There are few college coaches in the United States whose name is synonymous with the program they coach, the way Bear Bryant, John Wooden and Pat Summitt once were, the way Geno Auriemma still is.
Urban Meyer and Ohio State football are certainly in that category. And because of it, because of what football means to that community, these last few weeks have been particularly arduous while university officials tried to decide what Meyer knew about domestic abuse charges against assistant Zach Smith and what to do if he did.
After a two-week investigation and 10 hours of deliberation, the final judgement was passed down on Wednesday. Ohio State’s board of trustees – including former basketball star Clark Kellogg – and its president, Dr. Michael V. Drake, decided Meyer would be suspended without pay and miss the first three games of the 2018 season.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was also suspended for his inaction.
Meyer’s suspension runs through Sept. 2 and he will miss games against Oregon State (Sept. 1), Rutgers (Sept. 8) and TCU (Sept. 15). However, the university will allow him to run practice after Sept. 2.
“The handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards we expect of our athletic director, head coach, assistant coaches and all of our football staff,” a university statement said.
At a news conference Wednesday night in Columbus, Meyer apologized.
“I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation,” Meyer said. “I followed my heart and not my head. I fell short at pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.
“As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather, Earle Bruce, who was my mentor and like a father to me, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years. I should have done more and recognized more red flags.”
Meyer had already been barred for having any contact with his team since Aug. 1. He was put on administrative leave following a Facebook report by former ESPN columnist Brett McMurphy that he was aware one of his assistants, Zach Smith, had been accused of domestic abuse in 2015.
Meyer originally denied the allegation made by Courtney Smith, Zach Smith’s ex-wife, during Big Ten media day in July.
“There’s nothing. … I don’t know who would make a story like that,” Meyer said at Big Ten media day in July.
Zach Smith was later fired by Meyer and Gene Smith once it became clear that Courtney Smith also had a protection order against her husband following a May trespassing incident.
While Zach Smith was an assistant to Meyer at Florida in 2009, he had also been charged with domestic abuse that was later dropped.
The responsibility of making a decision was not taken lightly by trustees. According to the Columbus Dispatch, it interviewed more than 40 witnesses and reviewed more than 60,000 emails and 10,000 text messages.
Ultimately, they decided Meyer did not do enough to intercede quickly and then tried to cover his tracks, by having text messages erased from his phone, once Courtney Smith’s allegations became public.
Asked if he felt he deserved three-game suspension, Meyer appeared contrite.
“I trust and support our president,” he said.
Gene Smith also apologized.
“I fully support the findings of the report and the subsequent actions the university has taken,” Smith said. “I have ultimate authority and responsibility in oversight and accountability for our athletic department, particularly the football program. I understand I could have done a better job in this particular instance.
“I want to express my sincere apologies for the situation we’re in.”
During his six seasons at Ohio State, Meyer is 73-8. The Buckeyes won the 2014 College Football Playoff championship, his third after two with The University of Florida.
Meyer’s contract, extended in April, runs through 2022 season with an annual cash compensation of $7.6 million. Gene Smith’s contract is for an annual salary of $959,263. His contract expires in June 2020.