Fox Sports announced Monday that it has hired Urban Meyer for its new college football pregame show this fall, meaning the former Ohio State coach is ready to jump right back into the spotlight after a tumultuous final season that put all of his worst qualities on display.
Meyer, of course, has the right to do whatever he wants with his post-coaching life, and Fox executives have the right to put anyone on television that they believe will make their show better.
But one question came to mind about Meyer’s new role alongside Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Reggie Bush and host Rob Stone on a show designed to compete with ESPN’s College GameDay: After the mess last year at Ohio State, who exactly is clamoring for more Urban Meyer?
Truth is, when the eternally self-righteous Meyer announced his retirement due to health reasons at the end of last season, it lifted a major burden off of college football fans: No longer would they have to strain to roll their eyes every time he opened his mouth.
Make no mistake, outside of Ohio State fans, there’s not much fondness these days for Meyer. Even before the scandal last August that brought into question how he handled domestic abuse allegations against a longtime assistant coach, it’s not like Meyer was a particularly warm or charismatic public figure.
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In fact, he had been on television before in 2011, spending the season between Florida and Ohio State as an analyst for ESPN. Back then, Meyer was fractionally more likable — the toxic mess he left behind at Florida hadn’t been fully exposed — but it’s not like he was a dynamic personality even then. Meyer certainly showed an aptitude for breaking down plays, but he was stiff and boring and ultimately less-than-truthful with viewers when it became clear he was going to Ohio State.
In fact, during the Nov. 19 broadcast that year of the Nebraska-Michigan game, Meyer was asked on air about the job after reports began swirling that he was going to take it. Rather than dance around the issue or deflect the question like most people in that situation would, Meyer responded by saying there was “no truth” to those rumors, which of course turned out to be yet another demerit in his career-long relationship with the truth.
And ultimately, isn’t that a problem for someone who is supposed to be part of a television broadcast?
It’s one thing to be unlikable as an analyst; it’s another to be chronically inauthentic, and Meyer has done little since the Zach Smith controversy to repair the biggest issue viewers will have with him.
Why would we trust anything he says?
More than seven months later, there’s no point in re-litigating how Meyer ended up being suspended for three games after an investigation into how he handled Smith. But suffice it to say, between the claims of memory loss, a cell phone wiped of old data and his failure to disclose previous domestic violence allegations against Smith to athletics director Gene Smith when another incident came to light in 2015, the resulting 23-page report tore into Meyer’s credibility and made him look like a liar, even if it stopped short of recommending that he be fired.
Meyer still brings that baggage with him, whether it’s to a coaching job in the future or a television job this fall. Fox obviously believes Meyer’s football credentials will outweigh those concerns, but outside of being a big name, it’s hard to see what value he really brings.
Meyer, it seems, just isn’t cut out to fade into the background in retirement, even though his popularity could probably benefit from going away and shutting up. And immediately, many will speculate that he’s just using FOX as a launching paid to boost his image before he takes another big coaching job in a year or two, just like he did at ESPN.
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But this isn’t 2011 anymore. Meyer’s reputation was badly damaged by the Zach Smith debacle, and Fox making him a frontman for a new show is actually something of a risk. The magic of television has rehabilitated plenty of shady figures over the years, but with Meyer, Fox certainly has its work cut out.