Sports

A Guide to Urban Meyer’s Latest Midlife Crisis and the Mortifying Midrestaurant Lap Dance at Its Heart

Meyer, wearing a headset and a white shirt, wipes his face with a black cloth.
Urban Meyer during a Jacksonville Jaguars home game on Sept. 19. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Let’s just get right to this.

Why is “Urban Meyer” trending on social media and/or why am I seeing headlines about how he has “apologized to his team”? Who is Urban Meyer?

Meyer, 57, is the head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the former head coach of the University of Florida and Ohio State University football teams. On Saturday a video began circulating on social media in which he is shown sitting on a bar stool in a busy restaurant while a woman, who is obviously not his wife, Shelley, backs her … stuff … right up into his … situation.

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So what? Who cares about the private pecadillos of the football man?

This is a reasonable question, and this video would probably not be something many people were interested in—or even one anyone would care to record in the first place—if he were the average married football coach. But there is a good amount of context here, much of it inflicted by Urban Meyer upon himself, which makes it noteworthy. To put it simply, Meyer has a history of describing reality in borderline unbelievable ways that tend to help him avoid the consequences of his own actions. This lent the video an air of comeuppance, to which Meyer contributed on Monday when he tried to convince the world that it did not show what it obviously showed. It’s a recursive loop of schadenfreude. Additionally, Meyer happens to have a long-standing habit of vividly conveying anguished regret and disappointment via his face and body language, which makes a situation in which one could surmise that he is experiencing those sensations an inherently memeable one. Finally, Shelley Meyer was just in the news in September for showing off the unsettlingly decorated Florida home she and her husband share, and for making conspiratorial comments about COVID. The viral world was primed in every way for Meyer news.

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Aren’t you a little biased on this subject because you’re a fan of the Michigan football team, which Meyer’s Ohio State beat seven times in his seven years with the program, a record referenced in multiple ways at the Columbus steakhouse he owns, which incidentally was the venue where a young woman was just filmed putting her defensive backfield in the direct vicinity of his schematic advantage?

Yeah. Big-time bias!

OK. What’s the backstory about his self-serving versions of reality?

Meyer became famous as the head coach at Florida, where he won two national championships, launched the career of sports-dabbler and TV personality Tim Tebow, and introduced the country to his unique style of explaining mercenary career decisions in the most smarmy and self-aggrandizing ways possible. After the 2010 season, during which Florida went a disappointing 8–5, he resigned for what he said were family-related reasons, telling the press, “at the end of the day I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won.” He then spent one entire year doing husband-and-father stuff before taking the open head coaching job at Ohio State. Florida, meanwhile, fell into a period of mediocrity that many at the school blamed on Meyer’s creation of a culture in which top players were let off the hook for marijuana use, bad behavior at practice, and violence-related arrests. (One of Meyer’s biggest stars at Florida was Aaron Hernandez.)

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Meyer won another national title at Ohio State, but the end of his tenure was again hastened by off-field issues, and this time his blame-avoidance strategy involved the claim that a coach known as a detail-obsessed tactical genius had a subaverage ability to remember things or understand simple questions. The problem this time was a former Florida staffer named Zach Smith, whom Meyer had hired as an assistant coach at Ohio State despite knowing, it was later revealed, that Smith had been arrested in 2009 in Gainesville for allegedly pushing his wife, Courtney, into a wall while she was pregnant. According to Courtney, Zach Smith began physically abusing her again when they moved to Columbus in 2012, and as a later report commissioned by Ohio State would document, Meyer knew in 2015 that local Ohio police were investigating Smith on suspicion of domestic violence. (No charges were ultimately filed as a result of that investigation; Zach Smith denies ever abusing his ex-wife, but the evidence against him, compiled at length by Defector, is substantial.) Smith nonetheless stayed on staff until 2018, when an order of protection was issued against him on Courtney’s behalf and he was finally fired.

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At a press conference after Smith’s dismissal, though, Meyer claimed media reports about 2009 had been exaggerated and said “nothing” involving Smith had happened in 2015. The OSU-commissioned report concluded that it could not identify this as an intentional lie because Meyer may have been fixating on the distinction between being investigated and being arrested. The report also added that “Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus.” (Meyer has said he has been diagnosed with with a cyst in his brain that periodically flares up and requires medication. That wouldn’t explain another one of the report’s findings, though, which is that he may have intentionally deleted text messages regarding Smith from his phone.) In any case, Meyer served a three-game suspension while the team played three of the weakest opponents on its schedule, then announced his “retirement from coaching” in December 2018. At the press conference, he talked about his health and his family. Two years and one month later, he became Jacksonville’s head coach, telling reporters he had figured out how to manage his health issues.

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Did he do anything egregiously ironic, in light of both past and future events, in the interim?

Yes, he taught a course about “Leadership and Character” at Ohio State’s business school.

Did his wife, Shelley, who has written on Twitter that she does not trust COVID testing, COVID statistics, or COVID vaccines, also teach at Ohio State in a role that also might now inspire one to laugh in a hoarse, mirthless way?

Yes, she was an instructor at its nursing school.

Returning to the present, are the Jaguars good?

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No.

On-field results aside, did Meyer handle his new role in a way that evinced that he’d learned anything about leadership or character from the Zach Smith situation?

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No, one of the first things he did with the Jaguars was to hire a strength coach named Chris Doyle who’d just left the University of Iowa after a number of Black players alleged he’d made racist remarks about, for example, sending them back to the ghetto. (Doyle has denied the allegations.) Doyle was hired Feb. 11 of this year and then “resigned” Feb. 12 after the entire sports media pointed out instantaneously that his advice on strength and conditioning would possibly not be welcomed by the Jaguars’ many Black players.

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So there was probably some speculation, even before this, that Meyer might be about to have another personal crisis requiring him to “retire” again.

Yes, particularly in light of the newly opened head football coach position at the University of Southern California.

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What happened with the video?

Last Thursday, Sept. 30, the Jaguars lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in Ohio. On Saturday, a since-deleted Twitter account posted a nine-second clip of a man who looked like Meyer, in a restaurant that looked like Columbus’ Urban Chophouse, getting grinded up on and ground down on by a woman in a white tank top while his hand established an adventuresome position between her legs. The authenticity of the video was all but confirmed by the circulation of a Friday-night tweet, sent by a fourth-generation member of the family that used its billion-dollar furniture-store fortune to help build Ohio State’s basketball arena, celebrating Meyer’s presence at a Columbus birthday party. The tweet included a photo of Meyer with the donor and two other individuals.

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How did Meyer explain this?

This is what he told the press on Monday: “I stayed to see the grandkids, and we all went to dinner that night at a restaurant, and then there was a big group next to our restaurant. They wanted me to come over and take pictures, and I did, and they were trying to pull me out on the dance floor, screwing around, and I should have left.” He described his family as “upset” about the incident.

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A “big group” was “trying to pull him out on the dance floor”? Is that what the kids call it these days?

Probably not. What they call it is probably something much more lewd, particularly given what Meyer is doing with his fingers in what appears to be a second angle of his encounter with the woman.

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In summary, Urban Meyer may have risked his marriage and his job on the likelihood that no one would notice him [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] in a restaurant literally named after him.

Mmm-hmm.

And in trying to evade responsibility for this, he’s pulling his grandchildren into the story and possibly also kind of blaming a prominent donor to the university that paid him millions of dollars to coach football and teach a class about leadership and character?

It’s remarkable!

Is he going to lose his job in Jacksonville?

Maybe. Coaches who aren’t winning games get less leeway to manage their personal lives in such a way as to create a giant national gossip event out of each press conference they hold. It’s not the kind of thing that creates an atmosphere for players and other coaches that’s conducive to focusing on more important organizational priorities (trying not to get blown out by the Tennessee Titans). Jaguars owner Shad Khan isn’t cutting him loose yet—he’s publicly asked for a “personal commitment” from the coach to shape up—but other reporting suggests Meyer is in deep trouble.

Are you suggesting that Urban Meyer is going to “resign” this week, announcing that he regrets becoming a “distraction” to his team and needs to focus on his family relationships, and that he is then going to be hired in early December as the next head coach at USC?

I’m not “suggesting” it—I know with a serene, cosmic assurance that it is exactly what will happen, because it is an outcome that is as certain as the law of gravity.

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