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Ohio State released the summary of the investigation into Urban Meyer on Wednesday night and there’s a lot in it.
Meyer won’t coach the Buckeyes in the first three games of the 2018 season for his role in mishandling a 2015 allegation of domestic abuse against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Additionally, athletic director Gene Smith is suspended from Aug. 31-Sept. 16 for his role in handling the allegations.
The 23-page report contains myriad details that weren’t covered in Wednesday evening’s news conference announcing the suspensions. The report, which you can view in full here, details the investigation’s findings and attempts to justify why Meyer and Gene Smith were suspended. Let’s dive in.
Meyer talked with staffer about deleting texts the day before Ohio State obtained his phone
Investigators said they didn’t find any text messages older than a year on Meyer’s phone during their investigation. The phone was obtained by Ohio State on Aug. 2, the day after Meyer was placed on leave.
On Aug. 1, investigators noted that director of football operations Brian Voltolini told Meyer about a story that included text messages between Zach Smith’s ex-wife Courtney and Meyer’s wife Shelley. Voltolini called it a “bad article.” The two had a conversation about who could obtain the texts on Meyer’s phone and how the settings could be adjusted on it to delete text messages older than a year.
However, the report said it could not be concluded that Meyer’s phone wasn’t already set to that setting.
“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.”
The report also states that Ohio State officials did not attempt to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests regarding communication between Meyer and Smith.
“The lack of clarity surrounding this issue is compounded by the failure of OSU personnel to respond promptly to two July 25, 2018 records requests from the school paper, “The Lantern,” for emails and text messages, as well as any call history, between Urban Meyer and Zach Smith from July 18, 2018 through July 24, 2018 and between Oct. 25, 2015 and Dec. 1, 2015, and the same communications between AD Gene Smith and Coach Meyer for the same dates for any materials “pertaining to Zach Smith.” On July 25, 2018, these requests were forwarded to Julie Vannatta, Senior Associate General Counsel, who, on July 25th, emailed AD Smith, and Diana Sabau, Senior Associate Athletics Director, and instructed them to retrieve responsive emails and texts from Coach Meyer’s phone. 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. Had Coach Meyer’s phone been examined and processed promptly at that time, we would know definitively that the August 1 article’s revelations had no impact on the evidence we received for July 23rd and dates in 2015. While the absence of prompt and effective follow-up is problematic and frustrating, we want to be clear that we have found no evidence suggesting that Coach Meyer was aware of the records request before we brought it to his attention during the Independent Investigation.”
Meyer did not ‘deliberately lie’ on July 24
The report said it could not conclude that Meyer did not “deliberately lie” at Big Ten Media Days when he said he had no knowledge of the 2015 domestic abuse allegation against Smith. Meyer’s false statement July 24 came after he was advised by athletic director Gene Smith to mention both the 2009 and 2015 accusations of domestic abuse against Zach Smith. Additionally, an Ohio State spokesperson told Meyer to say that he couldn’t recall the details from the 2015 accusation.
The report even went so far as to say that Meyer sometimes takes medication that can impact his ability to remember things.
“We cannot logically square Coach Meyer’s responses on Big Ten Media Days broadly denying knowledge of the 2015 events regarding Zach Smith with his extensive knowledge of those events in 2015 and the evident knowledge of AD Gene Smith of the 2015 events reflected in the group text message of July 23 and July 24, 2018 sent to Coach Meyer. (As noted, AD Smith says that his recollection of the 2015 events was triggered by the social media report on the evening of July 23rd.) In the group text on the morning of July 24th, AD Smith suggested that Coach Meyer should acknowledge in his Big Ten Media Days remarks later that day the events of both 2009 and 2015 without giving details. Coach Meyer did not do so.”
“We accept that in July 2018 Coach Meyer was deeply absorbed in football season and wanted to focus on football at Big Ten Media Days. The firing of Zach Smith the day before – the first time Coach Meyer had fired a coach – was also on his mind, as was the erroneous media report of a felony arrest of Zach Smith in 2015. We also learned during the investigation that Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus. All of these factors also need to be considered and weighed in assessing Coach Meyer’s mindset on July 24th.”
Gene Smith did not know of 2009 abuse allegation
The 2009 domestic abuse allegation against Smith came, per the report, after he came home from a party at the Meyers’ house and told a co-worker to crash on the couch. At the time, Courtney Smith told police that Zach Smith had thrown her into a wall in an altercation after he got home.
Courtney never pressed charges in 2009 and consulted with Smith’s grandfather and Meyer mentor Earle Bruce before making that decision. According to the report, the Meyers doubted the truthfulness of Courtney’s claims. Urban Meyer never told anyone at Ohio State about the allegation including AD Gene Smith.
“Those doubts continued when Courtney accused Zach of domestic violence in 2015, according to the report. Even though Shelley had texted with Courtney about the allegations and had even contacted the police herself, the report states Shelley wasn’t willing to completely believe Courtney.
“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. 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.“
The report also corroborates earlier reports that Zach Smith had a relationship with a former OSU football staffer, took a lewd picture in the White House and had sex toys delivered to the football facility. It also said that Smith went to rehab for an addiction to ADHD medication in 2016.
Zach Smith was also reprimanded by Meyer for spending $600 at a Florida strip club in 2014.
“Coach Meyer became aware of this incident, although he maintains not the amount of the expenditure, and reprimanded Zach Smith, warning him that if it happened again, he would be fired; Coach Meyer also revised the 2014 Coaches’ Manual to include a “morality clause” instructing staff to “[a]void strip clubs or venues that would embarrass The Ohio State University” and prohibiting “pornography . . . on any university issued computer, phone, IPad, etc.” Coach Meyer did not, however, report this incident to Athletic Compliance. We have provided the information obtained by the Independent Investigation of this incident to the Office of University Compliance and Integrity and the Athletic Compliance Office to investigate whether this conduct violated the NCAA legislation. We found no evidence that AD Smith was aware of this incident.”
Zach Smith also had his credit card declined “on at least three to five occasions” when it came to booking things through Ohio state’s travel office. Separately, the report concluded that no one in Ohio State’s athletic department knew of Zach Smith’s 2013 OVI arrest.
Meyer’s justification for firing Smith
Per the report, Meyer said he fired Zach Smith on July 23 after learning of the protection order against him.
“Meyer told us that his primary reason for firing Zach Smith was because he failed to bring both the order of protection and the criminal trespass matters to his attention, and instead Meyer heard about them from news and social media reports; Coach Meyer considered these failures to be violations of the core value of honesty. In addition, Coach Meyer considered the domestic violence civil protection order to be the first actual evidence that Zach Smith had engaged in domestic violence, even though Zach Smith continues to deny it and is contesting the order.”
Meyer told his coaching staff that Zach Smith was dismissed for “core value violation and cumulative issues.” He told assistants to have “zero conversation about Zach’s past issues”
Less than 30 minutes after Meyer sent his staff that message, Shelley Meyer texted him.
“At 7:35 p.m., Shelley Meyer conveyed, in a text to Coach Meyer, that “I am worried about Zach’s response. He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.” Meyer did not respond to the message.”
Report concludes Gene Smith and Meyer should have done more
Ultimately, the report admonished Gene Smith and Meyer for not doing more when it came to reporting accusations against Zach Smith.
Zach Smith, however, did not live up to the Respect for Women core value and other core values. And Coach Meyer and AD Smith did not try to determine whether Courtney Smith might have been right in accusing Zach of domestic violence. They both believed Zach’s denials and relied on law enforcement or court action to rebut those denials. To be sure, as Coach Meyer and AD Smith told us, they do not themselves investigate allegations of wrongdoing; they appropriately leave that to the experts, including law enforcement. But their responsibilities do not end there.
It also noted that Meyer had “an apparent blind spot for Zach Smith seems to have impaired his judgment and his management of the behavior of at least one of his assistants.
There was a consistent theme in our interviews that OSU may wish to consider in assessing the strength of its policies and procedures applicable to potential incidents of domestic violence and potential violations of its sexual misconduct policy. A number of OSU Athletic Department personnel, including but not limited to Coach Meyer and AD Smith, emphasized the critical importance of there being an actual arrest or charge filed or court order issued to determine whether there has been conduct that violates or potentially violates the law or the OSU sexual misconduct policy, necessitating a report to departmental compliance and the University Office of Compliance and Integrity.
It is well-established in the area of domestic violence and sexual abuse that complainants frequently – indeed, in the overwhelming majority of cases – may decide not to come forward or may cease to pursue charges when there has, in fact, been domestic violence or abuse. While current OSU policies and contracts do not require an arrest or formal charge for a violation or potential violation of law or policy to trigger reporting obligations and investigations, a number of the witnesses we spoke to seemed to regard that as a requirement in matters involving law enforcement. Certainly, that appears to be the case here where Coach Meyer and AD Smith believed Zach Smith’s denials in the absence of affirmative law enforcement action on Courtney Smith’s complaints. OSU may wish to review its policies and procedures to make its reporting requirements clearer and to implement appropriate training to reinforce them so that they are better understood and followed in the context of law enforcement investigations and in the absence of legal action. We believe that such clarity and training could enhance OSU’s ability to address claims of domestic violence and sexual misconduct – whether or not reported or pursued by law enforcement – and result in a stronger program to combat sexual abuse and domestic violence.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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