Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will be suspended for the first three games of 2018, the school announced Wednesday in Columbus. It’s a partial suspension, as he can coach the team during the weeks before the latter two.
The punishment is the result of the university-commissioned investigation into Meyer’s handling of domestic violence allegations against longtime former assistant Zach Smith.
Meyer fired Smith on July 23 after multiple allegations came to light, including ones in 2013 and 2015. The investigation’s findings are now public, with important things to gather.
1. Meyer didn’t believe a 2009 domestic violence allegation by Courtney Smith, Zach Smith’s now ex-wife.
Meyer says he met with Zach and Courtney Smith after that allegation, but Courtney Smith says he didn’t meet with Meyer. From the report, it’s clear Urban Meyer didn’t believe Courtney Smith’s allegation.
The report also adds some detail to the incident, when Zach Smith allegedly threw his pregnant wife against a wall. He’d been drinking at a party at Meyer’s house and brought a woman co-worker home to sleep on a couch, to which Courtney Smith objected.
2. Meyer and Ohio State AD Gene Smith definitely knew about a later string of domestic violence allegations regarding Zach Smith.
Here’s what investigators say, with emphasis added:
Because they believed Zach Smith’s denials and because there was no charge or arrest in connection with the 2015-2016 events, neither Coach Meyer nor AD Smith believed that there had been a violation or a potential violation of the law and therefore neither had reporting obligations regarding what they knew about the law enforcement investigation of Zach Smith. In addition, Coach Meyer, because he was first informed of the 2015-2016 investigation by AD Smith, believed that he had no further reporting obligations.
In assessing their reporting obligations, both Coach Meyer and AD Smith placed heavy reliance on the absence of formal law enforcement or court action. Neither made any report of the matter to Athletic Compliance or University Compliance for consideration of whether an internal investigation should be conducted.
3. But investigators don’t think Meyer was lying on purpose when he said there was “nothing” to reports of a 2015 allegation.
The long story on that is here, but this is Meyer’s basic story, which a) investigators believe and b) has some backing in the form of text messages: Meyer wan’t referring to a 2015 incident in general, but to a false report that Zach Smith had been arrested on felony charges.
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.
4. The report also posits that memory issues, medication, or being “deeply absorbed in football season” might have caused Meyer to misspeak.
“All of these factors also need to be considered and weighed in assessing Coach Meyer’s mindset on July 24th,” the investigators write.
5. Meyer has finally explained why he fired Zach Smith.
Meyer told investigators that a judge issuing a July protection order against Zach Smith, to keep him away from Courtney Smith, was a factor in the firing.
Meyer also said he considered that Smith didn’t tell the head coach about a criminal trespass warning Smith received, stemming from an incident at Courtney Smith’s home. Meyer says he didn’t learn until July 20. That was the same day the protection order was issued, and Meyer says he learned of the order on July 23, along with AD Gene Smith. That was the day Meyer fired the assistant coach.
6. Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife, heard abuse allegations from Courtney Smith and expressed sympathy in 2015. The Meyers claim Shelley never told Urban.
The tone of the text messages Shelley Meyer sent to Courtney Smith tracks with the tone in texts publicly revealed Aug. 1 by reporter Brett McMurphy.
“I am praying for you!!! I wouldn’t listen to him anyway. He doesn’t talk to anyone about you. I know the truth,” Shelley Meyer texted to Courtney Smith at one point, according to McMurphy.
The investigators “believe it is likely” that the Meyers had “at least some communication” about 2015 allegations against Zach Smith. Shelley Meyer told them she didn’t share Courtney Smith’s allegations with her husband because she questioned their accuracy.
7. As the scandal was going public, Meyer had a conversation with a staffer about deleting texts to hide them from the media.
After McMurphy’s Aug. 1 report suggested Meyer knew about 2015 allegations, the head coach talked with a staffer about getting rid of old texts:
Upon seeing this report when it first came out (at about 10:17 a.m.), Brian Voltolini, who was on the practice field with Coach Meyer went to speak with him, commenting that this was “a bad article.” The two discussed at that time whether the media could get access to Coach Meyer’s phone, and specifically discussed how to adjust the settings on Meyer’s phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted.
By the time investigators got Meyer’s phone on Aug. 2, it contained no texts older than a year. The investigators don’t say whether they think Meyer deleted specific groups of messages deliberately, but they did find this “concerning.”
8. Making it even less clear what texts Urban Meyer might have sent about Zach Smith, the school was slow on a prior request for his messages.
OSU’s student newspaper, The Lantern, had sent the school two records requests for communications between the head coach and receivers coach — one for a period in 2015, one for the period right before Smith’s firing. This was before Meyer’s conversation about deleting old texts.
But investigators say “no one appears to have actually checked Coach Meyer’s phone or even approached him about the requests.”
9. In May 2014, Zach Smith spent a bunch of money at a strip club with high school coaches while on a recruiting trip.
The investigators say he spent “approximately $600 of his personal funds.” That’s not illegal or necessarily against school rules, but it prompted Meyer to add a “morality clause” to the Buckeyes’ coaching manual. That included an order to “avoid strip clubs or venues that would embarrass The Ohio State University” and banned porn on university-issued devices.
10. In 2016, Meyer had Zach Smith check into a rehab center.
The goal was to deal with addiction to a stimulant used to treat ADHD.
In June 2016, based on medical advice & direction from Urban Meyer, Zach Smith was admitted to a drug treatment facility for addiction. Source told me this was Sibcy House in Mason, Ohio, & Zach Smith left after 4-days & didn’t complete his 10-day treatment— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 23, 2018
11. Meyer kept Zach Smith through years of behavior that would’ve gotten most people fired.
We identified a pattern of troubling behavior by Zach Smith: promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cybercrimes.
Why’d Meyer do it? In some part, because he cared deeply about Smith’s grandfather, former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce.
“Meyer’s cherished relationship with Earle Bruce may also have diminished his ability to clearly process and assess the severity of Zach’s problems,” investigators said, “or to appropriately discipline him, despite numerous red flags raised by Zach’s behavior over the years.”