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

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer walks the sidelines during the first half of the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin in Indianapolis on Dec. 2, 2017. Ohio State will open the season without Meyer, who is sitting out the first of three games with a suspension.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer walks the sidelines during the first half of the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin in Indianapolis on Dec. 2, 2017. Ohio State will open the season without Meyer, who is sitting out the first of three games with a suspension. (Michael Conroy / AP)

Read the public documents Ohio State collected in its investigation of Urban Meyer, and you'll 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.

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

The batch of memos, police reports, and emails that Ohio State quietly dropped on its website Tuesday night 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 bury and 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. 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.

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 cell phones. 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 exploded 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 cell phone.

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 re-read 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 giver Meyer a slap-on-the-wrist three-game suspension. But despite its soft conclusion, it's actually an interesting document that contains some 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."

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 hasn't Ohio State's president and board of trustees demanded that compliance - and shouldn't the faculty be irate?

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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 cell phone usage, and performance reviews of cronies.

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