Ohio State’s decision on Wednesday to suspend Urban Meyer for three games, despite finding that he engaged in multiple types of misconduct that would have justified firing him with cause, reflected a calculated choice. It is a choice that could pose far-reaching implications for the school.
As revealed in Wednesday night’s press conference and in the accompanying investigative report, Meyer erred in several ways, including as follows:
Meyer failed to inform athletic director Gene Smith of Zach Smith’s problematic history when Ohio State hired Zach Smith in 2012 as wide receivers coach. Zach Smith was on Meyer’s Florida coaching staff from 2005 to ’09. In the press conference, Gene Smith observed that a pre-employment background check on Zach Smith failed to reveal that in ’09 Zach Smith was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim (the victim was Smith’s then-wife, Courtney Smith). Gene Smith was unaware of that important fact when he agreed to hire Zach Smith. Meyer, however, was well aware of this information. Yet Meyer omitted mention of it to Gene Smith in discussions about Zach Smith’s hiring. Stated differently, the limitations of a background check on Zach Smith should not have kept crucial knowledge away from Gene Smith—Meyer should have been simply been more forthcoming with Gene Smith, his superior.
Meyer appears to have breached the language, or at least failed to live up to the intended spirt, of the university’s sexual misconduct policy. The policy compels reporting on a range of violent and otherwise inappropriate acts that are based on sex or gender. The policy refers to “sexual misconduct” as including conduct that is non-consensual or that “has the purpose or effect of threatening, intimidating, or coercing a person.” It goes further to compel disclosure of any information “that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a sexual assault may have occurred involving anyone covered under this policy.” There is relevant ambiguity. The report acknowledges that some university employees have been under the impression that an arrest or formal charge is necessary to trigger a reporting obligation—and thus Meyer might have had an honest misunderstanding of the policy. In addition, the report indicates that there was no mandatory reporting of domestic abuse, so long as the abuse did not involve sexual violence or sexual assault, until August 2016. Back in 2015, Meyer failed to adequately report his knowledge of law enforcement investigating Smith—whom Meyer directly supervised—for assault, domestic violence and stalking. Meyer appeared to communicate some or all of what he knew to Gene Smith, but both Meyer and Gene Smith were technically obligated to inform university compliance officials of acts that could be interpreted as violating the sexual misconduct policy, and they failed to do so. The fact that Zach Smith ultimately wasn’t charged with a crime didn’t extinguish any responsibility of Meyer to adhere to his university obligation to report a possible sexual misconduct involving a subordinate.
Meyer was untruthful and deceptive during Big Ten media day on July 24, 2018. During his press conference Meyer deflected questions about his knowledge of Zach Smith’s past, downplaying the allegations, feigning ignorance and attempting to obfuscate with statements like “what was reported wasn’t actually what happened.” Although the investigative report curiously concludes that Meyer did not “deliberately lie” it nonetheless acknowledges that he “clearly misspoke and made misstatements.”
Meyer appeared to engage in spoliation of evidence. The report notes that investigators reviewed “10,000 pages of Coach Meyer’s text messages from the past year” yet saw no messages older than one year. The report also contains an account of how Meyer and associate athletic director Brian Voltolini reacted to Brett McMurphy’s damning report on August 1 of text messages between Courtney Smith and Meyer’s wife, Shelley Meyer, and the inference that both he and Meyer were well aware of the 2015 incident. As the report makes clear, Meyer and Voltolini conspired to delete old texts on Meyer’s phone by adjusting the settings on Meyer’s phone so as to delete messages older than one year, out of concern that media could obtain access to Meyer’s phone. This is consistent with the fact that even if Meyer owned the phone, certain information on the phone could have been vulnerable to a public records request given that Meyer’s employment at a public university. This would be especially true of texts that concerned a public matter, such as whether an employee complied with reporting obligations under a public university’s sexual misconduct policy. In deleting old texts related to a public matter, it’s possible that Meyer failed to follow Ohio State’s record preservation policy. Meyer could have had other, and perhaps more valuable, reasons to delete old texts. Most notably, by deleting the texts, Meyer prevented his employer from gaining information that could have been used to justify firing him with cause. In short, Ohio State leadership had several grounds to construe Meyer deleting old texts as contravening his employment duties.
Meyer’s employment contract, which is set to pay him more than $38 million over the next five years, contains a lengthy termination provision. It authorizes the university to fire Meyer for “for cause”—a classification that would relieve the school of the obligation to pay him—on several grounds implicated by the Zach Smith controversy. Those grounds include Meyer: violating any university rule; engaging in fraud or dishonesty; failing to adhere to reporting obligations and neglecting to personally comport himself in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and with the moral, ethical and academic standards set by the university. Given the university’s findings, any of those conditions could have been invoked by the school to justify firing Meyer with cause. CONTINUE READING, By MICHAEL MCCANN, SI.com
Ohio State on Wednesday night suspended head football coach Urban Meyer for the first three games of this season after a two-week investigation found that he mishandled domestic assault allegations made against former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith and misrepresented what he knew about the situation in a public statement in July.
Meyer was suspended without pay and banned from interacting with the football team through Sept. 2. He can rejoin the team at that point, but he will not be able to coach in games against Oregon State, Rutgers and No. 16 TCU. CONTINUE READING, By Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
In the hours after Ohio State announced that football coach Urban Meyer would be suspended three games for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the school also released a 23-page report detailing the findings of its investigation.
Here are a few of the most significant takeaways, excerpts and findings from that investigation, which was led by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.
The report found that both Urban and Shelley Meyer “had doubts about the credibility of Courtney’s (2015) claims, based on, among other things, Zach Smith’s denials and their belief that Courtney Smith’s 2009 allegations had been false.”
(Zach Smith was arrested in Florida in 2009 for allegedly throwing Courtney Smith up against a wall, but she later declined to press charges.)
In a text message to former Ohio State linebacker Stan White after Zach Smith’s firing, Urban Meyer described it as a “he said she said” situation.
CONTINUE READING, By Tom Schad, USA TODAY