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If Urban Meyer knew about OSU coach's alleged domestic violence and did nothing, he deserves to be fired

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Here’s the timeline of the troubling scandal unfolding at Ohio State football and here’s why head coach Urban Meyer’s tenure with the Buckeyes – he was put on administrative leave on Wednesday evening – and coaching career in general are, and should be, in such precarious positions.

In 2015, Courtney Smith, the then-wife of then-Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith, alleges she was physically attacked by her then-husband. She has gruesome and heartbreaking photos to back it up, part of a lengthy abusive relationship, which includes a 2009 arrest of Zach Smith for domestic abuse when he worked for Urban Meyer at the University of Florida.

Despite that 2009 arrest, which did not result in a conviction, Meyer again hired Smith when Meyer became the head coach at OSU.

“We found out what happened, coordinated through both parties, met with them,” Meyer said of the 2009 incident. “There were no charges, everything was dropped. It was a very young couple, and I saw a very talented coach and we moved forward.”

Giving Zach Smith a second (or who knows how high the number) chance was a major personnel risk and, considering the abuse allegedly didn’t stop, a terrible call by Meyer.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer autographs a hat at the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football media days in Chicago. (AP)

Last week, Meyer claimed he knew nothing of the 2015 incident, though. Zach Smith remained on the staff until this summer when he was dismissed from the program, in part because Courtney Smith, who is no longer with Zach Smith, issued a protective order against Zach which brought the issue to light, and in part because the story became public via veteran college football reporter Brett McMurphy.

Still, Meyer threw up his hands and said he couldn’t be responsible for knowing what he didn’t know in 2015.

“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.

He went as far as to cast aspersions on McMurphy’s reporting.

Well, on Wednesday, McMurphy was back with text messages between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife and closest confidant.

It is clear that at least Shelley Meyer knew about the 2015 allegation, which included horrific photos of a bloodied and bruised Courtney Smith. It is also clear that Shelley Meyer took the incident serious enough that on at least one occasion she reached out to Courtney Smith to inquire how she was and offer additional support. Shelley Meyer also confirmed she saw the pictures.

“I am with you!” Shelley Meyer texted. “A lot of women stay hoping it will get better. I don’t blame you! But just want u to be safe. Do you have a restraining order? He scares me.”

“Restraining orders don’t do anything in Ohio,” Courtney Smith texted back. “I tried to get protection order which is what started this whole investigation. And that should go through soon finally. It’s hard [because] you have to prove immediate danger. Legal system is tough. Basically, you have to prove he will kill u to get protective order.”

“Geesh! Even [with] the pics?” Shelley Meyer texted. “Didn’t law enforcement come to your place ever??”

It went on from there. Courtney Smith said numerous wives on the Ohio State staff knew of the 2015 incident where Courtney claimed Zach shoved her against a wall and strangled her all while their then 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter were in the room. Police were called but the incident did not progress to any arrests.

Courtney Smith, in an interview with Stadium, said she also spoke to Shelley Meyer about it.

“I told Shelley,” Courtney said. “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.’ ”

Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes walks off the field alongside his wife Shelley after his team won 45-24 against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Norman, Oklahoma. (Getty)

At this point, the only way for Urban Meyer to claim he knew “nothing” about that is to believe that Shelley did not inform him of this. The two are remarkably close and Urban Meyer has, for years, publicly stated how Shelley is essentially part of his coaching staff and plays a role in managing people, players and families.

If Shelley Meyer didn’t tell Urban though, then the question is why? How could a woman claim Zach Smith “scares her” and offer sympathy for his alleged abuse victim but then not care enough to mention it to Urban Meyer, thus continuing to allow Zach Smith to coach and mentor Buckeyes football players?

It’s why the concept of Shelley saying nothing to Urban is, while possible, so improbable. Shelley Meyer is a strong woman. She is also a registered nurse and an instructor at Ohio State’s College of Nursing and thus is bound by Title IX statutes to report abuse. Urban Meyer, as a coach, is also mandated to report it.

If Urban Meyer knew anything at all about the 2015 incident, then he wasn’t just employing and covering up for an alleged violent abuser. Even last week he was still lying about it.

The first part is enough to question the judgment of the coach, who particularly during his time at Florida recruited and coached numerous troubled players, most notably tight end Aaron Hernandez. That he would still be untruthful and covering up a week ago makes it clear nothing has changed with him.

There would be no way he could remain in his job.

For Urban Meyer, this is bad decisions piled upon bad decisions. Zach Smith was a walk-on for Meyer at his first head coaching job at Bowling Green. He clearly had a soft spot for him. Why is the question. There are thousands of decent and law-abiding coaches who would love to work at Ohio State. The school and its storied football program deserve far better than this, something Urban Meyer at least pays lip service.

“It’s the Ohio State University, it’s bigger than all of us,” Urban said last week. “So you have to do what’s right by them.”

The school addressed the situation in a press release later Wednesday in announcing that Meyer would be put on paid administrative leave as it conducts an investigation.

Meyer also said his piece: “[Athletic director] Gene [Smith] and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion. This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”

While Meyer may want to get back to practice, Ohio State’s investigation will have to be substantial and thorough. His job status is the biggest story in college football. Maybe he’ll keep his job, maybe he won’t.

But the days of taking his word for much of anything are long past.

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