Skip to main content

Where things stand in Ohio State's Urban Meyer investigation

One of the greatest college football coaches of all time has spent the first half of August in solitude as his career hangs in the balance not over any crimes or violations he may have committed, but over the behavior of one of his former assistant coaches and his knowledge there in. Urban Meyer's administrative leave is largely new territory in college football, and the prolonged silence both from him and his employer has made everyone a little bit crazy. With the water now muddier than the bottom of the Ohio River, we'll attempt to provide some clarity to an unclear situation, and we'll do it Q&A style.

How did we get here? On July 23, the first day of Big Ten media days, Brett McMurphy reported on his Facebook page that then-Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith was arrested in 2009 for aggravated assault on a pregnant victim while working under Meyer as a graduate assistant at Florida. Later that day, McMurphy reported Smith was "investigated Oct. 26, 2015 by the Powell (Ohio) Police Department on felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against Courtney Smith."

Ohio State fired Smith less than an hour after McMurphy's second report and Meyer spoke at Big Ten media days, where he gave a truly bizarre performance, claiming he knew nothing of the 2015 incident because, in his words, "there was nothing."

Meyer's answer spurred McMurphy to meet with Courtney Smith, and on Aug. 1 he produced a report showing Shelley Meyer had intimate knowledge of the 2015 incident. He was placed on administrative leave later that day. What was Urban's response to being put on administrative leave? Two days after he was placed on leave, Meyer released his only public comment to date. He contradicted his Big Ten media days statements, saying, "I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media." He also attempted to obliterate any speculation Ohio State could fire him for cause, thus sending him away without the $38 million buyout stipulated by his contract. "While at the University of Florida and The Ohio State University, I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015." Almost immediately after Meyer's statement went live, Smith appeared live on a Columbus sports radio station and later in a taped interview with SportsCenter to deny he was ever charged with a crime, that he ever abused his ex-wife and that Meyer deserved to lose his job for covering up allegations against him. Smith specifically recalled a phone call from Ohio State AD Gene Smith ordering him to return home from a recruiting trip with Meyer in order to address the October 2015 allegations. "(Meyer) looked at me and said, 'I swear to God, Zach, if I find out you hit her, you're done. You're fired,'" Smith said. Just what are the allegations against Smith? Courtney Smith taped an interview with Stadium in which she describes the 2015 incident. "He took me, with his hands around my neck, and shoved me against the wall, something he did very often. My daughter was clinging to my leg. It registered with him what he was doing, so he took my son and left, and I called the police." Perhaps the most damning piece of circumstantial evidence against Zach Smith is this text message, published by McMurphy after Zach's SportsCenter interview on Aug. 3., in which Courtney purportedly recalls two instances of domestic violence and the number associated with Zach says, "I know!!!!... I'm so so sorry!!!!" So who is doing the investigation? Ohio State has appointed former Ohio House speaker Jo Ann Davidson to lead a 6-member "independent working group" to oversee the investigation, which is being conducted by the New York law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. The team includes three members of Ohio State's board of trustees and three outside investigators -- former acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford, former U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart, and Davidson. The Ohio attorney general's office has reportedly given the group a $500,000 budget, which Ohio State is funding. The Buckeyes' season opener is two weeks from Saturday! How long is this whole thing supposed to take? When the investigative panel was announced on Aug. 5, Ohio State said the investigation "is expected to be completed within 14 days." I'm not Albert Einstein, but "within 14 days" means the investigation should be wrapped up by Sunday. Is there anything stopping the investigation from overshooting its self-imposed deadline? No. In fact, school president Michael V. Drake said in a radio interview Friday the two-week deadline is just a "projected goal," not a hard deadline. "[T]he investigation is underway as we speak and it will be finished when it is finished," he said. "The most important thing is to get good information so we can make the right decisions going forward." Have there been any developments since the working group was announced? Courtney Smith met with investigators on Monday. "Today, Courtney Smith met with the independent investigative team hired by The Ohio State University Board of Trustees," her lawyers announced. "She was accompanied by her lawyers and welcomed the opportunity to speak to the investigators. Courtney continues to be thankful for the support she has received during this time." Zach Smith's attorneys announced on Tuesday their client had done the same.

text message

Who's going to make the final call here? Drake, in consultation with Ohio State's board, will make a determination based on the investigation's report.

So what's the feeling here? Is Urban keeping his job or not? Anyone claiming certainty one way or another is selling you something. As of Aug. 7, set the odds at -1500 that Meyer keeps his job, meaning you'd have to bet $1,500 on Meyer to keep his job to win $100. Oddsmakers believe Meyer will be suspended, with the over/under set at 4.5 games.

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 11.28.04 AM

In the absence of hard news, have things gone off the rails? Hoo buddy. We'll try to be as brief as possible, but you're going to want to buckle in.

On Aug. 6, some 200 or so Ohio State fans held a rally outside Ohio Stadium, a group led by a Buckeye superfan known as "Tennessee Jeff." Ezekiel Elliott's father drove in from St. Louis to join the rally. The fans in attendance were most angry at... ESPN and the SEC? It was as if the worst message board you've ever visited had somehow sprung to life.

Aug 6, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Damon Jordan (left) of Hilliard, Ohio supports Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer at a rally held at Ohio Stadium on Monday at The North Rotunda. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-384638 ORIG FILE ID:  20180806_sal_mb3_3978.JPG

Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

In the meantime, Columbus-based writer Jeff Snook has attempted to hammer away at McMurphy's report. On Saturday, Snook claimed to have "confirmed" McMurphy's source was Texas head coach and former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, and that the Hermans are paying Courtney Smith's legal fund. Herman outed Smith because, according to Snook, "Herman was furious after five-star receiver Garrett Wilson committed to Ohio State in April over Texas, sources say. Wilson played at Austin (Texas) Lake Travis High, just miles from the Longhorns’ campus."

However, McMurphy, Tom Herman and Michelle Herman each individually denied the report, though the Hermans acknowledged giving Courtney Smith money.

By far the most perplexing figure in this entire saga is Tina Clay Carano, Courtney Smith's estranged mother. On Saturday, McMurphy reported he had confirmed text messages from Carano to Zach Smith, accusing him of "beating court (sic) because she found u cheating." A Facebook account associated with Carano later commented on McMurphy's report: "I don't remember those conversations. Where is the proof those texts are even on my phone?"

Tina Clay Carano

She also told Snook she's sided with her former son-in-law's version of events.

“When Zach got fired, I was in disbelief that it happened the way it did. I was trying to stay out of it, but I really wanted to come forward and tell the whole story,” Tina Carano said. “I do want to see and have a relationship with my grandchildren someday. But the fact is that Courtney set him up in this whole thing. She was determined to bring him down and she wanted to keep her current boyfriend, who didn’t want Zach around.”

What does any of this have to do with Ohio State's investigation into Meyer's knowledge of the allegations against Zach Smith? Very little.

Are any of us better for having lived through this? Absolutely not.