Urban Meyer misses mark with 'Buckeye Nation' apology, declining to address Courtney Smith

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith had both been suspended. For Meyer, two more weeks, this time without pay, and then three full games. For Smith, it was more than two weeks in September without pay.

It all stemmed from a failure to properly report to the compliance department allegations in 2015 that assistant coach Zach Smith had abused his wife. Meyer knew it wasn’t the first time, although he never shared that with his boss, which all alone could’ve been ground for his firing. 

More troubling, the fresh allegations in 2015 were backed up by photos and believed by no less than Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife. Still the AD and the coach waited to see what the cops discovered. When Zach Smith wasn’t charged, they did and said nothing. Zach Smith stayed employed until last month when he was hit with a restraining order and a trespass charge … and the media reported on it.

Now here was a tense Wednesday night news conference after an exhausting day. There were nearly 12 hours of deliberation by the school’s Board of Trustees that left the state of Ohio and the world of college football on edge. Would Meyer be fired? Would Meyer be exonerated?

Ohio State suspended Meyer on Wednesday for three games for mishandling domestic violence accusations. (AP)

In the end it was something in the middle, sure to please no one.

So first Gene Smith spoke and twice he apologized to “Buckeye Nation”, a marketing term for Ohio State fans who apparently have been put out by all of this. Then Meyer got up and did the same.

“I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation,” Meyer said.

Yes, those poor, poor fans.

You know who wasn’t granted an apology by these two? Courtney Smith and her two young children, the ones she alleges hung onto her hips and screamed as her husband banged her into a wall in their apartment.

No apologies for not doing more to get her out of the situation. No apologies for not taking her allegations more seriously. No apologies for enabling her husband through the years despite warning signs everywhere. No apologies for failing to, at the very least, get her and her family the help they needed, whatever that help might entail.

Only one person was potentially wounded here, only one person had photos of being beaten, bloodied and bruised, only one person and two children were fully humiliated and terrorized by this entire sordid deal.

And it sure wasn’t some season-ticket holder on the 40-yard line.

Meyer kept talking about how he didn’t do enough, didn’t look hard enough. Maybe the reason was right there in the omission of his words. He expressed concern for himself and the community and the fans but not the heart of the issue, a domestic situation that, at the very least, was toxic and troubled beyond hope. Maybe because his attention never appeared to be on the woman and children caught in the middle of it.

“There were red flags,” Meyer said. “I wish I had known. I wish I had done a better job of finding out. I wish I was told more things.”

“I wish I had done more,” Meyer said. “I wish I had known more.”

“I needed to show more care and concern for the situation,” Meyer said. “I am sorry for that.”

Ohio State felt Meyer did enough to keep his job. That was always going to be a tough call. He told his boss at least some of what he knew. He’s also won a lot of football games. That was enough.

Perhaps most puzzling, though, was that in 2015, when Gene Smith first heard of allegations against Zach Smith and discussed it with Urban Meyer, Meyer never mentioned that Zach Smith was also accused of the same crime in 2009, when he worked for Meyer at the University of Florida. 

How does that not come up? How does Meyer keep that from his boss and yet the school is cool with it? If Meyer mentioned the 2009 allegation in 2015, does Zach Smith stay employed? Wouldn’t that have altered Gene Smith’s actions and eliminated his patience with the situation? One time is one thing, horrible and chilling enough. A second time?

Ohio State is clearly fine with that, though. That’s the school’s decision. Meyer, for his part, clearly didn’t believe he should’ve even been suspended. When asked if he accepted the punishment, he merely stated, twice, “I trust and support our president.” He looked miserable and distracted and angry.

His true feelings were clear: he’d been wronged here.

And that’s the lingering problem. The punishment is the punishment. He’ll coach again. He’ll win again. He’ll be lauded with standing ovations and millions in salary. Yet there is no indication Meyer is really better for this, more aware of the blind spots that got him here.

Meyer acknowledged “I followed my heart, not my head. I fell short of pursuing full information, because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.”

He blamed that on Zach being the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earl Bruce, “who
was my mentor and like a father to me.”

That might be part of it. It likely isn’t all of it though.

Finally a reporter asked Urban Meyer directly. If no one in scarlet and gray was going to speak the name of the woman who repeatedly accused Zach Smith of abuse, then the coach would be asked directly.

“What message do you have for Courtney Smith?”

“Well, my message for everyone involved in this is I’m sorry we’re in this situation,” Meyer said. “And I’m just sorry we’re in this situation.”

We’re…?

No empathy. No words to the kids. No chance to pivot to the topic of domestic abuse. No criticism of Zach. No acknowledgement that no matter how messy these allegations always are, he failed that family most of all.

Instead it was … we.

Courtney and Urban. Mostly Urban though. Look how tough this situation is … for him. And all of Buckeye Nation, of course.

Everyone’s a victim at Ohio State, apparently. Everyone but the woman and her children who might have actually been abused, which is probably how everyone got here in the first place.

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