

Most importantly, in the eyes of Buckeye Nation, he took over a program that saw the resignation of Jim Tressel—which was followed by a 6-7 season—and turned the Scarlet and Gray into an instant winner again, virtually overnight. Only a select few have been given the keys to the Ohio State Buckeyes football program. Most of them became legends themselves. Whether it be Woody Hayes, Tressel, Earle Bruce and even John Cooper, their tenures at Ohio State helped put them into the college football Hall of Fame. For a brief time, each guarded the Holy Grail that was the identity of Buckeye football: a program that won games, and strived to be leaders on and off the field. However, each became enabattled in their own way.

Urban Meyer seemed to not have that problem. He didn’t punch any players on national television like Hayes did, he won games—especially the contests against Michigan—and seemed to be clear of any wrongdoings because he ran such a tight ship.

And then the Zach Smith details started to emerge.

Meyer put Smith on his Florida staff, and even through a domestic violence allegation in 2009, he brought Smith to Ohio State. The case of tribalism can be brought up for why Meyer stuck his neck out for Zach, who was the grandson of Earle Bruce. Meyer’s mentor was Bruce, and it seemed like he would return the favor by steering Zach into the right direction. However, that was a major gamble on Meyer’s part.

When the investigation was concluded and the Board of Trustees reached a resolution on Wednesday evening, things seemed very clear: Meyer made a very, very bad bet on Zach Smith.

The three game suspension was bad, but when the full investigation notes were uncorked, things just looked worse for Meyer. When the 2009 domestic violence allegations came out, Meyer said he met with both Zach and Courtney Smith in his office at Florida. However, Courtney says that conversation didn’t happen, and that she had one with Shelley Meyer; Zach said that he did speak with Urban, but Courtney wasn’t there. From the start, this was a bad bet.

Fast forward to May 2014, when it was uncovered that Zach spent approximately $600 at a strip club on the recruiting trail, another tally into the ‘what are you doing?’ category for Meyer’s trust in Zach. Then fast forward again to Big Ten Media Days 2018, where it seemed Meyer found out through new reports of a 2015 domestic violence allegation against Smith. After firing Smith, Meyer then told the media that he had no idea about the 2015 allegations.

Whether he meant to or not, Meyer wasn’t necessarily forthcoming with the truth, and he didn’t obliterate Smith’s career in real-time. Was he protecting Zach, in hopes that the recent allegations wouldn’t completely derail his coaching career? Did Meyer not want to deal with this problem on short notice in front of, literally, the press that will be covering him this season? Only he knows that. But from the optics standpoint, one thing is clear: Meyer put a lot on the line for Zach Smith, and at every step, it looked like a terrible move to make.

Not only did Urban put his legacy on the line, he put the reputation of Ohio State on the line, too. The university put him on paid administrative leave, then they called in a special investigation headed by the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White. Two weeks of investigating—which was accompanied by closed football practices—brought us to the culmination on Wednesday.

The Board of Trustees meeting was scheduled for a 9 a.m. ET start time, and a decision, was thought, to be reached shortly after the executive session took place. What came after was a full-blown circus. Whether it be the constant updates from the loading dock of the The Longaberger Alumni House, or the accumulation of fans and students outside the Alumni House, it took nearly 12 hours for all of this to end. At around 9 p.m. ET, a press conference occurred—and it appeared that Meyer wanted no business being there. Granted, he may have been tired after being, basically, trapped inside a building all day, but this was his own doing; he pushed all his chips to the center of the table for Zach Smith, only to realize that it was all a bust.

Sure, Meyer will be back on the sidelines when the Buckeyes take on Tulane on Sept. 22, but at what cost? Parts of the report make your head spin. At multiple times it would’ve been apparent to fire Smith, but that never happened. Now, we’ve gone through one of the most surreal months in Ohio State history, that has both tarnished Meyer’s legacy and put the university in a quagmire.

All of this for what, exactly?