Urban Meyer suspended: What we learned from Ohio State investigation

On3 imageby:On3 Staff Report08/23/18

COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer will miss the first three games of the season for Ohio State, including a pivotal match-up against No. 16 TCU in Dallas.

That’s significant sure, but to many, the results of the Ohio State investigation left more questions than answers about how Meyer’s questionable loyalty to Zach Smith, and Smith’s grandfather Earle Bruce, made him incapable of effectively managing the former wide receivers coach through a troubling series of incidents throughout his employment by Ohio State.

What did we learn from the suspensions for Meyer and Gene Smith? What did we learn from the full report provided by the six-person investigative panel?

Here are some of the biggest, most important takeaways.

Urban Meyer didn’t outright lie at Big Ten Media Days

Though his misspoken words to the press at the Big Ten’s 2018 Media Days may have led to the bizarre weeks that followed, investigators did not believe that Meyer intentionally lied to the media on July 24 in Chicago. They did, though, believe that Meyer intended to keep comments about Zach Smith to a minimum.

Coach Meyer was determined not to disclose details at the Big Ten Media Days about matters he deemed ‘personal’ involving Zach Smith, of whom he had always been supportive. In a text message he exchanged with his agent just before Media Days began, Coach Meyer wrote ‘[Zach] was fired for cumulative stuff.’ I will not tell [the] media.’

Most important though is this portion, and it’s likely what stopped Ohio State from terminating Meyer.

In reaching this conclusion, although Coach Meyer was generally very supportive of Zach Smith, to a fault, we do not find that Coach Meyer’s misstatements on Big Ten Media Days were part of a deliberate cover-up for keeping Zach Smith on the coaching staff in the face of evidence of domestic violence by him that Coach Meyer or others in the Athletics Department credited.

Incompetence? Maybe. Intentional cover up of domestic violence allegations? No, not in the case.

Ohio State suspended Urban Meyer for not doing ‘more’

The investigation into Meyer may have begun as a way to see what he knew about domestic violence allegations regarding Zach Smith. But it ended being about how he let Smith sully the Buckeyes football program over the course of his six years as an Ohio State assistant. The fact that the committee didn’t find any wrongdoing in how Meyer or Gene Smith handled the abuse allegations may be the only reason the results were a suspension and not a termination.

It’s possible in some respects to think Meyer actually went too far in trying to help Smith. He helped his young coach set up marriage counseling, forced him to enter rehab for addiction issues and generally turned a blind-eye to his damaging behavior in an attempt to help him. Meyer, the report stated, declined to act upon Gene Smith’s to remove Smith after his “job performance suffered” in the middle of his divorce proceedings dating back to 2015.

At some point, though, enough needed to be enough. That didn’t happen when it should have. Meyer should have done more to disassociate from Zach Smith and didn’t out of a skewed sense of loyalty to a coach that had done nothing to deserve it.

Strange circumstances around phone of Urban Meyer

For those who believe Meyer deserved a stiffer penalty, this section of the findings will be a sticking point.

(ii) 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.

(iii) Our review of Coach Meyer’s phone revealed no messages older than one year, indicating that at the time it was obtained by OSU on August 2nd , Coach Meyer’s phone was set to retain text messages only for that period, as Coach Meyer and Brian Voltolini discussed. We cannot determine, however, whether Coach Meyer’s phone was set to retain messages only for one year in response to the August 1st media report or at some earlier time. It is nonetheless concerning that his first reaction to a negative media piece exposing his knowledge of the 2015-2016 law enforcement investigation was to worry about the media getting access to information and discussing how to delete messages older than a year.

There’s no doubt that Meyer’s actions here, or what can be assumed by this section, are damning. If Meyer went out of his way to erase older text messages, the natural assumption is that he did so in order to retain plausible deniability in the event investigators sought his phone. Outside of that, requests for Meyer’s phone to be confiscated were not handled in a timely manner according to the report.

(iv)  On July 26th , Vannatta asked Amy Nicol, Director, Internal Operations for Football, and Brian Voltolini to “go get [Coach Meyer’s] phone and check his texts with Zach.” Although all of these individuals were aware of the requests – and indeed both AD Smith and Sabau responded that they had no documents on their end – no one appears to have actually checked Coach Meyer’s phone or even approached him about the requests.

There’s no way for that to look good for the Buckeyes.

Investigators don’t believe Urban Meyer and Shelley Meyer about conversations regarding Courtney Smith

Despite Shelley Meyer’s assertion that she did not relay information about reported text messages from Courtney Smith to her husband, the investigating panel believed different.

Those text messages, allegedly sent by Courtney Smith to Shelley Meyer in late 2015, included photographs of the alleged victim that indicated physical abuse had occurred. Shelley Meyer told investigators that she did not share those messages with her husband because she had doubts about their veracity.

(iii) Shelley Meyer also maintains that she did not relay Courtney Smith’s expression of fear or allegations of abuse, including the photographs, to Urban Meyer at the time because she had doubts about the veracity of Courtney Smith’s allegations. Coach Meyer also does not recall any discussion with Shelley Meyer about either her or Courtney Smith’s concerns about abuse.

That was not reasonable to those in charge of the findings.

Given the closeness of their relationship and Shelley’s concerns, we believe it is likely that Shelley and Urban Meyer had at least some communication about these allegations in late 2015 and were concerned about them.

Courtney Smith never shared any further allegations of abuse with Shelley Meyer, according to the report.

Ohio State was unaware of various reports about Zach Smith’s behavior

Over the course of the last three weeks, investigators found a number of incidents related to Zach Smith that were disturbing yet they determined Meyer and Gene Smith were unaware of many of them.

Some items that the report deemed Ohio State unaware of were:

  • Zach Smith’s reported affair with an Ohio State football staff member
  • Alleged inappropriate photo taken by Smith during the Buckeyes 2015 trip to the White House and on campus
  • “Sex-related” items that Smith reportedly had delivered to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center
  • Smith’s 2013 citation for OVI

It seems that Meyer’s lack of knowledge and subsequent action for these incidents are as related to his three-game suspension as the initial domestic violence reports.

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