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As college football season approaches, Urban Meyer and DJ Durkin are dangling by a thread. One coach far more famous than the other, both irreparably weakened, they are destined to be viewed more as villain than hero as time passes, the power and platform they thought was always going to be theirs disappearing by the day even if they survive and keep their jobs — which they should not.

If they practiced what they preached, Ohio State's Meyer and Maryland's Durkin would already be gone. They wouldn't have waited for investigators to tell them what they already know: that they failed miserably as teachers of student-athletes and representatives of their university. If they paid attention to their own mighty locker room bluster about team and family and molding young men in their image, they would have acknowledged their failures and quit by now.

But Meyer and Durkin are not the kind of good men they are trying to teach their players to be. They are lawyered-up opportunists seemingly incapable of shame. If they survive, and Meyer at least just might, we should never forget that.

Meyer harbored on his staff an assistant coach, Zach Smith, who physically abused his wife, Courtney Smith. Meyer said he knew about a 2009 incident when he was head coach at Florida and Zach Smith was one of his assistants in which Smith was arrested for aggravated battery against Courtney, who was pregnant at the time. A few years later, Meyer became head coach at Ohio State and brought Smith with him.

In 2014, the Ray Rice scandal turned domestic violence into a national conversation, but Meyer still didn't get rid of Smith. In 2015, police twice went to Smith's home to investigate reports of domestic abuse. Again, Smith remained on Meyer's staff.

Meyer finally fired Smith this summer, nine years after first learning about his abuse of his wife. He then belligerently lied about it to the news media and millions of football fans before finally being caught by journalist Brett McMurphy and forced to tell the truth, or, hopefully, at least a little bit of it.

What Meyer did was bad. What Durkin didn't do was worse.

He failed to help a 19-year-old student who was in such physical distress at a May 29 practice Durkin was in charge of that the young man, Jordan McNair, died two weeks later.

Of course Durkin knows what he and his staff did and didn't do to help McNair. He has known for 21/2 months. Yet it wasn't until Aug. 10 that the public found out how terribly he and his staff had erred.

How did we find out? Did Durkin come clean? Of course he did not. It took more journalists to tell us, this time from ESPN.

When we hear of the self-serving failures of Meyer and Durkin, whose reflex was to defend their programs and their quest for bowl games and championships rather than look out for the human beings in their midst, it's natural to wonder where else trouble might be lurking. Every college program? Most? Some?

Will Muschamp, South Carolina's football coach, might have given us a clue the other day when he was asked about Durkin, one of his former assistant coaches, and what's going on at Maryland.

Did Muschamp immediately express sadness and concern for a dead teenager? No, it took him 48 hours to do that. His initial instinct was to attack ESPN, calling its use of some anonymous sources "gutless," and saying, ridiculously, that there is "no credibility in anonymous sources." Hmmm. Watergate, anyone?

What in the world is wrong with these football coaches, and with us for allowing them to be this way? Meyer and Durkin didn't just fail as coaches and leaders of young men, they failed as human beings.

Durkin likely won't survive, and shouldn't, but Meyer might. If he does, what an interesting situation that will present. Meyer, as sanctimonious a man as exists in college football, has never hesitated to suspend his players for actions as varied as public urination and drunken driving. He also hasn't hesitated to speak out about the transgressions of his rival coaches.

So, what would that Urban Meyer say about this Urban Meyer?

He'd probably call him a fraud.

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August 16, 2018
 
 
 

 

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