Urban Meyer's statement shows how he'll defend himself in OSU investigation

Pete Thamel

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who is on paid leave while the university investigates his knowledge of alleged domestic abuse by a former staff member, released a statement on Friday afternoon that essentially doubles as a roadmap for how he plans to handle the investigation.

In an eight-paragraph statement released via his Twitter page, Meyer claimed he’s “always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures,” pointing out he did so by “elevating the issues to the proper channels.”

After a torrent of bad publicity for 48 hours and many calls in the media for his job, Meyer put forth a carefully crafted statement that apologized for his inaccurate statements at Big Ten media day regarding the alleged 2015 domestic incident by a staff member. Meyer’s wording left a clear message of the statement’s core desire – “I am confident that I took appropriate action….I deeply regret if I have failed in my words.”

Meyer didn’t address some of the specific issues still looming over the situation that led to the school putting him on paid administrative leave on Wednesday evening. Those questions revolve around whether his wife, Shelley, showed him pictures of Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of former Buckeyes assistant Zach Smith, which illustrate the alleged domestic abuse.

Meyer also didn’t go through the timeline of how he was alerted to a domestic issue in 2015 and who he reported it to, which will be central to the university’s decision as to whether he remains coach. Meyer said he plans to address the issue publicly “at the appropriate time,” but has refrained “out of respect for the ongoing inquiry.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, right, and then-assistant coach Zach Smith, left, gesture from the sidelines during a game (AP)
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, right, and then-assistant coach Zach Smith, left, gesture from the sidelines during a game (AP)

But the combination of Meyer’s statement and a pair of interviews by former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith have brought into focus the knowledge and actions of Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. Specifically, Meyer claiming to report through proper channels and Zach Smith acknowledging in interviews with ESPN and 105.7 The Zone in Columbus that Gene Smith called him back from a recruiting trip in Virginia Beach after hearing about the alleged 2015 incident from the Powell (Ohio) Police.

Legal experts saw Meyer’s maneuver in releasing the statement as a potential avenue toward a resolution for Meyer.

“If this scenario is accurate, then Meyer and Ohio State are in a much better position to resolve the matter with some type of mutual acceptance of responsibility and modest penalty or corrective measures,” said Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who frequently deals with colleges and coaches in NCAA issues. “The extent to which Meyer’s written statement is accurate will certainly be at the heart of the investigative panel’s inquiry. In my experience, the scenario is plausible, but the investigative panel must attempt to verify, not just trust.”

Meyer did not specify the reporting protocols, as his contract now explicitly states he must report any issues to a Title IX coordinator. But both Meyer’s statement and Zach Smith’s interviews show that Meyer’s superiors knew about the allegations toward Zach Smith. (He was not charged in the alleged 2015 incident.)

While Smith’s interviews helped Meyer’s factual timeline, Smith came off as scattered and unsympathetic when describing his “volatile” relationship with his wife, including times where he had to “defensively restrain her.” It further underscored a key question in the public sphere: Why did Ohio State keep Smith on staff through the alleged incidents?

Will that matter to the investigative panel, which includes a mix of trustees and outside legal experts? “From a legal analysis of whether Meyer sufficiently fulfilled his policy/contractual obligations, the ‘likability’ of a witness/interviewee shouldn’t matter,” Brown said.

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