Was Urban Meyer treated too leniently? Editorial Board Roundtable

August 31, 2018

Was Urban Meyer treated too leniently? Editorial Board Roundtable

Did Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer -- Ohio’s second-highest-paid public official last year, according to the Dayton Daily News -- get off easy in drawing a three-game suspension (and suspension for the rest of the preseason) over his failures to pass on what he knew about now-fired assistant football coach Zach Smith’s alleged violence against his now ex-wife and other possible misdeeds? 

At least one OSU trustee thought so, resigning last week. Jeffrey Wadsworth told The New York Times this week Meyer’s punishment should have been “more profound.”  

Clearly, OSU struggled over how to handle this case. After initiating an independent investigation in early August into what Meyer knew, the OSU Board of Trustees formed a six-member special working group -- half trustees and half outsiders -- to consult, advise and report on the outside probe. 

When the report was in, the board spent a day deliberating before announcing its decision. Athletic Director Gene Smith (no relation to Zach Smith) also was temporarily suspended.

The probe found that Meyer and Gene Smith “failed to adhere to the precise [reporting] requirements of their contracts” but that their confusion about what those requirements obligated them to do, absent an arrest or criminal charges, was shared by others.

The report also found that Meyer and Gene Smith “went too far” in letting Zach Smith stay on staff after “multiple other examples of inappropriate conduct.”

Zach Smith’s reported bad behavior dates to 2009, when he was an assistant football coach to Meyer in Florida, when he also was accused of domestic violence, but includes other misdeeds, including spending nearly $600 of his personal funds in a strip-club visit during a recruiting trip and an alleged affair with an OSU football staff secretary.

He was fired in late July after his ex-wife filed for a protective order.

Meyer’s April contract extension obligated him to report on known violations of OSU’s sexual misconduct policy, defining a “known violation” as “a violation or allegation of a violation of Title IX that Coach is aware of or has reasonable cause is taking place or may have taken place.”

Our editorial board roundtable offers thoughts on this case and what it says about OSU. We welcome your input in the comments.

Ted Diadiun, editorial board member:

The key words here are “known violations.” Meyer is a football coach, not a cop, and it’s understandable that he would be reluctant to turn in an assistant on suspicions or accusations alone. The actual cops failed to arrest Smith, and we are still tossing around the word “alleged.” But Meyer is supposed to throw one of his assistants into the HR blender without really knowing whether he was guilty or not, on pain of losing his job or being suspended? He was in an impossible situation. The appalling thing is that Smith managed to keep his job for so long despite the non-domestic transgressions that Meyer did know about. But in this case, it seems that Meyer was trying to do the right thing. The suspension is an unfair overreaction from a board running scared of public opinion -- one with long-range ramifications, both for Meyer and his football team.

Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:

Urban Meyer failed as a leader, and while he should not be expected to “play judge and jury” on all cases, he needs to stand up and lead during times that matter. Both he and Ohio State should be ashamed of themselves, and we (the public) need to start holding these coaches, athletes and institutions accountable. 

Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:

As a man of conscience and honor, Urban Meyer should have fired Zach Smith years ago and he should have been honest about his own knowledge of the allegations. But applying the April 2018 contract extension to events from 2009-2015 is an overreach, especially since the contract extension conveniently provides cover for OSU at Meyer’s expense. Although we must protect domestic violence victims, parsing Meyer’s every word and deed is unnecessary; here, blame lies with Zach Smith. Meyer reacted defensively to public scrutiny and may be a bad judge of character, but in this case, he should not be responsible for alleged crimes Smith may have committed off the field.    

Eric Foster, editorial board member:

Urban Meyer deserved the punishment he got: The cost of leadership is accountability. Excusing and/or ignoring bad behavior by someone on your staff is a reason for punishment. End of discussion.

Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:

There were a multitude of reasons why Zach Smith should have been fired years ago, alleged domestic violence being only one of them. OSU’s sexual misconduct policy needs to be very clear about just how far off campus its jurisdiction reaches, and should never put any employee in the position of intervening in a co-worker’s domestic violence issues without involving law enforcement.

Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, cleveland.com:

A new consciousness about such matters is sorely needed. Zach Smith harmed the integrity of OSU football with his reported misconduct off the field -- and not just during recruiting trips. Shame on all those who knew about the charges he beat his wife and were silent. 

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