Urban Meyer stood at the podium, hands on either side of the glass perimeter around the mic as he addressed his three-game suspension.
His left hand twitched almost the entire time, and he rarely looked up from the prepared statement laid out before him. When he returned to his seat to answer questions from the press, he seemed out of focus, repeatedly requiring the questions to be asked again.
Ohio State’s head football coach had been at the Longaberger Alumni House for nearly 11 hours, and the outcome of the investigation into his knowledge of domestic abuse by his former assistant coach did not seem to be something he favored.
“I trust and support our president,” Meyer responded when asked if he agreed with the suspension.
His appearance at the press conference could be interpreted differently by many. Some might say he seemed tired. Some would say angry. Some might even say nervous.
One thing Meyer certainly was not: remorseful.
Throughout the press conference, Meyer avoided uttering the name of Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of his former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. And then he was asked if he had a message for Courtney specifically.
“Well, I have a message for everyone involved in this. I’m sorry we’re in this situation,” Meyer said. “And I’m just sorry we’re in this situation.”
Meyer’s seemingly nervous tics and apparent lack of focus might be open for interpretation, but less so are the messages he sent by not mentioning Courtney by name and the findings in the investigative report.
The “summary of findings,” released by Ohio State after the press conference on Wednesday, found Meyer frequently sided with his former coach than with his coach’s wife.
The first instance of this came in 2009 when Zach Smith was arrested for allegedly throwing his wife into a wall when he brought a female co-worker home to sleep on the couch after a party. Courtney Smith decided not to pursue charges.
The report said in 2009 that both Meyer and his wife, Shelley, “took away from the 2009 events that Courtney Smith was not being entirely truthful when she called 911 to have Zach arrested.”
Then, between 2015 and 2016, the report said the Powell Police Department and the Delaware County prosecutor conducted an investigation into domestic abuse allegations against Zach Smith. The report said the university’s then-Title IX deputy coordinator for athletics told athletic director Gene Smith and Meyer about the investigation, to which Meyer and Gene Smith responded by telling Zach Smith that if he ever hit Courtney or if he is charged, he would be fired.
But Courtney Smith brought the allegations to Shelley Meyer over text message. Shelley and Urban Meyer both said she never showed him the messages, but the report said “given the closeness of their relationship and Shelley’s concerns,” the group believed it was likely the two discussed the messages.
The day Zach Smith was fired, at 7:35 p.m. on July 23, Shelley sent a text to Urban Meyer saying she was “worried about Zach’s response,” the report said.
“He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already,” she said to Urban Meyer in the text, to which he did not respond.
In its conclusion, the summary said that both Meyer and Smith “believed in good faith that they did not have sufficient information to trigger any reporting obligation,” the pair “viewed the issue too narrowly through the lens of law enforcement.”
“Both should have made some report of Zach Smith’s potential violation of the domestic violence laws, which was the subject of the law enforcement investigation they came to know about in late October 2015,” the findings said. “Such reports would have been made to the Athletic Compliance Office and, for AD Smith, the Office of University Compliance and Integrity.”
As rape survivor and speaker Brenda Tracy told The Lantern about her visit back in July, Meyer’s comments at Big Ten Media Days are “really indicative of a huge misunderstanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.”
“There’s some education that needs to happen there and I think that it would be good for people to educate themselves; reach out to people like me, reach out to advocates in your community,” she said.
That, combined with the findings of the report and Meyer’s comments during his press conference, paints a picture of someone who, at best, does not understand how to properly handle a situation like this. Meyer allowed his loyalty toward former head coach Earle Bruce, Zach Smith’s grandfather, to cloud his judgment of Smith, the report said, and give him more chances to remain an assistant coach than would likely have been afforded another coach.
Who knows if Meyer was frustrated by the suspension or just tired when he seemed out of sorts in his press conference. But he certainly seemed to feel no remorse for Courtney Smith.
Perhaps she thought she had been untruthful, not worth believing. Perhaps he still felt disappointed in Zach Smith, the grandson of his former mentor.
Regardless, the picture he painted at the press conference and that the reports seem to show is not a glowing one of Meyer. And it’s possible this will be a stain on his legacy for years to come.