COLUMBUS — At just past 9 p.m. Wednesday, Ohio State’s president, athletic director, and football coach sat down at a table inside the Grand Lounge at the Longaberger Alumni House.
Across the street, at the university's palatial Value City Arena, a Journey/Def Leppard concert was under way. A few hours prior, adjacent to the alumni facility, Ohio State’s football practice wrapped up. As reporters staked out Urban Meyer’s car in the loading dock, the assistant director of football operations could be heard over a loudspeaker directing practice.
The surreal scene at every turn was indicative of a day that will live in Ohio State lore.
When Michael Drake, Gene Smith, and Meyer walked to the podium, the body language of all three told the story. For 10 hours, Ohio State’s Board of Trustees discussed Meyer’s punishment. Multiple reports indicate the talks became heated, with Drake in a standoff against the board and Meyer, who did not believe he should be suspended.
The Fawcett Center, a football field away across the parking lot, is the site where Meyer accepted the Ohio State coaching job in November, 2011. His demeanor Wednesday was such a stark difference that it wasn’t even on the opposite end of the spectrum — it was completely off the spectrum. Meyer looked defeated and emotionally fatigued, like he went 12 rounds in a prize fight. He stared blankly ahead, almost in a trance.
The end result of the two-week investigation into the school’s handling of domestic violence accusations against a former assistant coach was a three-game suspension without pay for Meyer and a 17-day suspension without pay for Smith, coinciding with the same three games Meyer will miss.
In a 25-minute press conference, Drake, Smith, and Meyer answered questions, mostly tying up loose ends. There was criticism about Meyer’s response when asked about Courtney Smith, who had accused former OSU receivers coach Zach Smith of domestic violence in 2009 and 2015 and received a protective order against him in July that led to his firing, but it felt like this winding saga was over.
Then Ohio State released its investigative group’s 23-page Summary of Findings and the unanswered questions multiplied. For many, the domestic violence accusations became secondary because questionable judgment was unearthed in other areas.
Among the investigative committee’s findings:
- On Aug. 1, after college football writer Brett McMurphy reported Meyer knew about the 2015 domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith, and Brian Voltolini, OSU’s director of football operations, discussed the story, calling it “a bad article.” They also discussed whether the media could get access to Meyer’s text messages and if messages older than one year could be deleted. When the committee searched Meyer’s phone, all text messages older than one year were deleted.
- At 7:35 p.m. on July 23, the night Zach Smith was fired, Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley texted him, “I am worried about Zach’s response. He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.” Urban Meyer did not respond.
- The committee report stated that “Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events.” They seemed to excuse those lapses in memory in the very next sentence by saying Meyer takes medicine that can impair his memory.
- In May, 2014, Zach Smith and an unnamed Ohio State assistant coach ran up approximately $600 of charges at a strip club with one or more high school coaches during a Florida recruiting trip. Meyer became aware of the trip but did not alert university compliance. Gene Smith was also not made aware of the trip. Ohio State is currently investigating whether an NCAA violation was committed.
- In 2015, Zach Smith was regularly late to practice and team meetings and no-showed on recruiting visits. Smith lied to the coaching staff about his recruiting mishaps. Gene Smith recommended to Meyer that he fire Zach Smith, but Meyer did not.
- During 2015 and ‘16, Zach Smith was engaged in a sexual relationship with a secretary on the football staff, had sex-related toys delivered to him at the team’s football facility, and took sexually explicit photographs of himself during the team’s April, 2015, trip to the White House to celebrate its national championship.
- The committee wrote that “it is likely that Shelley and Urban Meyer had at least some communication about these allegations in late 2015 and were concerned about them, although both had doubts about the credibility of Courtney’s claims, based on, among other things, Zach Smith’s denials and their belief that Courtney Smith’s 2009 allegations had been false; by late October, 2015, Coach Meyer knew of Courtney Smith’s domestic violence complaints against Zach Smith through his knowledge of the 2015-2016 law enforcement investigation.”
- In June, 2016, Meyer had Zach Smith attend drug rehab for addiction to a stimulant prescription drug used to treat ADHD. Gene Smith was unaware of the incident.
- Ohio State essentially didn't comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking emails and text messages between Meyer and Zach Smith and Meyer and Gene Smith.
Damage has been done to Meyer’s psyche and reputation. It’s entirely possible that relationships with university brass are irreparable.
But the findings in the report paint a picture of a possible cover-up by Meyer and a continued pattern of lying or at best misleading statements, including when appearing at Big Ten Conference media event in July one day after Zach Smith was fired. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is, can Meyer trust the university, and can OSU trust Meyer?
Tucked inside the 23 pages was a telling passage authored by the investigative committee.
“As a result, he has cast doubt on his own honesty, in a way that reflects adversely on him, the football program, and Ohio State.”
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