Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knew – or, at least, should have known – that his wide receivers coach, Zach Smith, was a domestic abuser. Urban Meyer knew this in 2009, and knew – or, at least, should have known – in 2015. Urban Meyer, in front of the inquiring media during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago two Mondays ago after Smith lost his job, lied about it.
Here is something else that we should know now: Urban Meyer, going down the same path as Joe Paterno, Art Briles, Rick Pitino, et al., should no longer be head coach at The Ohio State University.
Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday as the university conducts an investigation into what he knew and when he knew about allegations involving Smith, one of his assistant coaches, who was fired on July 23 after an Ohio court granted a domestic violence protective order to Courtney Smith against her former husband.
Courtney provided explosive details – about her abuse at the hands of Zach and records of text messages she sent to, among others, Meyer’s wife, Shelley – to college football reporter Brett McMurphy, who published that information onto his Facebook page on Tuesday, which set Ohio State’s action into Meyer in motion.
Though I grant to you that due process needs to be taken (words not to be taken lightly), one must understand the disturbing pattern that continues to play out in college athletics, especially college football: Win at all costs.
Playing dumb on the subject of continued domestic violence by one of Meyer’s staffers to save the head coach’s reputation was the cost, just collateral damage on the way to defeating Michigan and competing for championships. The strategy taken right from the playbook of schools like Baylor, Penn State and Michigan State in recent years, covering up rape and child abuse so bowl games can be reached and the revenue stream continues to flow lavishly into the school – and into coaches’ pockets.
Meyer’s ties to Zach Smith run very deep, making a coverup appear even more plausible. Smith is the grandson of late Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, a mentor to Meyer and one of the most influential people in his life. Smith played for Meyer when the latter was head coach at Bowling Green. Meyer was there for Smith when Smith went into coaching.
There was another side of Smith, more than the football player and the coach, that Meyer knew, at least in 2009. Meyer admitted he was aware of a case that year in which Smith was accused of aggravated battery on his then-pregnant wife while coaching at Florida. (The charge was dropped because of insufficient evidence.) Meyer said he and his wife, Shelley, addressed the incident with the Smiths but that’s as far as it went.
If we are to believe them, which, given the newly-released evidence from Courtney, we should not. Police reports obtained by cleveland.com detail nine domestic incidents involving Smith and his now ex-wife Courtney between 2012 and last month. Most troubling, that includes an alleged incident of domestic abuse on Oct. 25, 2015, shortly before the couple divorced.
Courtney Smith told Stadium that she told Shelley Meyer in 2015 that Zach Smith had assaulted her. Courtney Smith provided text messages to McMurphy between her and Shelley Meyer about Zach Smith’s behavior, and threatening text messages she said were sent to her by Zach Smith.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney Smith told Stadium. “I said: ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.'”
Shelley, as a university employee, is required under the school’s sexual misconduct policy to report sexual misconduct, including domestic violence, when it involves staff or students. Under the policy, reports must be made within five days.
This has a Title IX violation written all over it. But how does this touch Urban?, a cynic might ask.
Another text exchange provided to McMurphy showed communication between Courtney and Lindsey Voltolini, wife of Ohio State director of football operations Brian Voltolini, that implies Urban Meyer knew of the allegations (for which Zach has never been convicted of a crime or officially charged with assaulting his ex-wife) at the time in 2015.
Courtney Smith: “(Zach’s) trying to make me look crazy bc that’s what Shelley is saying (he’s doing)”
Lindsey Voltolini: “He (Urban) just said he (Zach) denied everything”
Smith: “I hope urban is smarter than that”
Voltolini: “He (Urban) doesn’t know what to think”
Smith: “I don’t really care. Ya know”
Voltolini: “Yeah, don’t worry about urb”
To believe Meyer’s claim of ignorance is to believe that “alternative facts” exist in this case, or in general. At best, the Urban was ignorant and apprehensive. At worst, the Urban was an enabler of domestic violence, knowing that he had someone accused to beating his then-wife on his staff and shrugged his shoulders as to what to do with him.
What Ohio State should do with Meyer is much clearer: Let him go. For good.