Texts pull back curtain on college coaching

Rob Oller
Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer speaks during media day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Dec. 30, 2018. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Two things for which I am extremely thankful: You have no access to my text messages; and we have access to Urban Meyer’s text messages. And not just Meyer’s but also other coaches and athletic department employees who work for Ohio State and other government-funded schools.

Set aside for a moment the need to hold government workers accountable, which is essential in a democratic republic. It is not the only reason Meyer’s texts made me smile.

That’s right, smile. Not because the texts provided “gotcha” moments (they mostly didn’t) but because they turned cardboard cutouts into 3D coaches. I challenge anyone to read the texts and emails — released by Ohio State on Friday nearly a year after The Dispatch and other media outlets requested them — and not come away feeling like you know Meyer better than you did before.

Keep that the focus, not the naysaying over the news value of reporting on more than 2,000 pages of documents containing texts and emails, many relating to Ohio State football and Meyer’s connection with former assistant coach Zach Smith. Analyzed without agenda, the texts provide a valuable transparency beyond the need to hinder individuals and organizations from running amok.

You cannot view the texts without seeing the man behind the curtain. The excellent. The good. The not-so-much. Wonderful warts and all. Why is that important? For some it isn’t. Some want a coach marketed only in sound bites and fist pumps. Just win, baby. Meyer is no more obligated to share his innermost thoughts and feelings than Mark Zuckerberg is required to reveal his soul to social media-ites.

Fair enough, but this isn’t about making candor mandatory. It also is not about urging people to open up so they can be ripped to shreds. At the core it is about understanding.

What makes Meyer tick? How did his staff react to him? Granted, reading the texts and emails can feel voyeuristic, but there is a sense of connection when the scrutiny is borne of curiosity and not contempt.

For instance, the text/email dump included this exchange on Jan. 21, 2018, with an unidentified recipient after Smith turned down Alabama. (Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he never offered Smith the job.)

“Every (expletive) day it’s something,” Meyer texted.

Who can’t relate to that job/life frustration?

There also is a practical side to perusing the texts; they show how a future hall of fame coach reacts to information and strategizes accordingly. Meyer is ultra-competitive both on and off the field, as shown in several texts to a recipient whose name has been redacted.

Meyer proposed the possibility of leaking information that Alabama considered hiring Smith, co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch (now at Oklahoma) and co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who departed in January.

Meyer texted: “Should be (sic) Leak out that Alabama tries to hire Schiano, Grinch and Zach and all three turned them down? Recruiting?”

I find Meyer’s mental processing fascinating. It would be refreshing if coaches revealed more of themselves to the public. Of course, Meyer never expected his texts to see the light of day, but that validates them all the more. It is highly doubtful that he or anyone else whose texts and emails were released choreographed their messages. What we see is what they honestly thought.

Consider your own texting. You think it. You type it. For better or worse.

Most coaches run their programs on a need-to-know basis. Meyer was no different. He was the CEO of the Buckeyes, and CEOs seldom show their cards in public. They consider it their business, not ours. But while we don’t always need to know, it is nice when we get to see how the sausage is made.

I won’t hold my breath, but here’s hoping future private texting by coaches turns into a steadier stream of public talking.


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