The Coach Potato: Tackling Urban blight

The unsuspecting coach was at a family meal that included his grandchildren when he was lured next door by some ne'er-do-wells who had dancing on their mind, a tale as old as time ...

Urban Meyer should have listened to Shaggy.

Wasn’t me.

Even if they caught you on camera?

Wasn’t me.

Nah, it was him and the result was a hilariously penitent Urban Meyer at Monday’s press conference. Well, hilarious if you’re someone like me who is amused by flagrant hypocrisy as I clearly demonstrate in my cackling video critique of his apology. But after all the professional shortcomings that Meyer has demonstrated as the head of a football enterprise, it strikes me as strange that this decidedly personal failing is what has so many people calling for his job. Well, here’s hoping you enjoy this week’s edition of “The Coach Potato.”

Urban Meyer was enjoying multi-generational family repast at his restaurant, finding solace during a long weekend following a tough loss when his generosity to accommodate others got the better of him.

“There’s a big group next to our restaurant and they wanted me to come over and take pictures and I did,” Meyer recounted during his press conference in Jacksonville Monday.

It was more than that, though. There was (audible gasp) dancing!

“They were trying to pull me out on the dance floor, screwing around,” Meyer said, “and I should have left.”

Sorry, coach. Upon further review, replay confirmed that it was something more than incidental contact that occurred. An alternate angle even cleared up some questions about the exchange under center as well.

It’s obviously pretty embarrassing for him, and while I don’t pretend to know the specifics of his relationship with his wife and family, I’m going to go ahead and guess the response on the homefront included elements of white-hot fury and actual heartbreak. That’s who was truly harmed here. Not a football team. Not any football players. Certainly those of us who like watching football games.

If there is a professional issue here, it has to do with how he represented the franchise that he’s paid a great deal to represent, but even then, it strikes me as incredibly odd that this specific issue is the one that so many people feel is a breaking point for his employment as a head coach.

This doesn’t have anything to do with his ability to manage employees. Not like the question of how much Meyer knew of the domestic-abuse accusations against Zach Smith, his assistant coach at the time, and more specifically if Meyer did anything to either protect the victim or to punish the perpetrator. Meyer was suspended three games by Ohio State over that issue.

This doesn’t have anything with criminal behavior, either. Not like the issues at Florida where over a six-season span, there were 31 instances in which one of his players were arrested.

This doesn’t even relate to an issue of institutional bias or control. Not like hiring Chris Doyle to be Jacksonville’s strength coach after Doyle had resigned from Iowa following allegations of being abusive in general and demonstrating racial insensitivity specifically. Doyle lasted a day with the Jags before he was gone.

And while all of those previous issues may provide the backdrop for this specific incident, it still strikes me as odd that so many people see this largely personal indiscretion as the breaking point. ESPN’s Marcus Spears stated Monday that Meyer needs to be fired now.

“I played football nine years in the NFL,” Spears said. “Every head coach I ever had said, ‘Don’t be the guy to take focus off of what we’re doing as a football team as we try to win games.’ It was a message that resonated throughout every locker room I’ve ever been in. Shad Khan, you on the clock, bro. It’s time for you to find another head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

Spears is right. People around the NFL constantly do talk about distractions both in the danger they pose and the need to avoid them. But I’ve covered the NFL in one way or another for 17 years now, and never once has a player or a coach said, “You know what, we were distracted by what happened to that one guy last week on his off night.”

Why, specifically, is this the dealbreaker on his employment? Because he embarrassed the team he represents? If that’s the case, why didn’t the way he handled the abuse allegations against Smith constitute sufficient embarrassment to make him a liability? Why wasn’t the fact that more than two dozen of his players at Florida were arrested while at the school generate sufficient shame to call for his termination?

Do we need to see or hear recorded evidence?

That question got me thinking about what happened to the Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling in h2014. Sterling had long been reviled by his peers and his players. His franchise was a laughingstock and he was famous for being a cheapskate. More troublingly, the Department of Justice charged him with housing discrimination in 2006, a suit he settled for $2.75 million without admitting guilt. Those were real people whose real lives were affected by his prejudice, and that didn’t prompt the NBA to do a darn thing to rectify his behavior or force him to sell his team. But when audio recordings became public of Sterling talking to his mistress, saying things that were plainly racist by expressing his disappointment that she was being photographed with a Black man, well, enough was enough and the NBA went and got him out of the paint. He was forced to sell his team essentially for being gauche and rude as opposed to the discriminatory housing practices that were certainly more publicly harmful.

That is not to compare the issues Meyer has had as a boss to Sterling’s flaws as an owner. Sterling was clearly a racist, and with Meyer, the issue has largely been the degree to which he’ll turn a blind eye or overlook the harm being perpetrated by those who work and play for him so long as he helps his team win. The point I’m making is that it shouldn’t take publicly embarrassing personal behavior to push out a person who has already shown themselves to be unfit for the leadership position they occupy.

I’m not going to feel bad if Meyer ends up losing his job just like I don’t think it was unfair Sterling had to sell his team. I just think it’s weird that THIS is the dealbreaker.

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