Ohio State suspends Meyer 3 games, says he protected protege
By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, August 23
COLUMBUS — Ohio State suspended coach Urban Meyer for three games on Wednesday night for mishandling repeated professional and behavioral problems of an assistant coach, with investigators finding Meyer protected his protege for years through domestic violence allegations, a drug problem and poor job performance.
The superstar coach’s treatment of his now-fired assistant was also clouded by his abiding devotion to the legacy of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, the grandfather of former wide receivers coach Zach Smith and an early coaching mentor for Meyer.
“I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt,” Meyer said.
The investigation turned up “a pattern of troubling behavior by Zach Smith: promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cyber-crimes,” according to summary investigative findings released by the university on Wednesday night.
Meyer knew about at least some of the issues.
The report and punishment culminated a two-week investigation of how Meyer reacted to allegations that Smith abused his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. Zach Smith was fired last month after she asked a judge for a protective order.
Courtney Smith alleged her husband shoved her against a wall and put his hands around her neck in 2015. Zach Smith has never been criminally charged with domestic violence. The university put Meyer on paid leave and began investigating after Courtney Smith spoke out publicly, sharing text messages and photos she traded in 2015 with Meyer’s wife, Shelley Meyer. Shelley Meyer is a registered nurse and instructor at Ohio State.
“I followed my heart and not my head,” Meyer said, quickly reading a written statement during a news conference after his punishment was announced. “I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags.”
Investigators said Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith mismanaged Zach Smith’s misconduct and kept him even though he was not an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes. The review found neither Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up alleged abuse, but raised red flags of their own:
— Meyer, the athletic director and others throughout Ohio State thought it wasn’t their place to do anything about allegations against Zach Smith unless law enforcement took more action like making an arrest or filing charges. Investigators called that a widespread misunderstanding of their reporting obligations.
— Meyer responded to Courtney Smith coming forward to a reporter by asking one of his staffers about changing the settings on his phone to delete text messages more than a year old. Investigators didn’t find older messages on Meyer’s phone but couldn’t determine whether he deleted them before or after the media report.
— Meyer and his wife, Shelley, doubted the veracity of Courtney Smith’s allegations of violence and abuse. Urban Meyer called the Smith situation a “he-said, she-said” last month in a text with a former player. He also insisted to investigators he met with Courtney Smith after Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest and that she recanted her original story to authorities. Courtney Smith told investigators she never met with Meyer or recanted any allegations.
— In June 2016 at Meyer’s urging, Zach Smith was admitted to a drug treatment facility for addiction to an unspecified stimulant prescription drug, the report said, adding that Gene Smith was never told about it.
— Zach Smith ran up a big strip club bill in 2014 with a high school coach in Florida and spent $600 in personal funds. Meyer reprimanded Zach Smith but didn’t report the issue to compliance officers or the athletic director. Investigators said they told the NCAA about the incident.
Trustees discussed how to punish Meyer in a marathon meeting of more than 12 hours Wednesday while Meyer waited in the building. Athletic director Gene Smith — who is not related to Zach or Courtney Smith — was suspended without pay from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16.
Both the athletic director and Meyer apologized and said they accepted the punishments, though Meyer said repeatedly that he did not fully know what was happening with the Smiths.
“I should have been aware of it,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he was not aware of the text messages Courtney Smith sent to his wife. When asked if he had a message for Courtney Smith, Meyer said: “I have a message for everyone involved in this: I’m sorry we’re in this situation.”
Meyer, 54, will miss Ohio State’s first three games against Oregon State, Rutgers and No. 16 TCU, though he will be allowed to coach practices leading into the Rutgers and TCU games. Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is serving as acting coach while Meyer is absent.
Meyer insisted as the investigation began he followed proper protocols after learning of the 2015 accusations. But he also acknowledged lying to reporters a week earlier when he said he hadn’t heard of the incident until shortly before he fired Zach Smith.
Investigators found that Meyer was determined to not disclose Zach Smith’s issues to the media and went too far in his denials.
Zach Smith’s attorney Brad Koffel said in a statement to USA Today that Meyer, Ohio State and Gene Smith were “collateral damage” for Courtney Smith’s desire to seek revenge her ex-husband.
“Zach Smith married a woman he should not have married,” Koffel said.
Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor, led the investigation that cost the university $500,000. She said more than 40 witnesses were interviewed, some several times, and more than 60,000 electronic documents were reviewed. Investigators reviewed 10,000 text messages of Meyer’s and text messages and photos provided by Courtney Smith.
Meyer is heading into his seventh season at Ohio State, where he is 73-8 with a national title in 2014 and two Big Ten Conference championships.
His contract was extended in April by two years through 2022, increasing Meyer’s salary to $7.6 million in 2018 with annual 6 percent raises. Meyer has about $38 million left on his contract.
In 2009, Zach Smith was accused of aggravated battery on his pregnant wife while he was working a graduate assistant for Meyer at Florida. The charge was dropped because of insufficient evidence.
The Smiths separated in June 2015 and divorced in 2016.
Meyer is one of the most accomplished coaches in college football history, with three national championships and a 177-31 record in 16 seasons at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, the team he grew up rooting for in Northeast Ohio.
Ohio State began investigating Meyer while also facing three federal lawsuits about its response to allegations of groping, leering and other misconduct by a deceased athletic department doctor who treated wrestlers and other students for two decades. The lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss say Ohio State facilitated the abuse by ignoring complaints.
Since Ohio State announced an independent investigation in April, more than 100 former students have come forward with accounts of sexual misconduct by Strauss. The allegations range from 1979 to 1997 and involve male athletes from 14 sports, as well as his work at the student health center and his off-campus medical office.
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Ohio State probe shows Meyer allowed bad behavior for years
By MITCH STACY
AP Sports Writer
Friday, August 24
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Urban Meyer may have weathered scandal at Ohio State, but not without a lasting stain as an exhaustive report detailed behavior that could easily have taken down a coach of lesser stature.
The investigation released soon after Meyer answered questions from reporters about his suspension Wednesday night showed that he tolerated bad behavior for years from assistant coach Zach Smith, including domestic-violence accusations, drug addiction, lies and other acts that directly clash with the values Meyer touts publicly.
The findings represent a new turn in the saga , showing how the superstar coach — who preaches “core values” like honesty, treating women with respect and not using drugs or stealing — failed to live up to those ideals when handling several issues squarely within his control while dealing with the grandson of legendary Ohio State coach Earle Bruce.
Ohio State issued Meyer a relatively light three game suspension — granting enough leeway to still let him prep the Buckeyes for two games. He will also lose six weeks of salary in a year he’s slated to earn $7.6 million under a deal that runs through 2022.
“Do I think 73-8 (Meyer’s record at Ohio State) had something to do with it?” former UCLA coach and CBS analysts Rick Neuheisel said of Meyer’s punishment. “The answer is yes. The answer is absolutely.”
“The rules are not the same for everybody. That’s no secret. The fact that Urban has been so good in terms of win-loss over the years certainly played in.”
Meanwhile, his football team was back at practice without him on Thursday, preparing for the opener against Oregon State on Sept. 1. Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day will continue to coach the team during Meyer’s absence.
An Ohio State spokesman on Thursday declined to expand on the contents of investigative report, referring The Associated Press back to comments made by Meyer and others at the news conference Wednesday night.
Smith has denied being aggressive with his ex-wife. His attorney said Wednesday that Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith were “collateral damage” from Courtney Smith’s desire to hurt her ex-husband. Courtney Smith’s attorney did not comment on Thursday as Ohio State’s decision reverberated through the sports world.
“I knew (firing) wasn’t going to happen because it’s too big of a program, and he’s too much of a high-profile coach,” Ohio State student Justin Johnson said Thursday. “So I knew he wasn’t going to get fired and I knew that they weren’t going to keep him off the field for too long.”
For some, the punishment won’t be enough.
“He is so influential and so many people listen and adore him, and for the fact that he’s just like sliding it off and focusing on the football team and his career is kind of selfish,” Ohio State student Natalie Sanchez-Carrillo said.
Meyer, 54, kept his job through the bizarre chapter but likely will never be the same — or be considered in the same way.
Ohio State’s report found Meyer “went too far” in allowing Smith to remain on the staff for so long, without explicitly covering up or condoning any of Smith’s misconduct.
The report details some of the missteps:
— Meyer and his wife Shelley clearly didn’t believe Zach Smith had committed domestic abuse against his now-ex-wife Courtney. Despite an incident in 2009 that resulted in Zach Smith’s arrest, and another accusation in October 2015 and a recurring investigation by police, Meyer gave his protege the benefit of the doubt. The report suggests Shelley Meyer, who swapped text messages with Courtney Smith after the 2015 accusation, “had doubts about the veracity of Courtney Smith’s allegations” and for that reason didn’t share it with her husband. Courtney Smith said Zach Smith put his hands around her neck and shoved her against a wall, which he denies. He was never charged.
— Because Smith wasn’t arrested for domestic violence in 2015, neither Meyer nor athletic director Gene Smith believed they were obligated to report it to university officials. Gene Smith was suspended for two weeks for his role in the handling of Zach Smith. Meyer said he regrets it and insisted he’s “a different person now.”
“My awareness of domestic violence and how serious it is whenever you hear that kind of accusation, absolutely has grown,” he said during the Wednesday night press conference to announce his suspension. “I will be very cautious.”
— Meyer became aware that Zach Smith had visited a Miami strip club with at least one other Ohio State football coach and high school coach during a recruiting trip in May 2014, spending $600 of his own money. Meyer reprimanded and warned Smith not to do it again. It also led to the addition of the morality clause in the Ohio State coaching manual. But Smith kept his job.
— Meyer knew Smith was regularly late to practice and workouts during his divorce proceedings and failed to appear for scheduled recruiting visits. Meyer issued a warning. Gene Smith suggested replacing the young receivers coach, but Meyer refused. In June 2016, Meyer urged Zach Smith to get treatment for an addiction to a prescription stimulant but didn’t tell the athletic director about it.
— While the report stops short of saying Meyer lied when asked about his knowledge of the 2015 domestic abuse allegations against Zach Smith, the report found that he intentionally misled reporters about what he knew, and talked to a staff member about possibly deleting some text messages from his phone. He told investigators he had no memory of being told about the 2015 events, even though Gene Smith sent him a text about how to handle questions about it.
“Although it is a close question and we cannot rule out that Coach Meyer was intentionally misleading in his answers, we do not ultimately find that he was,” the report concluded. “He clearly misspoke and made misstatements, but the reasons that happened are complex.”
Those reasons, according to the report, included “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.”
Associated Press reporter Angie Wang contributed to this report.
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Meyer’s texts raise open records question for Ohio State
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS and JIM VERTUNO
Monday, August 27
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Any attempt by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to eliminate work-related text messages on his university-issued phone to hide information would be illegal, open records experts said following a two-week investigation into his handling of domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach.
Ohio State suspended Meyer for three games after investigators concluded he mishandled Zach Smith’s repeated professional and behavioral problems and instead protected his protege for years through domestic violence allegations, a drug problem and poor job performance. Among the many questions raised by the investigation into the highly successful coach of the fifth-ranked Buckeyes was how he responded when the story broke.
On Aug. 1, investigators say, Meyer and the team’s director of operations discussed ways to change the settings on his phone to eliminate messages older than a year. The discussion came the same day a story said Smith’s then-wife had shared allegations of domestic violence with Meyer’s wife, Shelley Meyer, via texts.
“A bad article,” Brian Voltolini, director of football operations, told Meyer on the practice field, according to investigators.
Courtney Smith alleged her husband attacked her in 2015. Zach Smith has never been criminally charged with domestic violence. The university put Meyer on paid leave and began investigating after Courtney Smith spoke out publicly, sharing text messages and photos she traded in 2015 with Shelley Meyer, who is a registered nurse and instructor at Ohio State. Zach Smith was fired last month after his ex-wife asked a judge for a protective order.
When the university obtained Meyer’s phone on Aug. 2, it was set to only retain texts within a year. Investigators said they couldn’t determine if that setting was made in response to the breaking news story.
“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 said, referring to Meyer.
The latest university records retention policy doesn’t single out text messages. A category covering “transient” records includes telephone messages, some emails, drafts and other documents that “serve to convey information of a temporary value, have a very short lived administrative, legal and/or fiscal value.”
Those should be disposed of once their “administrative, legal or fiscal use has expired,” but no fixed time is allotted. It could be “as short as a few hours and could be as long as several days or weeks,” the 2016 policy says.
As murky as the policy seems, Fred Gittes, a veteran open records lawyer in Columbus, said any elimination of texts on Meyer’s university-issued phone related to his coaching responsibility would break Ohio’s open records law. He also noted that a lack of older text messages would make it difficult to determine whether NCAA recruiting rules were violated.
Open records advocate Dennis Hetzel questioned why investigators didn’t do more to track down any older messages.
“What happened to these text messages seems like a pretty big thing to ignore or not pay a lot of attention to,” said Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio News Media Association.
Tom Mars, an attorney who pried phone records out of the University of Mississippi in a lawsuit on behalf of former Rebels coach Houston Nutt in 2017, questioned why Ohio State couldn’t determine if Meyer deleted text messages from his university phone.
“If you can get possession of the phone, with the right software, the right forensic expert, you can retrieve everything the user thought was deleted,” Mars said.
He added: “I have a lot of respect for the people who oversaw that investigation, but I think they owe the public an explanation why they weren’t able to recover deleted text messages, assuming they made that effort.”
Nutt himself had more than 1,000 text messages exposed by a public records request in 2007 when he was the coach at Arkansas. His lawyer pulled phone records from former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in a lawsuit Nutt filed against the school. The records revealed a one-minute call to an escort service and led to an internal investigation that resulted in Freeze’s resignation.
While smartphone technology can create a trove of public records, it also allows someone to try to hide them with a simple keystroke or reset, said Adam Marshall, litigation attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“The issue of retaining, searching and producing text messages and other records is a huge problem across the nation when it comes to implementation of public records law,” Marshall said.
A public entity such as a major university like should be able to easily create policies and programs to hold on to text messages for extended periods, he added.
The investigation was led by Mary Jo White, an attorney and former chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The investigative team said the “lack of clarity” surrounding Meyer’s text messages was compounded by the university’s failure to promptly respond to two open records requests by the student newspaper, the Lantern, on July 25.
The newspaper asked for emails and text messages and call histories between Meyer and Zach Smith from July 18-July 24, 2018, and between Oct. 25, 2015 and Dec. 1, 2015. The paper asked for the same communications between athletic director Gene Smith — no relation to Zach Smith — and Meyer for the same time period for any materials “pertaining to Zach Smith.”
Although top Ohio State lawyers and athletic officials were aware of this records’ request, “no one appears to have actually checked Coach Meyer’s phone or even approached him about the requests,” the investigation found.
The Associated Press made a request for similar information on Aug. 2; the university has yet to respond.
Jo Potuto, a former chairwoman of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions and a law professor at Nebraska, said a distinct protocol should be in place for retaining records.
“You don’t want to be in a situation as an employer that there is such a heavy level of suspicion as to how you’re doing your job that you have to retain records going back forever,” she said. “On the other hand, I do believe strongly a university should have policies that if an investigation or the start of an inquiry is being triggered, then there should be a policy that nobody should be erasing texts from that point forward.”
Vertuno reported from Austin, Texas. AP Sports Writer Eric Olson also contributed to this report.
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VIEWS: THEIR VIEW
Column: Urban Liar is a perfect symbol for college athletics
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Columnist
Saturday, August 25
In less than a month, Urban Liar will be back on the job.
Never mind the deceiving, the conniving, the covering up.
Coach Liar (you might know him as Meyer, but let’s stick to a more suitable moniker) will return to the Ohio State sideline not much poorer for his troubles, with nothing to stop him from reclaiming his swagger before the leaves change colors.
Such is the state of college athletics.
Coach Liar is really the perfect symbol for the scoundrels and grifters that make it such a cesspool.
Of course, he had no business keeping his job as the Buckeyes football coach, not after he spent the better part of the past decade hiding, denying, ignoring and justifying the horrific behavior of assistant coach Zach Smith.
Now, if Coach Liar had pawned off a pair of pricey Jordans, or taken a little money for selling the signature of his very own name, or gotten a sweet deal on some tattoos, he surely would’ve faced the wrath of the Barney Fifes over at the NCAA. Then again, he isn’t likely to stoop to such levels since he actually gets paid to do his job.
The first of those aforementioned offenses got a bunch of North Carolina football players suspended for up to four games this season. The second happened back in 2014, resulting in a four-game suspension for former Georgia running back Todd Gurley. But Tattoogate is what takes the hypocrisy to a whole new level, especially since it also involved Ohio State.
Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four of his teammates had to sit out the first five games of the 2011 season for, among other things, receiving discounts on the ink jobs they got from a local parlor.
That’s right. In the world of college athletes, cut-rate tattoos are a more serious offense — two games more serious, to be exact — than a head coach looking the other way when faced with at least two allegations of an assistant beating up his wife, not to mention a whole range of disturbing acts that should’ve cost Smith his job.
To recap, there was an arrest for drunken driving, a recruiting trip to the strip club, failing to pay bills on time, showing up late for work or not at all, having an extramarital affair with a school secretary, checking into drug rehab, and taking sexually explicit photos of himself at the White House during a team visit.
Employee of the Year, Smith was not.
Still, Coach Liar saw no reason to dole out a pink slip until about a month ago , when it was inconveniently revealed on social media that Smith was accused of violating a protective order taken out by his now ex-wife. Also coming to light was Courtney Smith saying she was abused by Zach in 2015 — allegations that she had shared with Coach Liar’s wife, Shelley.
But The Ohio State University, leaving no doubt that winning championships trumps all of Coach Liar’s failings as a supposed leader of young men, decided that a worthy punishment would be to sit out the first three games of the season , thereby allowing him to return in plenty of time to lead the Buckeyes to another Big Ten title.
Coach Liar also was ordered to forfeit six weeks in salary, which we figure will cost him roughly $876,000. Ol’ Urban should be able to absorb the financial blow without much scrimping since he’ll still collect more than $6.7 million this year.
“The suspensions are tough, but I fully accept them,” said Coach Liar, sounding very much like a guy who knows he got away with the crime.
While Zach Smith was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing, Shelley was so concerned about how he would respond to finally being fired that she sent this text to her husband: “He drinks a lot and I am not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.”
What was Coach Liar’s response to such an alarming message?
He didn’t even bother getting back to his wife, much less take any steps to help ensure Courtney Smith’s safety.
And Coach Liar certainly didn’t have to fret at all about the MIAs over at the NCAA because they’re too busy trying to root out any side hustles attempted by those indentured servants they call student-athletes.
He did have to respond when asked at Big Ten Media Days whether he knew about the 2015 allegations. True to form, he breezed right past the truth and went with the flat-out lie. Furthermore, he may have taken steps to wipe out any text messages older than a year from his cellphone, just to cover his tracks a little more.
Not wanting to cook its golden goose, Ohio State looked at that overwhelming body of evidence and decided three games on the sideline was a fitting punishment. If Bernie Madoff had faced these guys, he would’ve been judged a petty thief.
In fairness, Coach Liar and Ohio State are simply playing an end game that works so well in college athletics.
Call it the Three A’s.
- Admit (to mistakes in judgment).
- Apologize (profusely, if possible).
- Accept (a slap on the wrist that causes no real damage).
Then, tell everyone it’s time to move on.
“We have a valuable lesson that we’ve learned,” said athletic director Gene Smith, who also received a laughingly brief suspension. “We’re going to move forward. And we’re going to be stronger for it.”
They know it won’t be long before we’re moving on to the next scandal.
They know college athletics is nothing more that lather, rinse, repeat.
Just make sure to leave all the dirt.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberryap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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