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Urban Meyer May Have Covered Up Texts Ahead Of Zach Smith Probe

Nick Evans
Urban Meyer apologizes for his actions at an August 22 press conference, where Ohio State announced he would serve a three-game suspension.

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer may have taken steps to hide what he knew about former receivers coach Zach Smithm, according to a university investigation.

Meyer is suspended for mishandling domestic violence allegations against Smith, and in a Wednesday press conference addressing the punishment, Meyer avoided addressing the underlying accusations.

The 23-page report prepared by an independent working group laid out a timeline of Zach Smith’s tenure as a coach on Urban Meyer’s staff, how Meyer and Athletic Director Gene Smith handled a 2015 domestic violence incident, and how their response fell short.

While the investigators found no conclusive evidence either official "condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse," they raise concerns that Meyer may have deleted text messages connected to the scandal.

Potentially Deleted Texts

Text messages have been a central feature in coverage of the scandal, most notably when independent journalist Brett McMurphy detailed messages sent by Courtney Smith to Coach Meyer’s wife Shelley. Both Meyers contend those messages were not relayed to Urban Meyer—the report notes Shelley Meyer doubted their veracity.  

But investigators don’t buy that explanation. 

“Given the closeness of their relationship and Shelley’s concerns, we believe it is likely that Shelley and Urban Meyer had at least some communication about these allegations in late 2015," the report states.

The report shows Shelley Meyer sent her husband a text message about Zach Smith in the wake of Smith’s firing, raising concerns about the former coach’s drinking and stating, “It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.” Urban Meyer didn’t respond to the message.

Investigators also shine a light on Urban Meyer’s text messages. Shortly after reports emerged about Courtney Smith’s messages detailing her alleged abuse, investigators say Meyer asked Director of Football Operations Brian Voltolini about changing the settings on his phone so text messages more than a year old would no longer be retained.

When investigators reviewed Meyer’s phone, it contained no messages more than a year old.

"Often, although not always, such reactions evidence consciousness of guilt," the review said.

The report says there’s no way to know if Meyer changed those settings in response to the article, but does raise questions about his intentions.

"It is nonetheless concerning that his first reaction to a negative media piece exposing his knowledge of the 2015-2016 law enforcement investigation was to worry about the media getting access to information and discussing how to delete messages older than a year," the report says.

Meyer’s Response

The report determined Meyer and Gene Smith failed to report the allegations against Zach Smith. Although it faults them for their inaction, it also found they weren’t operating in bad faith. Meyer and Smith told investigators they didn’t respond immediately to the 2015 incident because they were waiting to see if law enforcement would file charges.

At Wednesday's press conference, lead investigator Mary Jo White said that’s not good enough.

“There are many cases in which abuse takes place but there is no arrest or criminal prosecution,” she said. "And so simply relying on law enforcement to take action in the face of such allegations is not, in our view, an adequate response.”

In his prepared remarks, Meyer said he “fully” accepts the suspension, but when asked directly if he felt he deserved the time out, he responded only, “I trust and support our President.”

Meyer also claimed the incident and his suspension has taught him about the seriousness of domestic violence. 

“I will say this that this has been a learning experience," Meyer said. "I’m a different person now than I was back in 2009, 2012, my awareness of domestic violence and how serious whenever you hear that kind of accusation, absolutely—I’ve grown. But I’ve grown over the years and I will be very cautious."

But for many, those claims rung a bit hollow. 

Moments earlier, when asked what message he had for Courtney Smith, Meyer avoided addressing her directly.

“Well, my message for everyone involved in this, I’m sorry that we’re in this situation, and I’m just sorry we’re in this situation," Meyer said.

You can read the full report below.

Ohio State Urban Meyer Investigation by WOSU on Scribd

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.