Late on Sunday night Ohio State announced they had put together an independent committee to investigate Ohio State’s handling of the Zach Smith mess and they said that committee would render a verdict within 14 days. In the wake of Urban Meyer’s statement on Friday — which you can read my analysis of here — it is readily apparent that Ohio State’s investigation of Smith’s 2015 domestic violence issues will loom large in the ultimate decision rendered by the committee.
But one important detail which I haven’t written about yet is very significant in this investigation — did Urban Meyer tell Gene Smith about Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest in Gainesville, Florida on charges of domestic violence either when he hired Smith at Ohio State in 2012 or as part of the investigation in 2015? This is incredibly important information Meyer’s bosses at Ohio State should have had.
But did they?
In his statement Meyer dodges the question — saying only: “While at the University of Florida and now at The Ohio State University I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
So did Meyer inform his bosses at the University of Florida in 2009 and at Ohio State in 2015 of each of these incidents? We don’t know. Certainly former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley should be asked whether Meyer informed him about Smith’s arrest and allowed him to continue coaching at Florida — but did Meyer inform his Ohio State bosses about the 2009 incident either in 2012 when he was hiring Smith or in 2015 when the second issue of domestic violence arose? And if he didn’t, shouldn’t he have have done so?
Because otherwise Gene Smith, in investigating Zach Smith’s 2015 domestic violence incident, might well have believed this was the only allegation of domestic violence in Smith’s past. The way you would respond to a single incidence of domestic violence might well be different than the way you would respond if you knew Smith had previously been arrested for domestic violence, years earlier, involving the same woman.
I think most of you would be willing to agree that giving a young husband the benefit of the doubt in 2009 becomes much more difficult to do in 2015 if the same violent allegations arise anew. (This is particularly the case when Ohio State, according to Courtney Smith, never even bothered to call her as part of their investigation into this issue of domestic violence.)
Looked at in this respect, Zach Smith has been accused of domestic violence at least twice, once in 2009 and again in 2015. Within that context it seems even more difficult for Urban Meyer to have made the decision to continue to employ Zach Smith, no matter what he was told about the results of this 2015 investigation.
At this point in time the absolute best defense you can give of Urban Meyer looks like this: In 2009 Urban Meyer and his wife Shelley counseled a young couple having marital issues. What were those issues? We don’t know all of them, but at least one of them was very significant — Zach Smith was arrested for domestic assault on his pregnant wife. Courtney said that members of Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators staff — along with Zach Smith’s own family — encouraged her not to press charges against him because if she did so his coaching career would be over. As a result Courtney didn’t press charges and Zach Smith continued to coach in college football for the Florida Gators and would later be hired by Urban Meyer on his Ohio State staff in 2012.
Then in 2015 Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley receives disturbing pictures of wounds Courtney Smith says were inflicted by Zach Smith. Shelley shares these photos with Meyer, who then, according to Zach Smith, confronts him and demands to know whether he’s ever abused his wife. Smith denies it. (The evidence seems quite clear that Smith has abused his wife). Smith then says that Gene Smith, the Ohio State athletic director pulls him off the recruiting trail and quizzes him about these allegations. (Meyer says he told Gene Smith, his boss about the allegations in his letter, but Zach Smith says Gene told him he’d found out from the police. Either way, we don’t know the result of this investigation or why it commenced. That is, there remains no corroborating evidence so far that Urban Meyer told Gene Smith about the Zach Smith allegations) That investigation concludes — we don’t know what the result of the investigation was or what Ohio State uncovered — and Urban Meyer continues to employ Zach Smith for three more years at Ohio State, until he’s fired last month.
Now ask yourself this, why in the world would Urban Meyer do this? If you employed someone on your staff — regardless of where you work — who had been arrested for domestic abuse in 2009 and had then had his wife send your wife pictures of additional domestic abuse being investigated by the police in 2015, would you want this man to still be employed on your staff? I sure as hell wouldn’t.
So Urban Meyer’s decision making here is very strange. Even with Smith being the grandson of legendary coach Earle Bruce, why wouldn’t Meyer have told Smith to go search for another job? After all, coaches leave one job for another job all the time. Meyer could have even ensured Ohio State paid Smith the remainder of the money owed on his contract; this would have been a million dollars or less. Meyer could have then replaced Smith on the staff without destroying Zach Smith’s coaching career. It’s not like he had to fire Smith and explain he was doing it for issues of domestic violence. Why keep him on staff to get in trouble and potentially drag your name and your school’s name through the mud when you know he’s now had at least two public instances of domestic violence?
It’s just nonsensical.
All of the focus on Meyer telling his superiors, by the way, is a bit ridiculous because it also presumes that Gene Smith, who makes a fraction of Meyer, is actually his boss. Who do you think makes the decision about Ohio State’s coaching staff, Meyer or the athletic director? Come on. Keeping Zach Smith, ultimately, was all Urban Meyer’s decision.
So Meyer keeps Smith on his staff and, go figure, Smith is arrested in May of 2018 for criminal trespassing. That news goes public on July 24th, forcing Meyer to fire Smith the day before he is scheduled to speak at Big Ten media days. Then, the next day at Big Ten media days, Meyer lies and says he never knew about the 2015 domestic incident when the media there ask him about it.
So, again, giving the best possible defense of Urban Meyer, he knowingly employed an assistant coach on two different occasions despite an arrest on domestic violence in 2009 and another allegation of domestic violence in 2015 that was supported by photos texted to his wife. Then, knowing about both of these instances, he continued to employ Smith for three more years until he was arrested yet again in 2018. Then, when questioned about these past issues of domestic violence, he lies about his knowledge of the 2015 incidents to the media and all the Big Ten fans. On Wednesday of last week Brett McMurphy publishes a report laying out ample evidence that Meyer did, in fact, know about both the 2009 and 2015 domestic violence issues. Then, on Friday afternoon of last week, Meyer suddenly changes his story and admits to knowing everything and says he notified his bosses at both Florida and Ohio State about both domestic violence incidents.
How can you trust Meyer to tell the truth at this point when he’s been caught in a massive lie?
But, again, — and this will be a key part of the Ohio State investigation — did he notify his bosses at Ohio State about both instances of alleged domestic violence?
We still don’t know.
And if Meyer didn’t notify his Ohio State bosses about Zach Smith’s prior arrest in 2009, it may well be sufficient cause for Ohio State to fire him without owing a dollar on his contract. But, if Meyer did notify Gene Smith, his athletic director, about the prior domestic violence arrest at Florida in 2009, how in the world could Smith have not taken these 2015 allegations even more seriously?
Something’s rotten in Columbus, we’re just not sure exactly what it is.
Or who will be paying the ultimate price.