TURNS OUT THE URBAN MEYER CASE WASN’T ABOUT COVERING UP DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AFTER ALL
The following is a column, including opinion and analysis.
COLUMBUS – Ohio State doesn’t kick off the 2018 football season for nine more days.
That didn’t stop the university’s president, Michael Drake, from committing the season’s first fumble.
The entire nation was led to believe for the past three weeks that this case involving Urban Meyer being placed on paid-administrative leave was all about the coach covering up alleged domestic violence by fired receivers coach Zach Smith.
Turns out it wasn’t.
And yet Drake didn’t make that perfectly clear in front of the cameras Wednesday night when announcing a three-game suspension for Meyer, probably for fear of being accused of “victim shaming.”
Even though the Powell police department never discovered any evidence to support Courtney Smith’s claims that her husband physically abused her, and thus there were no charges, and their findings where forwarded to athletic director Gene Smith and Meyer back in 2015, Drake used other Zach Smith transgressions to justify suspending Meyer without pay for the first three games of the season – home against Oregon State Sept. 1 and Rutgers Sept. 8 and a top-25 matchup at TCU on Sept. 15.
Athletic Director Gene Smith will be suspended Aug. 31 – Sept. 16 without pay.
After stating, “We believe (Coach Meyer), as did Zach Smith, that if (Meyer) ever came to learn or believe that Zach Smith had physically abused his wife, Coach Meyer would have fired Zach Smith or any other coach on the spot,” Drake took severe action anyway.
Maybe he just couldn’t stand up to the lynch mob after all.
Or maybe he wanted to come off as the strict disciplinarian who didn’t want to enable the perception that Ohio State has a university that the football program could be proud of.
Meyer failed to monitor Smith’s messy personal life closely
enough. It turns out the assistant had committed adultery often, and perhaps at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and with another staffer. He had been arrested for an OVI in 2013 which he hid from his head coach.
And AD Smith, no relation, was suspended for failure to monitor and act upon the whole soap opera.
Zach Smith has character issues, we are told, and Meyer should have known that.
Zach Smith cheated on his wife and Meyer should have known that.
Zach Smith got busted driving with alcohol in his system five years ago (the charges were reduced) and Meyer should have known that.
“I followed my heart and not my head,” Meyer said, referring to the grandson of his mentor, former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who died in April. “I should have known more about Zach Smith and I should have been more demanding of him. I should have done more and I am sorry for that.”
So basically, Meyer was charged with one serious crime three weeks ago, was essentially found innocent, but later charged with a misdemeanor unrelated to the original charges.
And the sentence for that was severe.
This is a dangerous precedent.
Now head coaches everywhere will be hiring private investigators to peek into the windows of their assistant coaches’ bedrooms.
Zach Smith’s attorney, Brad Koffel, said late last night that his client “is very angry” about the school’s decision.
“I thought this whole thing was supposed to be about covering up domestic violence,” Koffel said. “Well, it turns out it wasn’t. Zach knows that Urban Meyer and Gene Smith did nothing wrong. Are they supposed to know every tidbit of his personal life? Zach married a woman he should not have married. Vengeance against her ex-husband regrettably resulted in collateral damage to Urban Meyer, Gene Smith and the Ohio State University.
“Trying cases in the media is a dangerous precedent.”
That’s what frequently happens in these widespread investigations, where every rock is turned over with an operation as large as Ohio State’s football facility.
It started as a mission to discover if Meyer did his job in relation to reporting Smith’s alleged beating of his wife to his superior, Gene Smith. Turns out he did. And it also turns out the accuser’s claims could not be substantiated. Turns out there were no charges after all.
But Drake, Smith and Meyer were very careful not to bring that point up Wednesday night, knowing they would be accused of “victim shaming.” (If anyone out there still thinks Courtney Smith is the real victim here, they have been doing a Rip Van Winkle act the past three weeks.)
But once the investigation of a six-person panel evolved over the past two weeks – covering 40 witnesses, 60,000 emails and 10,000 text messages – the committee ventured from domestic violence accusations to intra-office affairs and other transgressions by the ex-receivers coach.
Then they held the athletic director and head coach responsible for the flaws in his personal life.
“I should have done more toward investigating his private life,” Meyer said.
I listened to ESPN radio on the way home from the OSU Alumni House last night. The fallout was brutal, as the nation believes Meyer got away with murder. Since the in-depth report was not released as of 11 p.m., the nation still does not realize that Meyer’s infractions have nothing to do with covering up domestic violence. (The release of the report after midnight, which should have been simultaneous with the decision, will answer more questions and be dissected for days).
That’s one reason Meyer chose not to address the so-called victim last night when asked.
Fact is, Meyer was shocked by this decision, no matter the company line he tried to toe at the mass press conference. He walked into the OSU Alumni House around 11 a.m., fully expected to be back with his football team by days end.
He argued his case passionately for hours to the board of trustees and to Drake, who pushed for the suspension. He knew there was no charges relating to domestic violence to begin with and yet he passed all the information of the 2015 incident on to his boss. In the end, I am told that the board agreed that he fulfilled his contract and should return to practice immediately. It was Drake who stood firm.
And no matter how hard the coach with a 73-8 record tried, no matter how much he explained his actions and pleaded, in the end he experienced something which Michigan has not been able to do to him in six attempts – he walked away a loser.
He couldn’t win over a university president who had his jaw set like a 150-pound linebacker facing an All-Pro fullback.
So he sustained a terrible loss – to his reputation.
An unexpected loss.
While the nation cries foul this morning and accuses the large football factory of covering up domestic abuse, claiming its championship football coach should have been fired, Ohio State fans will cry foul that he is suspended at all.
By 1 a.m., ESPN was calling it all a “slap on the wrist” for Urban Meyer. He was labeled as “aloof, petulant and arrogant.” Not remorseful, they said. Not grasping the seriousness of his crime, they agreed.
If Meyer indeed had covered up confirmed domestic abuse by an assistant coach, as he was originally charged, they would indeed be correct.
But in his mind, the referees, Drake in this case, changed the rules and moved the goal line in the middle of the game.
And that’s not exactly fair.
So how will the extremely popular football coach and suddenly about-to-be unpopular president coexist in the future?
My guess is they won't have to for very long.
Meyer surely can swallow this medicine and bounce back, and not grow resentful and allow bitterness to rule him, so he can still win plenty more games and championships in his later years at Ohio State, even though he may never win over his critics.
The question now is, will Drake continue working on the same campus long enough to witness it all?