Urban Meyer could have been remembered for the championships and the wins next to his name, the way he built up two smaller programs and revitalized two behemoths over a 34-year career that took him from high school assistant to coaching legend.
Based on numbers alone, history says he is one of the greatest coaches in college football history. But legacy goes far beyond numbers, especially when everyone in the profession espouses how important it is to mold young men into accountable citizens.
Meyer is a great coach, yes. He is also a flawed man, and no matter what he wants you to remember, his legacy is tagged with an asterisk. He cannot control that no matter how hard he tries.
This, of course, is not isolated to the way his career ended at Ohio State. When he stepped down at Florida a second time, after the 2010 season, Meyer left behind a messy trail of 30-plus player arrests and a culture that put good players ahead of good character.
But if anyone had concerns about the renegade program he coached in Gainesville, they were easily waved away with on-the-field results: two national and SEC championships and three division titles. Not to mention what he did at Utah (undefeated season in 2004) and revitalizing a struggling Bowling Green program before that.
Meyer was a winner on the field, and that's all that mattered. And from the outset in Columbus, Meyer seemed to have learned valuable lessons from his past. Ohio State had only a handful of players arrested during his Ohio State tenure, and the focus was squarely on the field -- where the Buckeyes quickly climbed back to the top, as most everyone expected on the day he was hired.
Not only did he win a national championship and an astounding 90 percent of his games, he never lost to rival Michigan and helped revitalize a Big Ten conference that had fallen behind the SEC.
His second act made many wonder whether he had truly changed. Then the mismanagement of former assistant coach Zach Smith happened, setting off an investigation that ultimately tainted Meyer and dredged up the Florida past he had tried to outrun.
Smith was first accused of domestic violence back in 2009, while on Meyer's staff at Florida. Despite knowing that, Meyer hired Smith at Ohio State in 2011 and kept him on staff after the police investigated Smith for domestic violence in 2015. Meyer finally fired Smith, a longtime assistant, this past July, after Smith was charged with criminal trespass at his ex-wife's apartment complex.
Ohio State launched an investigation and found that Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith "failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith's misconduct and retained an assistant coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes." The investigation also found Meyer misrepresented what he knew about the domestic abuse allegations in 2015.
Meyer was suspended for three games to start the 2018 season, and the way he handled the entire situation evoked memories about the way he valued winning over doing the right thing at Florida. Evaluating the wins and losses is easy. It's putting his overall legacy into context that gets complicated.
His 2008 Florida championship team represents everything that was so good about Meyer -- and everything that helps taint his legacy. On the one hand, he had Tim Tebow, won SEC and national championships and had 19 players eventually selected in the NFL draft. On the other hand, that team included Percy Harvin (accused of choking an assistant coach), Aaron Hernandez (convicted of murder) and Chris Rainey (made headlines in 2010 for texting a death threat to his girlfriend) -- just to name three.
The championship itself is inseparable from the means it took to get the championship, and that is why the Meyer legacy is not now and never will be a simple look at wins and losses. It's the reason that in Florida he is known as "Urban Liar." At Ohio State, he remains beloved.
Meyer has accomplished more than most coaches could ever dream: He and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in FBS history to win national championships at multiple schools. His 186 wins as an FBS coach are the most through 17 seasons in major college football history.
For every win, there are the negatives that trail him: His past at Florida. Zach Smith. Meyer looking defiant and unapologetic during the news conference that cleared his return this season. The way he offered excuses for the myriad decisions that put him in a place where the focus cannot be on the wins exclusively.
Meyer grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, about three hours from Columbus. He worshipped Ohio State and its iconic coach Woody Hayes. A framed picture of Hayes hung in the family home. Now, the two giants among all Ohio State coaches are linked together in ways that have nothing to do with all their many wins. Nobody mentions Hayes without the infamous punch. Nobody discusses Meyer without mentioning the way he oversaw, overlooked and, ultimately, condoned bad behavior just to get a few more victories and championships.
Meyer could have been remembered for the championships. But that is simply impossible. His pristine on-the-field legacy is damaged, and Meyer has only himself to blame for that.