Crisis is inevitable in sports. No matter the gravity of a crisis, sports organizations need to act promptly and with swift attention to detail in developing a crisis communication plan.
Effective plans provide efficient means of communication to various stakeholders, identify what roles staff members will play, and ensure that all affected parties are given true, reliable information about the situation at hand.
Crises directly affect reputation. The potential for reputational disgrace sets the foundation for the type of crisis response strategy an organization will follow.
The Zach Smith Situation
In 2018, Ohio State University and its football program faced a major crisis situation surrounding wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Stadium reporter Brett McMurphy reported that Courtney Smith, Smith’s ex-wife, filed a domestic violence civil protection order against him. McMurphy also reported that Smith was arrested in 2009 for aggravated battery on Courtney when she was pregnant.
When an assistant staff member is caught in a legal situation, it is imperative that the head coach handles the situation with proper care and becomes a source of honesty. Urban Meyer, the face of the OSU football program, failed to be that source.
Moreover, although he acknowledged Smith’s abhorrent behavior, he diminished the situation and altered the perception of fans and media members to safeguard his own reputation.
After Meyer was suspended by the university in August 2018, he said that his close relationship with former mentor Earle Bruce, Smith’s grandfather, prevented him from recognizing red flags about Smith.
During a July 2018 press conference, Meyer failed to mention Courtney’s name and seemed more concerned with protecting the university than condemning domestic violence against women.
Urban Meyer used denial to attack the accuser. According to OSU’s Summary of Findings, Courtney sent Meyer’s wife text messages of bruises she received from Smith, but Meyer said he had no knowledge of the texts, which is hard to believe.
Although OSU suspended Urban Meyer for three games (which was a mere slap on the wrist), his mishandling of the crisis response spoke volumes about his lack of remorse and the lack of understanding about the magnitude of the situation.
Because this affected OSU beyond its finances, alienating its female fanbase and upsetting female members of the student body, it was not a low-profile incident or one-time emergency that was resolved in a timely manner, but instead a reputation-altering crisis.
Urban Meyer Failed in Jacksonville
Somehow, after leaving Ohio St., Meyer was hired as an analyst for Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” show. Allured by Meyer’s college football resume, emboldened by three national championships and a 187-32 record, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired the former Buckeye coach ahead of the 2021 season.
Urban Meyer only made it 13 games, completing a disgraceful tenure.
Meyer’s hiring did not make football, or more importantly, moral sense. He treated the Zach Smith situation as a personal burden, not an issue of major importance.
In Jacksonville, Urban Meyer was nothing but a cosplay, a fool, a clown of a coach that deserved no respect from his players. He called coaches that he hired “losers,” got touchy with a woman that was not his wife, and kicked former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo.
He also went 2-11.
Meyer said he has no intention of coaching again, as he should. His legacy is completely tarnished, and should never come close to a football field ever again.
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