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Urban Meyer still has his job, but Ohio State documents show what he deserves

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was suspended for three games over his handling of allegations of domestic violence against former assistant coach Zack Smith. (Video: Reuters)
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Read the public documents Ohio State collected in its investigation of Urban Meyer, and you will never again be able to view him as anything but boneless. He comes off like Plato’s silly description of a Man as someone who stands on two legs without feathers. In reply to which, Diogenes brought Plato a plucked chicken.

“Here is Plato’s man,” he said dismissively.

Next time you’re in the grocery, see whether you can pass the poultry aisle without thinking of Urban Meyer.

The batch of memos, police reports and emails that Ohio State dropped on its website Tuesday are incomplete, with more to come, but they fully illustrate how weak-handed Meyer was with a louse and delinquent. His longtime coddling of assistant coach Zach Smith, the accused domestic abuser and Twitter rager, is merely in keeping with his previous record at Florida, where 30 players were arrested in six seasons. But what’s amazing about these latest details is how vividly damning they are despite Ohio State’s attempt to muffle them, the institutional coverup covering for the coach’s coverup.

Some of the most striking public documents are Meyer’s employee performance reviews of Smith during the very period he knew his assistant was under police investigation for domestic violence and behaving erratically. Athletic Director Gene Smith at one point advised Meyer to replace him. Instead, Meyer awarded Zach Smith glowing performance reviews, with high marks for “core values,” “compliance” and “loyalty,” and gave him a series of raises, including one salary boost of $70,000.

How Urban Meyer dodged facing questions about deleting his old text messages

Page by page, emails and notes show instances of Smith’s seedy transgressions and troubles with drink and drugs, yet Meyer never disowned him. In 2016, according to one email, Meyer directed Smith to rehab for a stimulant addiction without telling anyone else at the university. Smith bolted the treatment plan after just four days.

Meyer’s leniency with the entitled brat grandson of former coaching legend Earle Bruce goes on and on. An internal email shows Smith was so in debt with his credit cards that on occasion he couldn’t rent a car or pay for flights on recruiting, so an underling had to cover for him using her university meal card. He had to be dunned for payments and lost three cellphones. On one occasion he left his university-issued iPad on a private jet and never bothered to retrieve it. He was late to practices and workouts, was a no-show in recruiting visits and, of course, spent hundreds of dollars in strip clubs. So much for Meyer’s credentials as the ultimate corporate-style manager and principled leader.

Read for yourself and cringe at Meyer’s email exchanges once the news erupted July 23 that he had sheltered and prospered an addled, reckless assistant who was under a domestic violence protective order. After firing Smith, Meyer started head ducking and shoulder-curling like a garden snail. “Zero conversation about Zach’s past issues,” he directed his staff. A half-hour later, at 7:35 that night, his wife, Shelly, wrote him that alarmed email: “I am worried about Zach’s response. He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.”

By then Meyer was apparently more worried with establishing his deniability. Within a week, he was discussing how to cleanse old text messages from his cellphone.

Some of the most interesting reading is not the most spectacular but nevertheless sheds a light on what can only be called a duality or dissonance between the public presentation of Urban Meyer and the actual operation of his program. An excerpt from his banal coaching manual dictated that even the family members of his staffers must be “POSITIVE” about Ohio State.

It’s worth taking the time to reread the full report by outside investigator Mary Jo White and her team from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. The report has been derided as a whitewash that enabled Ohio State to give Meyer a slap-on-the-wrist three-game suspension. But despite its soft conclusion, it’s actually an interesting document that contains very blunt assessments of Meyer’s two-faced conduct, as well as of state university employees’ failure to comply with public document requests and fully cooperate with the investigation.

“We attempted to, but were unable to retrieve text messages for certain witnesses,” the report states, “including AD Smith, Brian Voltolini, Chief of Football Operations, and Zach Smith.”

Document: Summary of findings of the Ohio State investigation

Think about that: Investigators could not access relevant records from Ohio State’s athletic director, head coach, chief of football operations or the assistant coach at the center of the scandal. To a man, they are paid by state money. And subject to public records laws.

Ohio State’s own website stresses that under the law, “public records are the people’s records, and the officials in whose custody they happen to be are merely trustees for the people.” It would appear that certain of Ohio State’s athletic staff are pretty lousy stewards.

“At Ohio State, we hold public records in trust for the people we serve,” the website states. “Providing prompt access to the public records we create and receive in the course of our work is a fundamental compliance responsibility.”

So why haven’t Ohio State’s president and board of trustees demanded that compliance — and shouldn’t the faculty be irate?

It’s an easy matter for a good, serious investigator to crack down on that flouting and retrieve those communications. They belong to the state. A state official should say to Meyer and the rest of his human shields, “How about you start giving us straight and timely answers or next month’s payroll won’t clear?”

Some of the best reading of all is in Meyer’s contract, which mandates private jet travel and a golf club membership before it ever gets to his responsibilities as a state employee. Academics come third in the list of his professional duties, after recruiting and on-field performance. Comportment with the law comes dead last. Nevertheless, the contract states that he must “know, recognize and comply with all federal, state, and local laws, as well as all applicable University Rules.”

It also states he can be fired for any instance of “fraud or dishonesty.” Including in the “preparing, falsifying, submitting or altering documents or records of Ohio State.” Which presumably includes cellphone usage — and performance reviews of cronies.