The circus of a Wednesday began not under the big top but next to two dumpsters, as Urban Meyer pulled his Audi S7 into the loading dock behind Ohio State’s Longaberger Alumni House.

By the time he departed — nearly 12 hours later — the Ohio State football coach had been suspended without pay for the first three games of the season — against Oregon State, Rutgers and Texas Christian — and athletic director Gene Smith had been suspended without pay from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16.

Finally, it was over, but reaching the finish line took a while and left marks that felt more like scars.

>> Read more | Complete coverage at BuckeyeXtra.com/UrbanMeyer

Ohio State president Michael V. Drake suspended Meyer for showing a lack of leadership in the way he handled the situation involving former assistant coach Zach Smith, who was fired last month after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced. The decision was reached in consultation with the 20-member Ohio State board of trustees.

When the news conference to reveal details of the 14-day investigation into Meyer finally happened at 8:55 p.m., the coach gave the shortest answer of the night in response to whether he thought he should be suspended.

“I trust and support our president,” he said.

But Meyer did not pick a fight at that time, nor did Gene Smith. Instead, the two put up a united front as they sat with Drake.

>> Video | Watch Urban Meyer at the news conference

>> Video | More from the press conference

Should Meyer have been suspended? Drake obviously thought so, and for those who insisted the innuendo surrounding the weeks-long controversy should be put on hold until the facts came to light, the truth ultimately came crashing down on Meyer and Gene Smith.

Mary Jo White, who headed the committee investigating Meyer, revealed that Meyer was aware of the 2015 police investigation of Zach Smith.

“Both (Meyer and Gene Smith) monitored the progress of the investigation for months,” White said, adding that Meyer was wrong — but not intentionally untruthful — in saying at Big Ten media days that he knew nothing of the 2015 investigation.

“Simply relying on law enforcement is not an adequate response,” White said, countering arguments that it is enough for a coach to simply pass information up the chain of command. “(Ohio State) compliance would have been the best position from which to conduct an internal investigation.

>> Read more: Buckeyes sound off on Urban Meyer punishment

White stressed that Meyer and Gene Smith each take domestic abuse seriously, but that they should have done more to report what they knew.

Essentially, the suspensions resulted from lack of leadership.

Meyer acknowledged that he should have paid more attention to the “red flags” that arose through the years involving Zach Smith, and vowed to do better.

“This has been a learning experience,” he said. “I am a different person now than I was in 2009 and 2012. My awareness of domestic violence has changed … and I will not make any hire without having complete dialogue with Gene.”

As for what he would say to Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of Zach Smith who brought accusations of domestic abuse against her former husband, Meyer answered, “I am sorry for everybody who was in this situation.”

Details will continue to come out. More facts will emerge. But in the end, maybe the biggest — and best — takeaway from this is that Meyer and Gene Smith have vowed to do better.

They both have paid a stiff price, and while both kept their jobs, the stain and embarrassment of what came down Wednesday night is real. It showed on their faces. In their body language. All over them. If this was a showdown, the president won. It really had to happen this way.

To go against Drake would have said to the rest of the nation that Ohio State values football over all else.

The verdict seems fair.

roller@dispatch.com

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