The Latest On Urban Meyer at Ohio State

For the past two days Ohio State fans have been expending all their energy arguing there wasn’t definitive proof Urban Meyer knew about Zach Smith’s alleged 2015 domestic violence incidents. Well, that argument all went up in smoke when Meyer released an official statement on Twitter this evening.

In one statement Meyer stated three things: 1. That he knew about the 2015 domestic violence incident involving his wide receiver coach Zach Smith. 2. That he told his bosses about that incident and 3. Meyer acknowledged, in tortured language that would make Bill Clinton proud, that he’d lied to the media on July 24th when he’d been quizzed about the Zach Smith 2015 incident.

The biggest impact, from a legal perspective, was Meyer’s insistence that he’d followed proper protocols and notified his superiors of the 2015 allegations against Zach Smith.

You can watch me discuss this incident on Periscope here, but there are several remaining questions at play. If anything, Urban Meyer’s statements served to complicate things even more than they already were.

Let’s dive in:

1. Remember that for the past two days Ohio State fans have obsessively argued there’s no evidence Shelley Meyer told Urban Meyer about the 2015 Zach Smith allegations.

With one Friday afternoon statement that defense disappeared.

Urban admitted he knew about the 2015 allegations in his statement. (To be fair, you can parse the language in this sentence which reads, “Here is the truth: 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.”

The way that sentence is phrased, could you argue that Urban Meyer is still claiming he didn’t learn of the incident until 2018 and so the sentence “And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.” actually means not that he reported the incident in 2015, but that he reported the Zach Smith incident in 2015, which might not have been reported though until 2018? Yep. Now, I tend to think this is just a poorly worded sentence, but it could be an intentional legal loophole too. It’s worth keeping this in mind as the story plays out.

Meyer may still be leaving his options open here so he can argue that even if he didn’t report the 2015 incident until 2018, he fulfilled his contractual responsibilities because that 2018 was the fist time he learned of the incident.

Leaving that paragraphed pinned in your mind this statement is all about Urban Meyer arguing he did everything he was contractually obligated to do. This is important for two reasons: a. it could give Meyer a chance to keep his job if the university is willing to overlook his (apparent) lies and his decision to keep Zach Smith on staff despite multiple alleged domestic violence incidents and b. it also strengthens Meyer’s claim he’s entitled to the entire $40+ million remaining on his contract and that Ohio State wouldn’t be able to fire him for cause and avoid paying this sum of money.

Having said that, if Ohio State decides to fire him, I believe they could cite Meyer’s lies to the media and his decision to employ a potential double domestic abuser on his staff as ample grounds to fire him for cause. If they did so the likelihood is both sides would reach a negotiated settlement.

For Meyer, this statement is designed to also keep him employable for future jobs, since he can plausibly argue in this version of his story that he did nothing wrong.

2. Why did Meyer lie about his knowledge about Zach Smith’s 2015 incident last week?

Let’s presume that when he says “My words, whether in reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate, and most of all, completely accurate. Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24th, I failed on many of these fronts. My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading. However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions.”

This is the most tortured non-admission, admission of lying I have seen in some time. Even Bill Clinton circa 1998 is like, “Dude, be clearer.”

Meyer, unquestionably, lied at Big Ten Media Days.

And spare me the inadequate preparation angle. Meyer had two days to prepare for these exact questions and they dealt with issues he should have been very familiar with. How many other alleged domestic abusers are on his coaching staff? This would have, I would hope, be a big deal in his staff and it would have certainly been a big part of his preparation with his media relations staff.

So why did Meyer lie when asked nine separate times about this issue? What was he hiding?

All Meyer had to say last week was that he’d referred allegations about Smith’s alleged behavior to his bosses at Ohio State, but that he wasn’t permitted to discuss the results as they dealt with internal university investigations.

Then he would have pushed the story to the university and his personal involvement would have been secondary.

Instead, Meyer lied and has put his own job in jeopardy over those lies.

3. Did Ohio State actually conduct an investigation into Zach Smith’s alleged domestic violence?

Meyer said he “always followed proper reporting protocol when he has learned of an incident.” That’s a tortured way of saying he told his bosses about these allegations.

So did Meyer actually do this? If so, is there any sort of paper trail of that notification? And if not, why doesn’t that paper trail exist? Further, what did Ohio State do with the information Meyer provided?

I practiced labor and employment law back when I was a full-time attorney and I regularly conducted independent investigations into allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior, typically sexual harassment. As part of those allegations I would speak to all individuals involved in these cases and write a written report for the company to review.

That’s standard operating procedure for companies of all sizes.

So what did Ohio State do here? There are reports that athletic director Gene Smith pulled Zach Smith off the road from recruiting to discuss these allegations with him. How did Gene Smith become aware of these issues? Was it from Urban Meyer or elsewhere? And what did he actually do? Did he only speak to Zach Smith? Was there any written report of his findings? Were any lawyers involved at all? These are all important questions which need to be resolved.

Courtney Smith says no one at Ohio State ever contacted her and, significantly, she never received any update on why her husband wasn’t charged with a crime in 2015. Is there no police investigative report explaining why charges weren’t pursued and is there no Ohio State investigative report either? If so, that looks awfully suspicious on both fronts.

What’s more, how could Ohio State conduct a domestic violence investigation without speaking with the woman alleging the domestic violence? So is there a written report here at all? What did Ohio State actually do to investigate an allegation of this magnitude? For those of you pointing out that Smith wasn’t charged by police either, the fact that no criminal charges were brought doesn’t mean that Zach Smith’s behavior was appropriate or justified his continued employment at Ohio State.

There are two tracks of investigations here — a criminal investigation, which requires belief in guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and a university investigation, which would require only that an action be more likely than not to have occurred.

If you were running a university, would you want to employ a coach who has been twice investigated for domestic assault and once had charges dropped only because the alleged victim was begged to drop them? I wouldn’t. Hell, I wouldn’t employ a producer on my radio show if I knew these allegations existed, so how in the world did Ohio State allow this guy to be employed for three years after this alleged incident which followed a prior incident of domestic violence?

To me, that’s inexcusable.

Particularly when assistant coaches get fired all the time and Zach Smith was, at best, an average coach who could have been easily replaced.

Why keep him on the staff with this kind of liability? He was a ticking time bomb.

It just makes no sense.

4. Zach Smith is an unreliable witness, who appears to have abused Courtney Smith based on the public evidence.

While many Buckeye fans on the Internet have been feverish in their desire to attack Courtney Smith’s reliability, Zach’s appearances on radio and television today did nothing to burnish him as an honest or trustworthy individual.

If anything, these appearances backfired and made him even less trustworthy than he was before. I believe Courtney Smith even more after seeing and hearing Zach speak.

Appearing on radio, Zach suggested he hadn’t hit his wife, but might have defensively restrained her and that might explain her bruises. Yikes. Appearing on SportsCenter Zach denied any acts of domestic violence at all, which led to Brett McMurphy sending out this chilling text exchange where Zach Smith appears to admit to choking his ex-wife in 2015.

Whether you believe Urban Meyer should be fired or not, Zach Smith should not have been coaching college athletes.

5. Why did Urban Meyer and Ohio State allow Zach Smith to continue to coach for three years after the 2015 allegations?

Put yourself in Urban Meyer’s position at this point in time. You already knew your assistant coach had been accused of domestic assault in 2009 and narrowly avoided being prosecuted in that case. If your wife shared pictures of alleged injuries to his wife in 2015 and you heard any hint of additional allegations of domestic violence is there any way you’d allow him to continue to coach on your staff?

I wouldn’t.

And if you did allow it, would you allow it for three more years?!

That’s especially the case if your wife, who you said you trusted implicitly, told you he scared her. (As Shelley Meyer said about Zach Smith in text messages published by Brett McMurphy).

This just makes no sense to me.

Why risk your career for this guy?

The fact that Zach Smith remained employed at Ohio State for three years after his second domestic violence investigation is a clear sign that something went horribly wrong in the Ohio State athletic department.

The absolute best case scenario you can spin for Urban Meyer now is this: Urban helped convince a woman in 2009 not to prosecute her husband for domestic abuse, hired that same coach in 2012, received information that same coach was still beating his wife in 2015 and rather than take action himself informed his superior of that allegation and then did nothing for three more years. Until the media found out about both of these stories, which had previously not been reported. Upon those allegations goes public, Meyer showed up at Big Ten Media Days and lied about all of this to everyone.

And that’s the best case scenario!

That’s indefensible by anyone but the most rabid Ohio State fan on the planet.

6. What’s next?

We need to hear from Gene Smith and Ohio State about what investigation, if any, they undertook into these 2015 allegations against Zach Smith. We also need to hear whether or not Ohio State believes Urban Meyer fulfilled his contractual responsibilities in reporting these alleged incidents.

Until then we don’t have enough information to know the full story here.

In the meantime, far from clearing up all of the uncertainty in this case, I think today made the story bigger and uglier for Ohio State and Urban Meyer.

Now instead of just thinking that Urban Meyer might lose his job, I think multiple people inside the Ohio State athletic department, including athletic director Gene Smith, might be losing their jobs too.

Look out, this Ohio State dumpster fire just keeps growing as we head into the weekend.

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