Friday was Protect Urban Day in Columbus, a coordinated media strike designed to shield the coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
In a classic late-Friday news dump, Urban Meyer himself got the spin started at 4:22 p.m. ET by releasing a statement on Twitter. What the statement included: Meyer abruptly changing his tune and saying he knew about the allegations of domestic violence against assistant coach Zach Smith in 2015. Meyer says he did the right thing by following “proper reporting protocols and procedures” at the university. What the statement didn’t include: a single syllable of regret for having an alleged abuser on staff for three more years before firing him last month, or concern for Courtney Smith, alleged victim of the abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.
Urban’s statement was all about Urban. Tossing in an unctuous sentence about being the son of a woman and the husband of a woman and the father of two women — thus being a champion of women — was quite the capper.
Then at 5:07 p.m., Zach Smith did a radio interview with a Columbus station, and at 6 p.m. a TV interview with ESPN. Smith did a pretty terrible job painting himself as a believably innocent figure, but he did accomplish one thing: He stuck up for Meyer. Smith said Meyer told him he would be fired if he hit Courtney, and that he knows his former boss’ hardline stance against violence toward women.
It all came out of nowhere. And it’s remarkably brazen.
While on administrative leave, Urban Meyer spoke up. In the process, he shifted responsibility to athletic director Gene Smith and the Ohio State administration — implying that he did his job in this matter, and if there is fault to be found for the handling of Zach Smith it rests somewhere above Meyer. He’s just your average $7 million-a-year mid-level employee.
Breaking his silence while under an independent investigation would seem a dubious strategy. Meyer dragged the issue further into the public domain at a time when conventional wisdom would advise shutting up and cooperating with the inquiry.
But not this guy. Theoretically on thin ice, Urban Meyer skated out to the middle of the pond and basically declared he can walk on water.
If Meyer in any way convinced Zach Smith to go public — and to time it with his own statement — it’s an even more craven act of self-preservation. Smith is facing a domestic violence civil protection order hearing next month. Any lawyer worth his billable hours will tell you that this is not the time to be doing media interviews — especially interviews in which the accused flails around in an unconvincing search for a credible explanation of his innocence.
This is a curious change of strategy from earlier in the week, when Smith’s attorney, Brad Koffel, told The Washington Post: “Zach Smith wants to be as transparent and honest as possible, but it is not going to be done today through the media. It will only be after he and his ex-wife are sworn in to testify.”
Silence is legally golden — unless maybe your old boss, who stood by you through multiple allegations of domestic abuse, called in a marker. Then it’s time to go to the media.
Sorry to be cynical regarding Meyer and his motives, but what’s the point in trusting him? His statement Friday vaguely admitted to lying repeatedly at Big Ten media day when asked about Zach Smith’s 2015 incident. Meyer said in Chicago last month that he knew nothing about it, then Friday admitted he knew about it, trying to chalk up the multiple falsehoods to not being “adequately prepared” for that line of questioning.
It wasn’t until Brett McMurphy dropping this week’s bombshell, revealing that Courtney Smith had informed Meyer’s wife, Shelley, of Zach’s alleged abuse, that Urban suddenly became truthful. Without that reporting, does anybody believe Meyer’s public stance would have shifted?
Maybe he’s just now “adequately prepared” for telling the truth. At least as part of an orchestrated media power play.
The power play now throws the onus on Gene Smith to show his work, so to speak. What did he do with the Zach Smith allegations? After pulling the wide receivers coach off the recruiting road to question him in 2015, did the whole thing die on the AD’s desk?
Why did a seemingly disposable position coach get the backing of everyone needed to keep his job? Even if Smith never struck his ex-wife, as he maintained, the multiple domestic incidents would make him more trouble than he’s worth in the eyes of many administrators. At the very, very least, he was extended an extraordinary benefit of the doubt by a heavyweight coach and a heavyweight athletic director.
So far, Meyer has taken two swings at explaining his knowledge of the allegations against Zach Smith. The story changed completely from swing one to swing two. The only constant between the two versions is that Urban Meyer is looking out for Urban Meyer, and nobody else.
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