In about the time it takes to get to Dublin — if you’re flying from Boston to Ireland, not if you’re traveling on the 270 outer belt in Columbus – Ohio State’s board of trustees decided on Wednesday that football coach Urban Meyer would be suspended for the first three games of the season and that athletic director Gene Smith would be suspended from Aug. 31-Sept. 16.
Actually, the overall process took much longer than the 12-hour marathon meeting on Wednesday. It started with a two-week investigation in which an independent committee reviewed more than 60,000 emails, 10,000 text messages and talked with more than 40 witnesses, some of them several times as it dug into the question of how domestic violence allegations against recently fired receivers coach Zach Smith were handled by Meyer and the athletic department.
It was a decision that will be applauded by many and criticized by many. But it was the direction that it seemed the investigation was headed all along unless some bombshell was uncovered during the scrutiny of Meyer’s handling of the allegations against Smith.
A release from Ohio State said, “ Although neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an assistant coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes.
“Permitting such misconduct to continue is not consistent with the values of the University and reflects poorly on Coach Meyer, athletic director Smith, and the university. Their handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect of our athletic director, head coach, assistant coaches and all on the football staff. “
Meyer will miss Ohio State’s first three games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU. He will return Sept. 22 when OSU plays Tulane in Ohio Stadium.
Meyer admitted he gave Zach Smith, whose negative behavior reportedly went beyond the domestic abuse allegations, the benefit of the doubt too often.
“I followed my heart, not my head,” Meyer said during a press conference on Wednesday night. “I should have demanded more from him. I should have done more and I’m sorry for that. I wish I’d done more, I wish I’d known more.”
Ohio State president Michael Drake seemed to indicate Meyer’s denial of knowledge of Smith’s domestic violence issues in 2015 at Big Ten media days in July was one of the two biggest reasons for the coach’s suspension.
He spoke first about Meyer failing to “take appropriate management action,” but quickly followed that with a mention of the embarrassment to Ohio State when he “did not uphold the high standards of Ohio State at media day.”
Drake said a wide range of sanctions for Meyer and Gene Smith were considered, including firing them. But in the end the suspensions were deemed the appropriate penalties.
This brings a conclusion of sorts to the question but it would be naive to think this is the end of it.
This situation will follow Ohio State and Meyer the rest of this season and beyond.
Meyer admitted his loyalty to his mentor Earle Bruce, who was Zach Smith’s grandfather, probably made him too lenient with Smith.
You wonder if in private he questioned himself even more. Possibly the most surreal part of the last month was seeing Meyer under fire for seeming to overlook allegations of misdeeds by an assistant coach whose resume was rather thin.
Before that, Meyer always seemed to be someone who always did the smart thing, who always demanded the utmost in discipline and dedication from his players and coaches at Ohio State. But this time he seemed to fall short.
Meyer said he didn’t know about many of the accusations against Smith. “If I had known more I would have taken action,” he said.
But he didn’t. And now he and Ohio State will have some work to do to repair their reputations.