The Urban Meyer to Ohio State reports really kicked into high gear when Buckeye blog Eleven Warriors sent out this tweet eleven days ago, saying ESPN analyst Urban Meyer was 99.7% sure to take the Ohio State head coaching job. As much as Sports by Brooks wants to take credit for breaking the story, it seems like Eleven Warriors had the reports first. (Which has developed an interesting case of blogger on blogger violence in its own right.) Since then, what has evolved is a quagmire of reports, sources, and denials that makes Baghdad Bob look like a public relations savant. I've lived through 62 Brett Favre retirements and comebacks and this is by far the messiest story I can ever remember. Hopefully it ends today and Urban Meyer is FINALLY announced publicly as Ohio State head coach. But that doesn't mean there haven't been nauseating twists and turns along the way. Let's take a look back, shall we?
*Urban Meyer's First Denial, November 19th
After the initial Eleven Warriors report, the question had to be put directly to Urban Meyer with regards to him becoming the next coach at Ohio State. At least ESPN had him address it publicly (not so on the next Saturday as you'll see later). Broadcast partner Dave Pasch asked Meyer about the OSU reports during the Michigan/Nebraska game. Here's what Urban had to say via SBNation:
"Well there's no truth to that," Meyer said of the rumors. "I know it's that time of year, but I have not been offered any job and I have certainly not accepted any job."
After that first denial we learned one thing, Urban Meyer isn't a good actor. Immediately, top college football writers questioned Urban's denial...
*More reports keep pouring in, November 22-23
There were some rumblings that Scout had the Urban to OSU story as early as Eleven Warriors, but the first word on Twitter from Scout's Ohio State writer Bill Greene on November 22nd called Meyer to OSU a done deal.
It was also at this time that more traditional media piled on the story and issued their own reports. Tim May and the Columbus Dispatch confirmed reports of a done deal on November 23rd. The Cleveland Plain Dealer also issued their own report that same day. From an ESPN search, it appears they issued their first story on Meyer actually accepting the job on the ESPN Big Ten blog only after the Dispatch and Plain Dealer reports. For what it's worth, CBS also had their own source that said a deal wasn't done yet.
Meyer, stubbornly sticking to his guns, denied the story AGAIN:
"I have not been offered any job nor is there a deal in place," Meyer said in a statement. "I plan on spending Thanksgiving with my family and will not comment on this any further."
Hopefully Urban and his family (ya know, the one that he left coaching for) enjoyed a peaceful Thanksgiving. If you're still following along, I'm going to warn you, here's where things get difficult...
*Meyer wriggles out of ESPN weekend assignments, November 26
Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman announced the OSU-Michigan game on Saturday without their usual broadcast partner Urban Meyer. While Meyer denied the OSU reports in the booth a week earlier, this week he asked off ESPN coverage completely. No game appearance, no studio appearance (originally planned with the OSU reports mounting), no nothing from Urban Meyer on ESPN networks. Was it the easy way out for both Meyer and Bristol to try and make the story go away? Were they both trying to be noble and take the attention off themselves? Whatever the case, it made the Meyer/ESPN marriage look about as successful as Rush Limbaugh's time at the leader.
*The Urban/ESPN reports take a dizzying turn, November 28
And that finally takes us to today, where it appears Urban Meyer will be officially announced as Ohio State head coach at a press conference tonight. That's what numerous local media in Columbus have been reporting. However, that doesn't stop us from taking a few more dizzying turns in the Urban Meyer soap opera.
ESPN put all their eggs in the "done deal" basket in the AM through their own sources. Why ESPN needs "sources" to report the future employment of their own employee is beyond me at the moment. Doesn't that seem weird? After there's been so much heat from the leader regarding unnamed sources and sourced reports throughout the year, ESPN needs "sources" to cover one of their own guys? It doesn't make too much sense from the outside looking in...
I suppose ESPN could have just asked Urban himself, but as we've seen in the last week, getting a straight answer out of Urban Meyer is as difficult as getting Skip Bayless to diss Tim Tebow. Mike & Mike also reported that Meyer's agent had confirmed Urban finally accepting the Ohio State job. Game, set, match... right? WRONG! As if this story couldn't get any stupider, Meyer's agent blasted ESPN in denying that he himself had confirmed the news according to CBSSports.com:
Urban Meyer has not accepted the job at Ohio State according to his agent.
Trace Armstrong said early Monday that an ESPN report was not correct, at least for the moment. He did not elaborate but said he could not confirm the report.
“I can’t,” Armstrong told CBSSports.com “There’s no hangup. I’ve got to leave it at that out of respect to Urban and the school. This is not my style to be out there in public like this. It’s to be discreet. Those folks [ESPN] have made a decision. I'm so disappointed that ESPN would go forward with something like this."
When asked if he had told ESPN the deal was done, he responded ...
"In the spirit, we've tried to keep them in the loop, they've jumped the gun a couple of times. It's most unfortunate."
You've got to be kidding me, right? If you're scoring at home, that's THREE official denials from Urban Meyer or his agent regarding his agreeing to be the next football coach at Ohio State including one the morning of his (eventual) hiring. The story has gotten so ludicrous that Urban Meyer's agent is ripping Urban Meyer's current employer for jumping the gun on Urban Meyer's next coaching job. Unbelievable!
If you've made it to this point, more power to you. This has been the single most complicated sports story in 2011 and the reporting and constant denials has done nobody any favors. Credit should be given to the local beats and blogs that had this story first and didn't have to deal with the massive employment conflict ESPN did. If this Urban Meyer timeline proves anything, it's that blogs are now just as powerful as taking the lead on huge stories as traditional media.
On the other hand, Urban Meyer's playing the leader like a fiddle has truly been a virtuoso performance. He gained a great national platform for an entire season, got to take a year away from coaching to recharge his batteries, and then ESPN accomodates him with everything but a complimentary mint on his pillow on the way out. Now, he leaves Bristol to take his dream job and his agent is flipping the network the bird on the way out? That's as big of a one sided relationship an on-air personality has ever had with ESPN! Why do you think the leader was so keen to lock Jon Gruden in to that "exculsive" MNF contract? To prevent this kind of circus from playing out on their airways!
It's fair to say that Urban Meyer and ESPN are both losers in the way this timeline played out. Urban looks bad for continually denying what was obvious all along instead of offering a "no comment" or something similar. Then again, it's not the first time he will go back on his word. ESPN looks like the wool was pulled over their eyes for Meyer having strung them along and getting to the story on one of their own employees later than practically anyone else. In hindsight, ESPN would have been much better off sitting Urban Meyer when these reports first began and not being played a fool for the last week and a half.
So where does that leave us hours away from Meyer's appointment with the Buckeyes? Back where we were eleven days ago when Eleven Warriors told us they were 99.7% sure that Urban Meyer was going to be the next head coach at Ohio State. Given Urban's frequent changes of heart over the years and his steadfast denials over the last week, I'm not going to believe he's the next coach at Ohio State until I see it with my own eyes. In fact, I'm not going to believe it until I see Urban Meyer on the Ohio State campus dining at the Buffalo Wild Wings on the corner of Lane and High myself. After all, I have some good sources there...