As a college football analyst and one of the highest-profile Ohio State graduates out there, Kirk Herbstreit naturally has some thoughts on the scandal that has engulfed most of the month of August.
On a conference call to discuss the start of the college football season, the ESPN GameDay cast member from Centerville shared his view of everything that has gone on with Urban Meyer, who is suspended for the first three games of the season after an outside investigation determined he failed to properly manage assistant coach Zach Smith.
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“The reaction would be, on the football side of it strictly, is that I'm happy to see that Urban Meyer is still the head coach at Ohio State and happy to see that he's able to continue to kind of get things back in order once he comes back and hopefully able to learn as many lessons as possible from this and continue to grow and continue to be a great head coach,” Herbstreit said.
Upon hearing lead investigator Mary Jo White give a summary of the team’s findings and OSU president Dr. Michael Drake explain the punishment, "I thought a three-game suspension, it sounded almost as if Ohio State felt they needed to do something as far as just giving some kind of punishment,” Herbstreit said. “That's what it felt like to me. That's why they came up with the three games.”
Then he read the full report, which was released after the press conference Wednesday night.
It concluded Meyer and director of athletics Gene Smith had not followed “the precise requirements of their contracts” in handling an allegation Zach Smith abused his wife, Courtney, in 2015, but “they did so based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate disciplinary action against former assistant coach Zach Smith in the absence of law enforcement action.”
However, the report expressed concerns about Meyer’s response to some of the investigation’s inquiries and went into much greater detail about Smith’s misdeeds during his six years as an assistant in Columbus.
“Then when I read the report, I was a little bit more kind of confused and didn't really know what to make out of the report,” Herbstreit said. “Honestly, I had to read it five or six times because, on one hand, they talked about how truthful and forthcoming Urban was, and there was two different examples of where they said urban told them something and they basically didn't believe him. So it was a little bit confusing, kind of a head-scratcher.
“But at the end of the day, at least for now, there seems to be closure on this, and Ohio State knows what they're facing, and they can at least understand that and move forward.”
As far as what is next for the Buckeyes, Herbstreit expects the players to be able to focus on their roles on the team moving forward.
“I think, as a player, if you take yourself away from the story and what should be important to all of us, and you're an 18-to-22-year-old player trying to think about what do I need to do to do the best job I can do, and what do I need to do as a leader of this team, and we've got to get ready for Oregon State, I think it's a bit easier for them because they're insulated somewhat in that Woody Hayes facility, and they're so regimented in their day. Hey, practice is from 3:00 to 5:00. Meetings are at noon, or whatever the schedule is, and you just kind of get caught up in that world.
“You're looking at scouting reports and getting done with practice. I'll be very surprised if the players themselves don't play really, really well, almost as an us against the world mentality, beginning against Oregon State in their first game.”
Herbstreit, who spent five years at Ohio State and was a captain and the starting quarterback as a senior in 1992, also was asked about the prospects of Dwayne Haskins, the sophomore who has ascended to starting quarterback after the graduation of J.T. Barrett.
“Well, I think they've done such a good job with that position in the college game, whether it's the Elite 11s of the world,” Herbstreit said. “You see it even in Columbus and around the state of Ohio, there's so many quarterback coaches that work with these kids from middle school all the way up. I just feel these guys are so much more polished as quarterbacks coming out of high school and getting into college, that you see a Dwayne Haskins get into Ann Arbor and be very well prepared and be very well capable, even though he didn't have a ton of reps, to kind of walk in there and be able to make plays and turn that game around and win it.
“So I think it's very different today the way they're developed today. I do think what you're bringing up, as far as the anxiety or excitement or butterflies, that's true, whether it's the '40s or '50s or '60s or today, that's the reality in terms of getting out in front of 100,000 people on national TV, and I don't think those ever go away, especially the first time when you're the guy and you need to lead that team to victory. I don't think that ever went away for a guy like J.T. Barrett, who played as many snaps as anybody ever as an Ohio State quarterback.
“So that's part of it. Just having a coach who has a way of getting you into the game as quickly as he can through play calling, maybe lets you get hit once or twice and lets you settle in and allow you to just kind of execute the offense.
“For me watching the guys like Dwayne Haskins and Shea Patterson going to Michigan, watching these guys, as the pages turn, that's what makes college football what it is. And we don't have preseason exhibition games like we do in high school and the NFL. It's the first time we're going to find out what's up with these guys. I think it builds up to a lot of excitement and anticipation to see what teams have and what these players have.”