COLUMBUS, Ohio – A few Hail Mary heaves from the Horseshoe here at the Ohio State University sits Bricker Hall, which provides a grand view of the campus tree-lined Oval and houses the institution’s top administrative offices, including that of president Michael V. Drake.
On Wednesday morning, doors were routinely shut and conversations hushed as administrators tried, like everyone else in this football-obsessed campus, city and state, to figure out what head coach Urban Meyer knew and what he did with it concerning a 2015 domestic abuse allegation against assistant coach Zach Smith.
A once-placid day rocked by a bombshell media report ended with Meyer on paid administrative leave, 39-year-old Ryan Day was the Buckeyes’ interim coach and the school saying it was conducting an investigation into everything.
It was a development as swift as it was stunning. Meyer won 73 games and one national title in six seasons here but very well may have coached his last game in Columbus or anywhere else for that matter.
The investigation should be thorough and comprehensive, although leaving it to Ohio State to conduct invites suspicions of competence.
While every rock should be turned, and every cell phone history examined, there are two key items that should be focused on in a scandal as disturbing as it is confounding.
First, what did Shelley Meyer tell her husband?
Second, if what Courtney Smith told the Stadium is true that “nobody from the university came and asked me my side of the story,” then why wasn’t this incident ever investigated? Because any investigation that doesn’t include, let alone begin with, speaking with the complainant isn’t a real investigation.
And if Ohio State conducted no real or honest investigation the first time, then why should it be trusted to do it this time?
Let’s start with Shelley Meyer.
Urban acknowledges he was aware of Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest for domestic abuse while Zach was working for him at the University of Florida. He said since Courtney dropped the charges he chalked it up to a volatile young couple that needed counseling and kept Zach employed.
Urban said last week he didn’t, however, know about the 2015 incident where Courtney said Zach choked her and threw her against a wall while their then-5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter clung to her legs. Zach was only dismissed from his job late last month because he violated a protective order Courtney, now his ex-wife, placed on him.
“I was never told about anything, anything never came to light, never had a conversation about it, so I know nothing about that,” Meyer said last week of 2015.
Reporting by Brett McMurphy on Wednesday however revealed extensive text messages between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer about the alleged 2015 incident. It included disturbing photos of Courtney’s injuries. Shelley acknowledged seeing the photos, repeatedly expressed concern for Courtney and even declared of Zach that “he scares me.”
Now, can anyone plausibly believe that Shelley Meyer never mentioned this to Urban Meyer? The two are famously close, with Urban calling Shelley his closest confidant and almost a co-head coach of his program. Yet Shelley wouldn’t bring it up, not once in three years? She’d just let him continue to employ someone she believes beats his wife and has photos to prove it?
This wasn’t a fleeting story either. Shelley had counseled Courtney and Zach on their marriage after 2009 and she and Courtney discussed it via text on numerous occasions.
“I told Shelley,” Courtney said in an interview with Stadium. “I sent her some pictures. I spoke to her on the phone. She said she was going to have to tell Urban. I said, ‘That’s fine. You should tell Urban. You can’t have someone like this coaching young men.’ ”
There are further texts between Courtney and Lindsey Voltolini, wife of Ohio State football staffer Brian Voltolini, that suggested that Urban did know and asked Zach Smith about it. That is secondhand information, but damning nonetheless in the court of public opinion.
Perhaps Shelley and the others really did keep it to themselves and thus neither Urban, nor anyone else at Ohio State, was aware of the allegation and couldn’t spark an investigation into it.
Or perhaps Urban was aware of it on some level and just lied last week to the media? If he was aware, how aware was he? And what did he do about it? Did he investigate himself? Did he pass it up the chain of command within the Buckeyes athletic department?
Under terms of his contract, he was obligated to do so. The same is true under Title IX statutes.
If an investigation was “conducted,” either by Meyer or anyone at Ohio State, then what exactly did it entail? This, despite being the least sensational aspect of the case, is actually the most important.
“Nobody from the university came and asked me my side of the story,” Smith told the Stadium. “They know there was an investigation going on, and not once did anyone call me and ask me what happened. That’s a problem, and it needs to change.”
That is seismic problem and it needs more than change.
If Ohio State, at any level, began any kind of investigation but never bothered to even ask the person who said they were abused to provide an initial story, then the entire investigation was either inexcusably incompetent or designed to be nothing but a cover-up.
There is just no way you can “investigate” a domestic abuse situation without getting the aggrieved party’s story. This apparently didn’t boil down into a “she said-he said.” If you believe Lindsey Voltolini, it may have been nothing more than Urban Meyer running a “he-denied-and-we-believe” inquiry.
The idea that such a thing could occur in 2015 on a college campus is part unfathomable and fully unforgivable.
While Meyer remains the biggest name in this story thus far, a real investigation into why Courtney Smith was never spoken to could draw in any number of administrators and staffers, including athletic director Gene Smith.
It’s why Ohio State should hire an outside firm to conduct this investigation, which at least in part centers on how Ohio State does or doesn’t begin or perhaps conduct investigations.
This is all on just day one of a story that shook Columbus to its core. Don’t expect Bricker Hall to be any less tense on Thursday. What comes next could be far worse.
Meyer may be on his way out. It’s quite possible he won’t be alone.
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