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What Ohio State would have to explain in order to keep Urban Meyer

For nine years, a since-fired assistant coach was accused repeatedly of domestic abuse, all of which is now becoming public.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is where Ohio State would have to start, if it wanted to defend its football coach, rather than fire him.

Don’t misunderstand me: firing is very much an option here. Ohio State has already placed Urban Meyer on leave as it investigates his handling of domestic violence allegations against longtime assistant Zach Smith.

If Ohio State comes to the conclusion that Meyer knew of the allegations and yet did nothing until the public found out, it could decide to fire him for, among other possible reasons, fostering a toxic culture.

Defending Meyer would be more difficult. To defend Meyer, Ohio State would have to defend him bringing on a coach with a domestic battery allegation, just for starters.

It would have to defend the head coach then claiming there was “nothing to” a 2015 domestic incident, saying so as recently as a week prior to a report that Shelley Meyer, a psychiatric nurse and his closest confidant, had received pictures of a bruised Courtney Smith in her text messages.

Meanwhile, Courtney Smith is laying out a public case that Zach Smith abused her for years, as records of her police claims against the assistant coach are becoming public.

Let’s start with what we know.

In 2009, Smith — then an intern under Florida head coach Meyer — was charged with aggravated battery against his pregnant wife, Courtney Smith. Meyer later said he reported it to his superiors. Per Brett McMurphy, she says former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce (Zach Smith’s grandfather and Meyer’s mentor) and Meyer’s “life coach” Hiram de Fries asked her to drop charges — which she did.

In 2015, police visited her home on suspicion of felonious assault, recording an arrest of Zach Smith before later changing the report, per McMurphy. Records show several other domestic reports to Powell police.

She says in 2015, she texted Meyer’s wife and other women around the program about abuse by Zach Smith. Per Courtney Smith, Shelley Meyer said she would tell her husband, but there is no evidence she did.

In 2018, after the public learned in July that Smith had been charged with trespassing in May, Ohio State fired him.

Legally, this is all defensible right now, if that’s the standard.

But that won’t be the standard. It shouldn’t be the standard, even if Meyer’s employment survives Ohio State’s probe.

There is a years-long, first-person account of Zach Smith abusing his wife. According to McMurphy, there are text messages showing Shelley Meyer was aware of Courtney Smith’s abuse injuries and that the wife of another staffer said Urban knew.

If Meyer’s wife knew, then believing the head coach knew nothing would strain the imagination of even the most skeptical observer.

And that’s in addition to a July report that Meyer had been quietly trying to push Zach Smith into other jobs over the offseason.

Upon completion of its investigation, Ohio State must at least admit Urban Meyer had a consistently alleged domestic abuser on staff, and that multiple domestic violence investigations were nothing at all until a local magistrate said they were, as previous court actions became public.

That skeptic would have to convince themselves that a judge was the one to inform Urban Meyer of things about Zach Smith that Meyer hadn’t noticed in nine years prior.

Football coaches are some of the most detail-obsessed people on the planet. Their programs live and breathe off information control, both on and off the field. Meyer is one of the most successful football coaches alive. If he didn’t know, it would either be willful ignorance or negligence.

If he did, it would be deliberate negligence and show Meyer only acted to fire Smith once the law made keeping Smith an impossibility.

But it shouldn’t take a court order to recognize signs of domestic violence and act accordingly — unless, of course, you didn’t really want to do anything all along.