Ohio State suspended Urban Meyer for three Saturdays after an investigation into his handling of abuse allegations against former receivers coach Zach Smith. The university also suspended athletic director Gene Smith, who will return around the time Meyer does.
In deciding to suspend Meyer but not fire him, Ohio State leaned on a report by school-appointed investigators who found, among other things, Meyer didn’t lie when making controversial comments in July, shortly after he fired the WR coach.
At Big Ten Media Days on July 24, a reporter asked Meyer about an abuse allegation against Zach Smith in 2015. Meyer’s response became a central part of debates over whether the school should fire him.
This was what Meyer said, in part:
“2015, I got a text late last night something happened in 2015. And there was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing — once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
While Meyer cast doubt on whether Zach Smith had been accused of anything at all in 2015, reports later emerged that police had twice gone to the home of Zach Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney, to investigate alleged abuse in the later months of that year.
At the time, college football reporter Brett McMurphy — who broke much of the early news on this story — had reported that Smith was arrested on felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against his then-wife, Courtney Smith, that year. But Zach Smith hadn’t really been arrested. A later-changed police report falsely indicated he had been.
That information is very key, when it comes to whether Meyer was telling the truth.
McMurphy had also relayed text messages from Courtney Smith that she said were between her and Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife. The texts appear to show Shelley Meyer expressing concern for Courtney Smith, who later said she expected Shelley Meyer to tell the head coach about the harmful relationship, according to Shelley herself.
“I was not aware of Shelley’s text messages at the time,” Urban Meyer said Wednesday.
But Urban Meyer did know of an allegation against Zach Smith in 2015.
He acknowledged that himself in a statement on Aug. 3, when he said he followed proper reporting protocols after learning of a “Zach Smith incident in 2015.” The investigation’s findings also include a firm conclusion that Meyer had been informed in 2015.
Investigators say they believe Meyer, at Big Ten Media Days, was referring specifically to the report that his assistant had been arrested in 2015, not just to the existence of incidents in general.
On that point, this seems like the key passage from the investigation’s report:
During the evening of July 23, 2018, Meyer received additional media reports discussing Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest and a “felony arrest” involving Zach Smith in 2015; at 10:25 p.m., Coach Meyer sent a message to Gene Smith, Jerry Emig, the Assistant Director, Athletic Communications, Brian Voltolini, Director of Football Operations, and Ryan Stamper, Director, Player Development, stating “I know nothing about this”; he asked “Is there a way to find out exactly what his issues were. I know about 2009 [it was dropped] and last week. That’s it. Need some guidance here so when I speak to media I’m not wrong.” Later that evening, Stamper reported to Meyer that there was no record of Zach Smith being arrested in 2015, only records of a divorce. Meyer acknowledged this, stating “Stamp just confirmed there was no arrest in 2015.”
Meyer had already said he “was not adequately prepared” to answer questions about Smith at Big Ten Media Days. Investigators don’t think he fully recalled what he knew in 2015.
The investigators say:
Coach Meyer consistently maintained that he had no memory of the 2015 events when he stepped on the podium at Big Ten Media Days and that, as he asserted in the August 3rd message, he was not adequately prepared by his staff to handle those questions.
Judge these next points for yourself, obviously, but investigators also say:
- “We accept that in July 2018 Coach Meyer was deeply absorbed in football season and wanted to focus on football at Big Ten Media Days.”
- “Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus.”
With additional backing from text messages and witness interviews, investigators take Meyer at his word that he didn’t lie on purpose.
They also talked to the other people on that group chat Meyer had before he went to the podium at media days.
“We credit that Coach Meyer, in answering reporters’ questions on July 24, was closely focused on erroneous media reports that Zach Smith had been arrested on felony charges in 2015, which Coach Meyer had determined the night before not to have occurred,” Mary Jo White, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman who led the investigation, told reporters on Wednesday, with our emphasis added.
The investigators didn’t fully excuse the head coach for his comment.
White said his comments in Chicago “swept more broadly than the falsely reported arrest,” and that he’d “falsely slated he lacked knowledge of all relevant events regarding alleged domestic violence in 2015.”
Clearly, Meyer did that. The school is comfortable with the case that he didn’t mean to.