While Urban Meyer released his first statement since being placed on paid administrative leave and Zach Smith gave his first public interviews since being fired on Friday, there are still several questions that remain as Ohio State’s investigation enters its first full business week.
Meyer addressed one of the biggest questions in his statement, in which he said that he has “always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when (he has) learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels,” and “did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.” He also apologized for how he handled questions regarding that incident at Big Ten Media Days on July 24, when he said he “was never told about anything” and “never had a conversation about” the domestic abuse allegations made against Smith in 2015.
Ohio State addressed one of the other big remaining questions on Sunday night, when it announced that it expects the investigation to be completed within 14 days, meaning the Buckeyes should know whether Meyer will or will not continue to be their football coach about two weeks before their season opener against Oregon State on Sept. 1.
But while Meyer said in his statement he is “confident that (he) took appropriate action,” questions still remain about why he said what he said in Chicago, whether he handled the situation the right way and whether any other members of Ohio State’s athletic department will ultimately be implicated in the investigation.
Why did Meyer say he was unaware of what happened in 2015 at Big Ten Media Days?
Now that Meyer says he did report what he learned about the 2015 incident, in a statement that came two days after he was placed on paid administrative leave and after a pair of interviews by Courtney Smith (with Brett McMurphy and with Stadium) that suggested Meyer was aware of the allegations she made against her ex-husband, the question remains of why he claimed to have no knowledge of the 2015 incident during multiple interview sessions at Big Ten Media Days.
Meyer said in his statement that his “intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading,” but that he “was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media.” That, however, doesn’t quite explain why he said entirely unaware of a situation that he now says he was aware of nearly three years ago.
One theory, as Zach Smith himself suggested during his interviews on Friday, is that Meyer might have said he was unaware because it was initially reported that Zach was arrested for felonious domestic assault in 2015, which he was not.
“When I heard that he had said that, my initial response was that he was reacting to the storyline that was put out there that I was arrested on felonious domestic abuse, which never happened,” Zach told 105.7 The Zone. “I think to him, it was like, ‘What? He got arrested for a felony? I didn’t know about that,’ because I didn’t. That never happened. And so the only thing that I can come up with is that when he heard that, he knew that he knew nothing about me getting arrested for some felony. Plenty of people knew about the allegation that was brought to the Powell Police.”
Until Meyer directly explains why he answered the questions about the 2015 allegations the way he did, however, this question will continue to persist.
He most likely won’t do so publicly until after Ohio State’s investigation has concluded, but if he is reinstated as the Buckeyes’ football coach, it is certainly a question he will have to answer the next time he faces the media.
If Meyer reported what he was required to report, could he lose his job for how he otherwise handled the situation?
Before Friday afternoon, the biggest question surrounding Meyer was whether he knew about the 2015 allegations against Zach Smith and whether he reported them through the required channels – because if he hadn’t, Ohio State could have potentially had grounds to terminate his employment with cause.
Per an addendum added to Meyer’s contract in April (which has become standard language in all Ohio State coaches’ contracts), Meyer is required to "promptly report to Ohio State's Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Athletics any known violations of Ohio State's Sexual Misconduct Policy (including, but not limited to, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking) that involve any student, faculty, or staff that is in connection with a university sponsored activity or event.”
Legally and contractually, Meyer fulfilled his responsibilities if he in fact reported any potential Sexual Misconduct Policy violations that he was aware of. But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll keep his job.
Ohio State could still opt to fire Meyer without cause (though it would still owe him more than $38 million in buyout money in that case), or negotiate a settlement with Meyer in which he agrees to resign, if it determines he erred in his decision to hire Smith in 2012 – as Meyer already said at Big Ten Media Days that he was aware of allegations made against Smith while both were at Florida in 2009 – and/or in keeping him on staff after initially learning of the allegations in 2015. Meyer’s reputation of running a far cleaner program at Ohio State than he had at Florida might never be the same after the past two weeks, and that could be enough to compel the university to move on.
If Ohio State reinstates Meyer, it could still opt to discipline him in some way, potentially including a suspension or requiring him to make a formal apology in some form. When Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre was investigated in 2017 for how he handled domestic violence allegations against a former assistant coach, he kept his job but was required to donate $100,000 to domestic violence awareness and received a letter of reprimand (h/t Cleveland.com’s Tim Bielik).
Will Gene Smith, or anyone else at Ohio State, be implicated in the investigation?
While Meyer’s statement that he reported what he knew about the allegations against Zach Smith, if found to be true, could ultimately keep him from being fired, it also leads to questions of whether the people he would have reported those allegations to did what they were supposed to do.
Zach said in his interview with 105.7 The Zone on Friday that he actually learned about the allegations Courtney made against him in 2015 from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, indicating that Gene was also aware of the allegations. Gene has yet to comment publicly since the investigation was announced, so it remains unknown whether he was also aware of the allegations made against Zach in 2009, and unclear how he handled what he knew about the allegations beyond his communication with Zach. He too, though, will now have to answer questions about why Zach remained employed for nearly three years after the 2015 allegations, and whether he should have done more.
Gene will surely be interviewed as part of the investigation into Meyer – regardless of whether his own conduct becomes a subject of the investigation – and others who could also face questions include Ohio State’s other football coaches and staff, other members of Ohio State’s administration and Meyer’s wife, Shelley.
Courtney Smith told McMurphy that “all the (coaches) wives knew” about the domestic abuse allegations she made against Zach, which means that some of Ohio State’s other assistant football coaches might have been aware of the allegations, too. As of now, there’s no direct evidence that any of them did, and if they did, it’s uncertain whether they reported them or whether they even had the same reporting responsibilities as Meyer. Still, it’s likely that the investigative team will seek to interview all of the coaches who worked alongside Smith as part of the investigation.
Anyone involved in Ohio State’s reporting process for potential Title IX or Sexual Misconduct Policy violations is probably likely to be questioned, too, to determine whether they followed the proper course of action in dealing with the allegations against Zach. Associate athletic director Janine Oman, who serves as Ohio State’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Athletics, could be interviewed as well as Kellie Brennan, Ohio State’s primary Title IX Coordinator.
Shelley Meyer, meanwhile, also faces potential questions about what she knew and whether she reported it because of her position as an instructor at Ohio State’s College of Nursing, through which she might have also bore responsibility to report anything she knew about the allegations to comply with Title IX guidelines. Shelley has also not yet commented publicly since the investigation began, so it is unclear what she knew and whether she reported it. Courtney Smith told McMurphy that “she and Shelley often discussed Zach’s domestic violence,” but Courtney also told Stadium that she believed “Shelley did everything she could” to help her.
In its first three statements regarding the investigation, Ohio State has only named Urban Meyer as a subject of its investigation, so as of now, there’s been no indication that anyone else’s jobs are on the line. That could certainly change, however, as the investigation progresses if the investigative team finds that any other university employees did not follow required protocol or otherwise did not act as he or she should have in dealing with the allegations made against Zach.