The allegation levied against Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer by the ex-wife of one of his former assistants is serious enough to have prompted a school investigation, with Courtney Smith questioning Meyer’s claim that he was unaware of the 2015 domestic-abuse allegation she levied against her ex-husband, recently fired Buckeyes wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Ohio State’s job now, as it conducts its investigation into what Meyer knew and when, is to determine if the allegation is serious enough to result in Meyer’s dismissal, should it be proven true.
Meyer — who was placed on paid leave Wednesday — has been an undeniable success in Columbus, leading the storied football program to a national title and suffering only eight losses since his first season in 2012. But success hasn’t saved past Ohio State coaches with off-field issues. And so it could be instructive to look at how the school has dealt with past scandals affecting its highest-profile employees.
Jim Tressel achieved iconic status at Ohio State in 2002, his second season in Columbus, when he led the Buckeyes to a 14-0 record and a stunning upset of Miami in that season’s Fiesta Bowl, giving the program its first consensus national title since 1968. Tressel would lead Ohio State to seven more top 10 finishes, twice ending the season as national runner-up. Still, he was forced out in 2011 after it was revealed that he had failed to notify both school officials and NCAA investigators about his players’ longtime involvement with the owner of a local tattoo parlor, who gave the players cash and discounted tattoos in exchange for signed team memorabilia and championship rings, a violation of NCAA rules.
Seven years earlier, Ohio State fired men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien, who also had found success in just his second season in Columbus, leading the Buckeyes to their first Final Four appearance since 1968. O’Brien’s dismissal followed his admission that he had provided a $6,000 loan to the mother of Aleksandar Radojevic, a Bosnian recruit who signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the Buckeyes in 1997. Radojevic would never play for the Buckeyes, however, after the NCAA discovered he had been paid to play by a Montenegrin professional team in 1996, and O’Brien claimed he loaned out the money only for humanitarian reasons — not as an inducement to play for the Buckeyes — after discovering that Radojevic would never play at Ohio State. While the NCAA did find that O’Brien was aware of improper benefits given to another European recruit, effectively ending his big-time coaching career, O’Brien would later sue Ohio State for improper termination, with a judge finding in his favor and awarding him $2.4 million in back pay.
Covering up a tattoos-for-merch scheme. A shady-looking loan that turned out not to be shady. As misdeeds go, those fall pretty far down the questionable-morals list. (And, again, O’Brien was fired in part for something that was completely on the level.) But Meyer is being accused of something else entirely: Knowing about an assistant coach’s violent tendencies and doing absolutely nothing about it.
There’s also the matter of Meyer’s contract, which was amended earlier this year with clauses that outline the ways the school can fire him for cause (in other words, without paying a buyout that currently sits at $38.1 million). As detailed by USA Today, Meyer’s contract states that he can be fired for cause for failing to report incidents of abuse to the school, including “violations during employment of Coach at Ohio State or any other institution of higher learning.” This would seem to cover Meyer’s past employment at Florida, where a 2009 incident between Courtney Smith and her husband, then an intern on Meyer’s Gators staff, took place. (Meyer said he knew about that incident but not one that happened six years later, when Zach Smith was his wide receivers coach in Columbus.)
Add it all up — Ohio State has not hesitated to fire big-name coaches in the past for much less serious allegations, and it appears to have the authority to do so now without incurring a sizable financial hit — and there are reasons to believe Meyer’s job could be in jeopardy should the allegations prove true.
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