As the hours passed, it became clear that the Ohio State board of trustees’ meeting to determine Urban Meyer’s future as football coach would not be a perfunctory one.
For more than 10 hours, the board debated Meyer’s handling of domestic-abuse accusations against former assistant coach Zach Smith. It turned out that the board and university President Dr. Michael V. Drake were weighing the actions of athletic director Gene Smith as well.
Both Meyer and Smith were judged to have erred in their handling of the matter sufficiently to warrant suspensions.
Meyer will be suspended without pay through Sept. 2 — the Buckeyes open the season Sept. 1 against Oregon State — and for the games of Sept. 8 and 15, against Rutgers and TCU, respectively. Meyer will be able to direct practice during the week after Sept. 2 but not coach in the games.
Smith will be suspended without pay from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16.
>> Read more | Complete coverage at BuckeyeXtra.com/UrbanMeyer
“I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation,” Meyer said at the news conference Wednesday night. “I followed my heart and not my head. I fell short at pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.
“As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather, Earle Bruce, who was my mentor and like a father to me, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years. I should have done more and recognized more red flags.”
>> Video | Watch Urban Meyer at the news conference
Meyer also acknowledged that he did a “poor job” at the Big Ten media gathering in Chicago in July when he denied knowing anything of 2015 domestic-abuse allegations by Zach Smith’s now ex-wife, Courtney.
Asked if he believed he deserved a three-game suspension, Meyer paused before saying, “I trust and support our president.”
The board’s investigative committee interviewed more than 40 witnesses, some multiple times. It reviewed more than 60,000 emails and 10,000 text messages in addition to other relevant information.
>> Video | More from the press conference
In its summary, the board said that Gene Smith and Meyer “failed to adhere to the precise requirements of their contracts when they concluded that they needed to await a law enforcement determination to file charges” before reporting the accusations of Courtney Smith against Zach Smith. But it said it believed they had acted in good faith “other than the misunderstanding of the requirements triggering reporting obligations.”
Ohio State trustee Clark Kellogg was visibly exhausted as he walked from the Longaberger Alumni House toward his vehicle at 9:45 p.m.
“Dr. Drake made the decision and the board supported it,” he said. “Now, let’s call it a night.”
Nearly all of the other trustees declined to comment except attorney John Zeiger, who said the result “was handled appropriately.”
Marcy Fleisher, Courtney Smith’s spokeswoman, did not have an immediate comment about the suspensions of Meyer and Gene Smith.
>> Rob Oller commentary | The emotions linger
Gene Smith apologized for not doing more in regard to the Zach Smith allegations.
“I fully support the findings of the report and the subsequent actions the university has taken,” he said. “I have ultimate authority and responsibility in oversight and accountability for our athletic department, particularly the football program. I understand I could have done a better job in this particular instance.
"I want to express my sincere apologies for the situation we're in."
The day’s proceedings began at 9 a.m. After a brief public session in front of a throng of media members, those involved in the meeting moved to another room for a private executive session.
Meyer arrived later in the morning, entering through a side loading dock. At 2:30 p.m., his wife, Shelley, showed up. About three hours later, Gene Smith arrived, accompanied by his wife, Sheila. None of them spoke to reporters.
Adding to the surreal atmosphere were the sounds of Ohio State’s football practice from across Olentangy River Road. Meyer has been barred from any contact with his team under terms of the paid administrative leave issued him on Aug. 1
The only morsel of news came when Kellogg, a former star Buckeyes basketball player, said during an afternoon break that the board had been having a “good, robust discussion, and progress is being made.” Kellogg said Meyer had not been in the room with trustees during discussions.
Other than that, there was silence about the proceedings inside. On the loading dock, a growing crowd joined reporters as day turned to dusk. One student held a small sign that read “Free Urban.”
That Meyer would be in any jeopardy would have been viewed as shocking earlier this summer. Meyer seemed to be as secure in his job as any college coach in the country. He has a 73-8 record in six seasons as OSU coach, including an improbable 2014 College Football Playoff championship. That gave him three national titles in his career. Meyer won two at the University of Florida, including the 2006 BCS championship in a shocking rout of the top-ranked Buckeyes.
But his status was threatened by his response regarding Courtney Smith’s allegations stemming from an incident at her Powell home in October 2015. Charges were never filed against Zach Smith, who at the time was separated from his wife.
Zach Smith, whom Meyer had hired to coach OSU receivers beginning in the 2012 season, said Gene Smith, and not Meyer, had called him home from a recruiting trip to discuss the allegations.
Meyer and Gene Smith fired Zach Smith in a phone conversation on July 23, after reports surfaced that Courtney Smith had obtained a protection order against her ex-husband stemming from a May criminal trespass charge and that Zach Smith had been charged with domestic abuse in 2009 in Florida. Zach Smith was on Meyer’s Gators staff at the time.
Meyer said Wednesday that he was very upset with Zach Smith for not telling him right away about the May incident. When he didn’t inform Meyer, that’s when Meyer decided to fire him.
On July 24, at the annual Big Ten media gathering in Chicago, Meyer acknowledged he was aware of the 2009 incident, in which charges later were dropped. But Meyer denied knowing of a 2015 incident involving the Smiths, saying, “There’s nothing. … I don’t know who would make a story like that.”
>> Read more | The Urban Meyer investigation: What's happened so far
Meyer acknowledged in a statement posted on Twitter on Aug. 3 that he “failed” in Chicago with his answers about the 2015 accusations. Wednesday night, he put it this way: “I did a poor job at media day. But there was no intent to mislead.”
Meyer also said on Aug. 3 that he had followed proper protocols in dealing with the allegations at the time, though he didn’t provide details. Wednesday night, university officials faulted both Meyer and Gene Smith for not informing those in university compliance about the allegations.
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day has been serving as acting head coach in Meyer’s absence. Meyer has not been permitted to have any contact or involvement with the team since training camp began Aug. 3.
>> Read more: Buckeyes sound off on Urban Meyer punishment
Ohio State extended Meyer’s contract in April. It runs through the 2022 season and gave Meyer, 54, an annual $7.6 million total cash compensation package.
Gene Smith’s current contract, signed in 2014 and amended a year later, calls for an annual salary of $959,263. He also is eligible for bonuses based on athletic and academic achievement by Ohio State teams and students. The contract expires in June 2020.
Dispatch Reporters Lucas Sullivan and Jim Woods contributed to this story.