Urban Meyer was rightfully placed on administrative leave by Ohio State on Wednesday.
He could be fired today or tomorrow or next week or possibly not at all, and any of those outcomes might be the right thing to do as well. But it sure looks bad for him.
It’s in his university administration’s hands now. And if a school, whose band is fondly known for always dotting the i at home games, undergoes a thorough investigation that crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s, Meyer might not survive. And shouldn’t, if he condoned the presence of a wife-beater on his staff for years.
The one clear answer is there is no excuse for domestic violence. None.
You don’t hit women. You just don’t.
Domestic violence is and has to be unacceptable, and maybe this ugly episode will glacierly inch us closer to that realization.
The best coach in college football not named Nick Saban may learn that the hard way if it is proved that he knew his wide receivers coach, Zach Smith, had been accused of abusing his now-divorced wife in 2015 but kept him on his staff.
We’re still debating how much Art Briles and Joe Paterno knew and why they didn’t do more. But many think they should have done so much more to stop both the sexual abuse in Waco and the child molestation in Happy Valley, Pa.
Everyone heard Meyer at the Big Ten meetings last month deny there was anything to a story about possible domestic violence in the Smith household in 2015. But thanks to the aggressive reporting of college football writer Brett McMurphy, it’s now known that two police reports were filed in 2015 in Ohio’s Powell County that accused Zach Smith of abuse. It is also important to know that no charges were ever filed, but there’s enough of a pattern that it appears obvious Meyer knowingly tolerated and continued to employ a coach who was accused of abusing his wife as far back as 2009.
But it’s most important to know that Smith’s wife, Courtney, was scared to death.
She was frightened of Smith and the ongoing threat she said he presented. She notified Meyer’s wife, Shelley, of threatening texts she said were from her spouse and pictures of the abuse. She told Shelley — who is also an Ohio State employee as an instructor in the school’s College of Nursing — it was fine and appropriate that she tell Urban of this latest event. And Courtney said she shared this information with other Ohio State assistant coaches’ wives.
That might include Tom Herman’s wife, Michelle, since he was on the OSU staff with Smith as late as 2014, though Herman chose not to specifically address any involvement Thursday during his half-hour press conference on the eve of Texas workouts.
“I really don’t think it would be fair or appropriate, to be honest with you, for me to comment about a situation in another program that happened while I wasn’t there,” Herman said.
When pressed on the matter, Herman said he understood the importance of the issue and that Texas coaches are “trained extensively” about how to react in similar situations, which are specifically spelled out in the school’s Title IX guidelines.
“Through that training, we understand in a supervisory role we have a duty to report” such violations, Herman said. “If something comes across my desk or an assistant coach’s desk, he is very specifically trained as to what to do and how to do it, which is to report it to a supervisor and start it working up the chain of command.”
That’s what Meyer might or might not have done.
This story couldn’t surface at a worse time for Ohio State because a New York Times article reports that more than 100 men have said they were molested by Dr. Richard Strauss, a team doctor and physician at Ohio State from the 1970s to 1990s, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the school. Three lawsuits accuse the school of enabling him of being a sexual predator, not unlike what convicted predator Larry Nassar did at Michigan State.
This will be a cautionary tale for coaches everywhere, but then the situations at Baylor and Penn State should have already accomplished that.
The Houston Astros clearly didn’t get the message when they put winning first this week and traded for a Toronto Blue Jays closer who was suspended 75 games by baseball for domestic violence. Such examples of condoning this type of behavior are becoming all too commonplace.
No one should be mad at Courtney Smith, but some people will be. Some will blame her for trying to bring down one of the top three football programs in the country. Some will accuse her of trying to exploit the situation and bring down a head coach who did nothing.
But that’s part of the problem. Meyer did nothing.
Courtney Smith should be the hero here because she put yet another face on domestic abuse, and that took a lot of courage. She has to be worried about her family, her financial wherewithal, her unclear future, but mostly her safety. That has to be paramount.
At 54, Meyer is at the height of his career. He’s won three national championships. He has plenty of time left to chase Saban’s six titles. He’s done a lot in his outstanding career — one that could be ending because of what he didn’t do. At least off the field.