Urban Rights or “Consultants Tell You What You Want to Hear”

About three weeks ago, Ohio State University (“OSU”) Head Football Coach Urban Meyer (“Coach Meyer”) released a statement in which he admitted to speaking “inaccurately” at Big Ten Media Days in July, but was otherwise a model citizen.

You can see my analysis of the positions Coach Meyer took in that statement, as well as his anticipated defenses strategies: HERE.

Last night, Coach Meyer and OSU executed on those defense strategies, taking the path I had suspected: that Coach Meyer was simply too confused by the questions and circumstances of Big Ten Media Days to answer truthfully, and that his actions there and in the past were imperfect, but reflect the (allegedly) muddy facts surrounding Coach Zach Smith (“Coach Smith”) and his wife Courtney.

But now comes the “independent” committee’s report, and given what it shows, it’s somewhat incredible that OSU elected on this path.  (Incredible only if your metric for credulity rests on something other than winning football games, of course.)

Let’s dive in.

The Independent Committee’s Findings

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(Excerpts of the Committee’s findings will be used throughout this piece.  The full document can be found here:  ohiostatepdf)

Ignoring the “independence” of a working group made up primarily of current and ex Ohio State trustees, the report establishes that the real investigative work was handled entirely by the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton (“Debevoise”).

Law firms get paid a lot for this kind of service.  Quite a lot.

“The Ohio Attorney General’s office delayed asking permission for Ohio State to spend up to a half-million dollars to pay for the probe.” – Ohio State racking up a bill for Coach Meyer Investigation

So let’s see what $1,600 an hour buys you.

***

The following are the actual facts as believed to be true by Debevoise:

2009

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To summarize:

  • Coach Zach Smith was arrested in 2009 for domestic violence.
  • Both Coach Meyer and his wife were aware of the charges.
  • Individuals with close personal ties to the Meyers did “discuss” charges with Courtney Smith.
  • Coach Meyer claims that Courtney Smith met with him in 2009 to recant the basis for any charges.
  • The “independent committee” determines that Coach Meyer is lying (or at least incorrect) about Courtney’s recanting.
  • Despite this “inaccuracy”, the committee gives full faith to the statement that the Meyers did not believe Courtney Smith to be truthful.

So, Urban Meyer in 2009 sees his Wide Receiver Coach and mentor’s grandson arrested for domestic violence, and rather than discuss the issue with the alleged victim, or seemingly anyone else at the University of Florida, “believes the victim to be untruthful”.

This is exactly the self-interest that reporting (and other) requirements are designed to prevent.  His willful blindness here (and flat-out lie to the committee) should be given weight as we move forward.

LIES BOARD (AS IDENTIFIED BY OSU)

  • LIE #1: Courtney Smith recanted her abuse claims in 2009.

But the investigative committee never returns to this point.  The entire basis for Coach Meyer’s “belief” in Courtney Smith’s lack of trustworthiness would seem tied up in the fact that she “recanted” her claims.  As the committee finds this never to have happened, it would seem that Coach Meyer’s own trustworthiness would be thrust into substantial doubt.

But that was not what Debevoise is being paid for.

2009-3

So Coach Meyer on “information and belief” (as the court pleadings might frame it), did not mention the 2009 arrest because he believed the charges to be in error.

Believed solely through interviewing Coach Smith it would seem, as he did not meet with Courtney Smith or anyone else on the subject.

2010-2018

The committee finds no domestic violence arrests or other charges prior to the protective order filed in July 2018 (the order that would give rise to Coach Smith’s firing).

The committee does, however, find the following:

  • A 2013 DUI
  • A 2014 recruiting trip to a strip club
  • Multiple failures to pay for costs and credit cards
  • A “long term investigation by the Powell Police Department and the Delaware County prosecutor of Zach Smith for possible domestic violence and cyber offenses against Courtney Smith”

Well, that last one seems particularly pertinent.

Maybe Coach Meyer didn’t know about it?

2015-1

So, again to summarize:

  • In October 2015, OSU gets word of a police investigation of Coach Smith (from whom?).
  • Coach Meyer is made aware of the investigation and has “an immediate and strong negative reaction” to the news (seems memorable).
  • Coach Meyer and AD Smith meet “a number of times” with Coach Smith to discuss the issue.
  • Both Coach Meyer and AD Smith are waiting for charges before firing Coach Smith; charges that never come.

These are the events of 2015 which Coach Meyer claims to have “inaccurately” described when he told the assembled Big Ten Media in July that he “got a text late last night something happened in 2015, and there was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing—once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”

To suggest that the facts occurred as the committee found them, and that Coach Meyer was not intentionally lying to the media that day strains credulity to the point of fracture.

But at least there’s no other reason to believe he would have known, right?

2015-2

So, the committee confirms that Shelley Meyer knew of the allegations. She claims that she did not relay them to her husband because she had doubts about their veracity, but the committee itself finds this incredible (literally).

I myself find it unlikely given the contents of the texts, including:

“I am with you! A lot of women stay hoping it will get better. I don’t blame you! But just want u to be safe. Do u have restringing order? He scares me”  – Texts reveal Shelley Meyer wanted to help Zach Smith’s ex-wife

(And we will see later that in July of 2018 Shelley is well aware of Zach Smith’s “issues”, and communicates with Coach Meyer on them.)

LIES BOARD (AS IDENTIFIED BY OSU)

  • LIE #1: Courtney Smith recanted her abuse claims in 2009.
  • LIE #2: Shelley Meyer did not convey information on 2015 to Coach Meyer.

2015-3

So, Coach Meyer claims that he was unaware of illicit activities that Coach Smith undertook on university property (including on university trips), despite the fact that “certain members of the football staff were aware of these issues”.

Though the committee does not comment on this claim (perhaps to avoid the laughter that would emanate from the peanut gallery), it seems preposterous on its face.

Remember, of course, that this is the very same time period when both Coach Meyer and AD Smith are said to have arranged professional counseling for Coach Smith and are “monitoring” the Powell police investigation.

So the police leak information to the AD’s office, but not his own staff members.

Right.

July 2018 (Big Ten Media Days)

2018-1.png

A lot to unpack here.

  • Despite all of the evidence stated above (which the committee found to be factual), Urban Meyer fired Coach Smith primarily for breaching Meyer’s infamous “Circle of Trust”.
  • In other words, Coach Smith’s firing was not for domestic violence, or for wrongful action, but because Coach Smith didn’t tell Coach Meyer about his activities.
  • In an apparent effort to save face, Coach Meyer adds that he also considered the civil protection order to be the “first actual evidence” of domestic violence.

This last point is laughable.  The civil protection order, as the committee so helpfully points out, is ex parte, issued without formal hearing and based solely on Courtney Smith’s claims.

The same type of claims she made in 2009 and which (presumably) the 2015 investigation which Coach Meyer was “monitoring” would also have been based.  For this to be the basis of his final, crystallized “belief” that domestic violence actually occurred is laughable, but the committee does not comment on its veracity here, instead giving faith to his claims.

2018-2.png

And now this is plainly amazing given the contents of the prior findings.

Here the committee finds, without saying so, that AD Smith and Coach Meyer lied to the University leadership about their reasons for firing Coach Smith, pinning them on domestic violence (which would have been more palatable to those outside the “Circle of Trust”), when Coach Meyer himself told the committee that it was based primarily on the fact that Coach Smith was “dishonest”.

Keep this in mind when the committee later finds Coach Meyer’s honesty above reproach.

LIES BOARD (AS IDENTIFIED BY OSU)

  • LIE #1: Courtney Smith recanted her abuse claims in 2009.
  • LIE #2: Shelley Meyer did not convey information on 2015 to Coach Meyer.
  • LIE #3: Coach Meyer lies about reasons for firing Coach Smith.

2018-3.png

Wow, things are getting bad for the Meyers.  Clearly the committee is establishing a pattern of casual disregard for the truth, right?

Hard to believe Shelley’s claim that she didn’t pass along any concerns in 2015 if she knew of “obvious” anger issues all along, right?

And here, we have Coach Meyer actually receiving instruction from AD Smith to say “I was aware of two legal instances in 2009 and 2015”;  instruction which he not only rejects but, in fact, deliberately and angrily frames as incorrect.

Seems like they’ve got him dead to rights, doesn’t it?

Let’s see.

2018-4.png

“I do not recall” and “my staff says I’m  innocent”.

Uh, oh.  I think we can see where this is going.

But at least Coach Meyer isn’t taking active steps to destroy evidence, it’s just a faulty memory.

Right?

2018-5.png

Oh, okay.  So the committee finds, credibly, that Coach Meyer likely deleted his phone’s text messages when faced with the proposition of his texts coming out.

Seems like the act of a man who values honesty above all else.

LIES BOARD (AS IDENTIFIED BY OSU)

  • LIE #1: Courtney Smith recanted her abuse claims in 2009.
  • LIE #2: Shelley Meyer did not convey information on 2015 to Coach Meyer.
  • LIE #3: Coach Meyer lies about reasons for firing Coach Smith.
  • LIE #4: “There was nothing” in 2015.

Oh well, the failures of one man are not the failures of the university, right?

2018-6.png

Hmmmm.  Seems almost like someone didn’t want to know what was on those phones.

But, that couldn’t be.

***

So those are the facts as the committee found them.  Before we get to the conclusions that were drawn by Debevoise let’s look at what they acknowledge actually happened.

First, Urban Meyer (or his wife) partook either directly or indirectly in at least four significant lies (not including lies of omission) which had a direct impact on both the investigation and the actions of the OSU athletic department and multiple universities over the previous 9 years.

  • LIE #1: Courtney Smith recanted her abuse claims in 2009.
  • LIE #2: Shelley Meyer did not convey information on 2015 to Coach Meyer.
  • LIE #3: Coach Meyer lies about reasons for firing Coach Smith.
  • LIE #4: “There was nothing” in 2015.

In furtherance of those lies, Coach Meyer likely “wiped” his phoned, may or may not have contributed to the University’s failure to acquire such phone before it was wiped, and likely encouraged his wife (and others?) to corroborate his story to investigators.

Nowhere was any reporting done, despite Coach Meyer’s claims three weeks ago to always have followed his reporting obligations, and his statements that (i) he cannot remember the events of 2015 (despite being told to mention them the night before), and (ii) he only believed that Coach Smith might have committed domestic violence when an ex parte proceeding resulted in a protection order, strain credibility to the point of its destruction.

There is ample evidence supporting a termination here, were one desired by OSU or its Board of Trustees.

But again, that’s not what Debevoise is being paid for.

Let’s take a look at their conclusions.

Findings-1.png

So, nothing legally wrong with withholding domestic violence information if you don’t believe it to be “credible”.  Perhaps OSU needs to look at is policies here.

At bare minimum this result has the untoward implication of encouraging folks to bury their head in the sand regardless of the evidence; to entertain the most unreasonable of denials.

Findings-2

Well, that’s going to be a problem.  Regardless of whether Coach Meyer believed or didn’t believe Courtney Smith, the committee found that he knew of the 2015 investigation (among other things), and there should be no question that he needed to report the fact that his coach “may potentially have violated any applicable laws”.

That’s a silver bullet.

If Ohio State wanted to fire him with cause, it would have its ammunition.

Findings-3

And here’s where consulting firms make their money.

Multiple lies, “wiping of evidence”, years of experience (with contracts and reporting obligations like these), contract language that includes reporting of future “likely” violations of law (which obviously can have no charge attached), and what does the committee find?

That Coach Meyer and AD Smith acted in good faith because they “thought” they needed to wait for a charged offense.  A claim which, it just so happens, cannot be corroborated independently as it exists solely in the minds of those at risk.

They erred.  They breached their contracts even.  But it was unintentional.  A foot-fault.

To the rest of the world this is the naked cover-up.  The place where perception slips inexorably from the bonds of reality. But for Ohio State and its fans (and more importantly, the law firm that is set to make a half million or more) it is just enough for folks to hang their hats on.

It is the “suspect made a furtive movement (towards his candy bar)” of the white-collar world.

“We all just misunderstood.”

The fact of the matter is that Coach Meyer had a duty to report at several times in the past decade and he failed to do so both independently and with the cover of his AD’s office.  This is absolutely a complete structural failure of the University and glossed over with the barest patina of veracity.

Here the committee is peeing on the country’s leg and telling us it’s raining, and it calls into question virtually all other statements made by this AD or Coach’s office.

But speaking of honesty…

Findings-4.png

So, Finding 2 – Coach Meyer lied.

Maybe he just forgot?

Findings-5.png

Wow.  Memory impairing drugs.  Maybe he should step down if he has so many problems with memory.  Would seem hard to run a multi-million dollar program with such a significant issue.

And, of course, the distraction of football.

But were that not enough, here comes Debevoise.

“We’ve got ’em where we want ’em boys.  Time to hit ’em with the old razzle dazzle.”

Findings-6.png

“Coach Meyer lied, but not deliberately.”

Sure, he wiped his phone.

Sure, he lied about Courtney Smith over the last decade.

Sure, he lied about what his wife knew and what he knew from her.

Sure, he lied about why he fired Coach Smith in the first place.

But above all, this is a man who states that he values “HONESTY” and, well, just look at him, how could we not believe him?

So if he made misstatements, why, the reasons simply have to be “complex”.

If only Coach Meyer had expressed the same benefit of the doubt for Courtney Smith.

***

As for the committee’s other observations (designed primarily to put lipstick on this particularly ugly pig).

Observations-1.png

Nothing says “RESPECT” like talking a good game and doing absolutely nothing (including things you are contractually obligated to do), before lying repeatedly and vociferously about it.

That’s a good look.

Observations-2

Never write down anything.  A paper trail leads to guilt.

No paper, and no one can doubt how much you “respect women”.

(Also, don’t forget your phone settings.)

Observations-3.png

When in doubt, “no charge, no report”.

Even if your wife is receiving messages about restraining orders and conveying that she is scared for your colleague’s wife.

***

There is no doubt in my mind that Debevoise was paid (an exorbitant amount) to manage and massage a difficult pattern of facts into something that was “plausible” for OSU and its fan base to allow Coach Urban Meyer to retain his post as Head Football Coach.

There is almost nothing in the facts, facts as actually found by the committee (and which themselves should be taken with a grain of salt given the cash Debevoise is set to make), that supports the determination that either Coach Meyer or AD Smith acted in good faith or in support of “respecting women”.

Nothing outside of Coach Meyer’s own interviews and passionate claims of “upholding values”.

As is so often the case, we see what we want to see, but for all folks not affiliated with OSU, this is as terrible a look as there can be.

Lies on top of lies, substantial evidence of guilty conduct, and a failure to report serial bad acts over the course of a decade.

But as ever, it seems clear what is most important to the College Football mills of the world.

Let’s leave it to Coach Meyer’s own words:

Finale-1.png

“Team and Players” indeed.

All others be damned.

One thought on “Urban Rights or “Consultants Tell You What You Want to Hear”

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