Exactly three weeks after being forced to the sidelines, Urban Meyer is back. Eventually.
Following an executive session of its Board of Trustees that lasted nearly a dozen hours, Ohio State announced Wednesday night that Meyer will be retained as the Buckeyes’ head football coach. However, Meyer will be suspended, without pay, for the first three games of the 2018 season.
The suspension means that Meyer will be sidelined for games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU. He will be eligible to return for the Sept. 22 game against Tulane.
Meyer will also be suspended through Sept. 2. That suspension will prevent the coach from taking part in the Buckeyes’ preparations for the season opener against the Beavers Sept. 1. He will, however, be permitted to take part in all football activities leading up to the Rutgers and TCU games, including practices, player meetings, coaches meetings, etc.
Additionally, athletic director Gene Smith will serve a suspension from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16. His suspension will be without pay as well.
The investigative team, which presented its findings to the university’s Board of Trustees informally Monday and then formally during the marathon executive session Wednesday, concluded that “[a}lthough Coach Meyer made significant misstatements about his knowledge of the 2015 events relating to Zach Smith and his former wife at the Big Ten Media Days, they were not part of a deliberate cover-up effort to keep Zach Smith on the coaching staff in the face of evidence of domestic violence by him that Athletic Director Smith and Coach Meyer credited.”
The report presented to the board, which consisted of 40 witness interviews and the review of “over 60,000 e-mails and 10,000 text messages,” also concluded that “Coach Meyer has ‘a sincere commitment to the Respect for Women core values that he espouses and tries to instill in his players.'”
From the report:
The Independent Counsel also concluded that Coach Meyer would not hesitate to terminate any coach if spousal abuse was established:
“We believe [Coach Meyer] as did Zach Smith, that if [Coach 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.
In a prepared statement before taking questions from the media, Meyer acknowledged that his loyalty to Earle Bruce, who Meyer considers the most influential male in his life after his father, impacted his judgment when it came to the assistant coach who is the grandson of the former OSU head football coach.
“I followed my heart and not my head,” Meyer stated. “I fell short in pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.
“As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather Earle Bruce, who was my mentor, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years. I did not know everything about Zach Smith, what Zach Smith was doing and I am pleased that the report made this very clear.
“However, I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags.”
Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 1 as questions into his handling of domestic abuse allegations made against his now-former assistant coach, Zach Smith, surfaced. The university announced the launching of an investigation into Meyer’s actions the day after the head coach’s leave was announced.
In a statement Aug. 3, Meyer claimed that he has “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.” Allegations of domestic abuse stemmed not only from Zach Smith’s time at OSU, but while he was on Meyer’s Florida staff in 2009 as well.
Gene Smith confirmed in the press conference tonight that the university was not aware of Zach Smith’s off-field issues at Florida when he was hired by Meyer as wide receivers coach in December of 2011. As a result of that, OSU is expected to revamp their hiring procedures and policies — and background checks — when it comes to prospective coaches.
In an Aug. 1 report that preceded Meyer’s initial leave of absence, Courtney Smith, the now-ex-wife of Zach Smith, claimed that Meyer’s wife, Shelley, was aware of the allegations that she was being abused by the then-OSU assistant coach. Below is the text message exchange between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer in 2015:
Shelley: “I am with you! A lot of women stay hoping it will get better. I don’t blame you! But just want u to be safe. Do you have a restraining order? He scares me”
Courtney: “Restraining orders don’t do anything in Ohio-I tried to get protection order which is what started this whole investigation. And that should go through soon finally. It’s hard bc you have to prove immediate danger. Legal system is tough. Basically you have to prove he will kill u to get protective order”
Shelley: “Geesh! Even w the pics? Didn’t law enforcement come to your place ever??
During Wednesday night’s press conference, Meyer claimed that he was never aware of any text messages between his wife and his ex-assistant’s ex-wife “at the time.”
The findings of the investigation concluded with the following:
Although neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an Assistant Coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes. Permitting such misconduct to continue is not consistent with the values of the University and reflects poorly on Coach Meyer, Athletic Director Smith, and the University. Their handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect of our Athletic Director, Head Coach, Assistant Coaches and all on the football staff.
While Meyer apologized to “Buckeye Nation” on at least three occasions — and apologized for the situation everyone found themselves in — he never apologized to Courtney Smith even as he was afforded the opportunity to do so by at least one reporter who mentioned her by name. The lack of a public apology to the alleged victim, while multiple ones were made to the fanbase, has led to the national media blistering both the coach and the perceived “football-first” culture of the university.
In reports that preceded the official announcement, it was suggested that Meyer was balking at accepting a suspension; when asked if he thought he deserved to be suspended for three games, Meyer’s curt response did nothing to debunk the suggestions.
“I trust and support our president.”
“I know the impact that the events of the last three weeks have had on this institution – an institution that I love – and how challenging this has been for our community and our president, a man for whom I have great respect. And for that, I am deeply sorry,” Meyer said in a statement subsequently distributed by the school. “I am fully aware that I am ultimately responsible for this situation that has harmed the university as a whole, our Department of Athletics and our football program. I want to also apologize to Buckeye Nation.
“The suspensions are tough, but I fully accept them.”