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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Urban Meyer is suspended three games without pay but will return to his position as the head football coach at Ohio State. The university put Meyer on paid leave on Aug. 1 to investigate his knowledge of domestic abuse allegations against Zach Smith, a former Buckeye assistant coach.
Ohio State president Michael V. Drake deliberated with the school’s Board of Trustees in an executive session on Wednesday and concluded that Meyer would be suspended but would keep his job. The decision comes after a thorough two-week investigation, which concluded on Sunday.
The three games Meyer will miss are at home against Oregon State and Rutgers, and a neutral-site game against TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Meyer may not interact with the Ohio State football team until Sept. 3, when he will be allowed to participate in practice.
Meyer read from a prepared statement at a news conference announcing the decision.
“I am fully aware that I am ultimately responsible for this situation that has harmed the university as a whole and the department of athletics and our football program and Buckeye Nation. I followed my heart and not my head. 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.
“I did a poor job at media day. That’s a big reason why we’re here today. I was not being as complete or accurate as I should have been at media day and afterward. But there was no intent to mislead. My role is to set a good example and in this instance I did not live up to the university’s standards.”
Athletic director Gene Smith is suspended without pay from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16.
Meyer’s paid leave started on Aug. 1, the same day that college football reporter Brett McMurphy released a report on Facebook that detailed domestic allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. The story intimated there was widespread knowledge around the Ohio State program of the allegations, including text messages from Courtney Smith, Zach’s now ex-wife, to Meyer’s wife.
The prior week at Big Ten Media Day, Meyer had denied any knowledge of the allegation by infamously saying, “I don’t know who creates a story like that.” He later apologized for not being accurate in his media day statements, saying he’d “failed,” and declared that he’d always followed proper protocols. (Zach Smith said in multiple interviews that Gene Smith had knowledge of the allegations.)
When asked Wednesday if he was deserving of the punishment, Meyer said, “I trust and support our president.”
The six-person working group that investigated Meyer included officials from inside and outside the university. The lead investigator was Mary Jo White, who is known in sporting circles for her work in the NFL on cases involving Ezekiel Elliott and the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
From a purely football perspective, the decision stabilizes a Buckeye program that had been run for the past three weeks by co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day. Ohio State has a top-five team that has practiced all of camp without Meyer. The Buckeyes are again expected to contend for both the Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. They also have 15 commitments in a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks in the top 15 in the country. None of those players publicly de-committed from the Buckeyes during Meyer’s paid leave.
Meyer is regarded as one of the top coaches in the history of college football. He has won three national titles, gone 73-8 in seven seasons at Ohio State and re-established Ohio State as one of the elite programs in college football. Only once in 17 seasons has he lost more than three regular-season games and he is 6-0 against Michigan, the Buckeyes’ top rival.
Meyer’s winning has made him popular in Columbus, although there had been few significant outward expressions at the school or in the community in favor or against his return. The campus community appeared to take a wait-and-see attitude, as it wanted to hear the fact set before taking a stand with conviction.
The decision comes amid a difficult backdrop at the university. There’s a searing scandal regarding a former team doctor, Richard Strauss, who has been accused of molesting hundreds of former students. The federal government is looking into how Ohio State handled the situation. (Strauss killed himself in 2005.) There’s a scandal in the diving club, which put the head coach on leave in July after a former assistant coach was accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenage diver. In June, Ohio State closed its Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit amid complaints that it mishandled multiple cases. The university announced the creation of a new center on Tuesday.
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