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Urban speaks and speaks … and still leaves things unexplained
Now fully un-suspended as the Ohio State coach, Urban Meyer (11) has turned the beginning of this week into a talkathon. He did a two-part interview with ESPN, then issued yet another in a series of prepared statements, then held a press conference Monday. He strode into the room at 11:39 a.m. ET, six minutes early, and didn’t leave until 12:36.
Credit the school and its media relations director, Jerry Emig, for letting the Q&A go to an extraordinary length, and for not trying to protect the coach from hard questions. With weeks of opportunity to be coached up on how not to repeat his disingenuous comments at Big Ten media day or his solipsistic remarks when his suspension was announced, Meyer was far more sure on his feet Monday. He stood in and answered every question.
Which doesn’t mean he answered them all well.
The answer that said the least: Meyer had no explanation when asked by Yahoo Sports why he failed to inform his boss, athletic director Gene Smith (12), of everything he knew about the troubled history between Zach Smith (13) and his now-former wife, Courtney.
Specifically, Gene Smith said last month that Meyer did not tell him about a 2009 Zach Smith arrest in Gainesville for allegedly abusing Courtney, when he was on Meyer’s staff at Florida. Charges ultimately were not filed.
“In 2009, I was led to believe this was not domestic violence,” Meyer said. “There were no charges filed. I look back now — [Zach Smith] went to two other universities and then I hired him at Ohio State. That’s when I should have made [Gene Smith] aware of the situation.”
That would have been the first responsible and prudent time to inform his boss. The second, and far more urgent time to have done so, was in 2015 — when Zach Smith was again accused of domestic violence by Courtney.
“In 2015, I can’t recall if I did or did not discuss the 2009 situation [with Gene Smith],” Meyer said.
Gene Smith said on Aug. 23 that Meyer did not tell him about the situation. So Yahoo Sports asked Meyer on Monday whether failing to inform his superior about a potentially serious prior allegation, at the time of a second such allegation against his assistant coach, was a cover-up.
“Not covering up,” Meyer responded. “In hindsight, I should have [told Gene Smith]. I thought I did, but … ”
One of two things is the truth: Meyer did tell Gene Smith and is now taking a bullet for his boss; or Meyer didn’t say anything and screwed over his boss to the point that he was suspended as well.
Either way, at least one man in a position of authority at Ohio State knew of two domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach and kept him on the staff for three more years. Meyer knew for sure and did nothing. Why did he keep Zach Smith around?
Because he loves too much.
That was the basic answer Meyer gave, repeatedly. He was trying to help Smith the way he has helped other players and other assistants who have run into trouble. Not because he’s uncaring about alleged domestic violence.
In reality, Zach Smith was just the latest to survive being accused of violence toward women and still keep his spot within Meyer’s program — which famously espouses Respect Women as a core value.
At Florida in 2010, standout running back Chris Rainey (14) was arrested on a charge of felony stalking for texting a death threat to a woman; when the woman spoke up for Rainey and he was given deferred prosecution for a lesser charge, Rainey was reinstated in less than a month. In 2012 at Ohio State, linebacker Storm Klein (15) was initially dismissed after being charged with domestic violence; when the alleged victim recanted her story and said she injured herself during an argument with Klein, charges were reduced to disorderly conduct and he was suspended just two games. The next year, star running back Carlos Hyde (16) was arrested in relation to a nightclub altercation with a woman; he was suspended three games and then returned to the lineup when the victim refused to go forward with the charges.
Plenty of altercations. Plenty of recanting women. Plenty of reinstatements. Zach Smith got a pass twice, without any recanting by Courtney, and was never suspended at all — maybe because his issues never went public until this summer.
But the baseline justification Meyer used in retaining Smith — beyond being too darned caring and forgiving — was his unspoken stance that Courtney Smith is either lying or simply too crazy to tell the truth.
Yahoo Sports asked Meyer on Monday if he believes Courtney Smith was ever a victim of domestic violence.
“I can only rely on what information I received from the experts,” he said, basically pointing to the lack of charges against Zach as his answer.
Despite that, Meyer has, on multiple occasions, apologized to Courtney Smith. There is a cognitive dissonance at work — questioning her character and believability, yet also telling her he’s sorry.
The other inconsistency that has come from this is Meyer’s firm statements that his wife, Shelley (17), did not make him aware of her disturbing text exchanges with Courtney Smith. In those texts, Courtney Smith alleges abuse at the hands of Zach, and Shelley responds in a sympathetic and supportive manner. She suggests getting a restraining order, and offers this three-word opinion of Zach: “He scares me.”
The idea of a husband and wife not communicating about something as alarming as the wife of an assistant coach alleging spouse abuse is simply difficult to believe. Zach Smith scared Shelley Meyer — but she kept that to herself?
Again, we’re left trying to guess at why that might be: Was Shelley feigning sympathy to Courtney and privately rolling her eyes? Or was Urban’s task of coaching the Buckeyes so all-consuming that Shelley didn’t want to distract her husband’s focus with a niggling wife-beating allegation against a staffer?
It would be useful to ask Shelley Meyer about the text questions. She is very out-front as the “First Lady of Ohio State Football,” as she’s been referred to countless times in media portrayals — hardly a camera-shy coach’s wife. This would be a good time to step out front and explain her thought process in allegedly keeping those texts to herself.
But for many Ohio State fans, they’ve heard quite enough about this entire sordid affair. They simply want to move on to Meyer coaching the Buckeyes in pursuit of another national title — and after today, the school can argue that it has addressed the Zach Smith fiasco for the last time.
For Urban Meyer, he goes back to work with his reputation diminished — and it will stay diminished. You can tell that bothers him. But that’s the cost of “caring too much” about an employee he should have fired three years earlier.
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