Because they believed Zach Smith's denials …

It's hard to get past those six words. Because they believed an assistant coach who denied accusations of domestic abuse, the head football coach and the athletic director at Ohio State University allowed the assistant to stay on, get raises, and allegedly commit other misdeeds before Zach Smith was dismissed last month.

Urban Meyer survives, however, and if you read or hear that he is a diminished figure, that's spot on. Meyer made himself smaller. Whether Meyer knowingly did that to survive is open to interpretation. This is not: When Meyer returns to the Buckeyes sidelines after a three-game suspension, the first thing you will think about won't be the two national titles at Florida or the one at Ohio State.

Because they believed Zach Smith's denials …

Did Meyer hire Smith as an Ohio State assistant even though he knew Smith was arrested in 2009 on a charge of aggravated battery while working under Meyer at Florida? Meyer did, and he also knew that Smith's former wife, pregnant in 2009, decided not to pursue charges.

According to Ohio State's investigation, Meyer explained that he did not inform Ohio State of Smith's 2009 arrest "because he believed Zach Smith had not engaged in domestic violence in 2009."

Why Meyer, deciding he was qualified to make that assessment, believed that — beyond the word of Smith — is not at all clear. Meyer told Ohio State's hired investigators that he had met with Smith and his wife in 2009. Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, "denies ever meeting with Urban Meyer,'' saying she met only with Meyer's wife, and denied ever recanting the 2009 accusation to anyone.

Zach Smith spent one season at Temple before being hired by Urban Meyer at Ohio State. School officials said they weren’t aware of any incidents when he was hired.
Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer
Zach Smith spent one season at Temple before being hired by Urban Meyer at Ohio State. School officials said they weren’t aware of any incidents when he was hired.

Skip to 2015 … well, let's not completely skip past Smith's working at Temple as a wide receivers coach for the 2011 season under Steve Addazio, who had been at Florida. Temple said that nothing came up on a background check of Smith. Addazio, now Boston College's head coach, issued a statement last month, after Smith was let go at Ohio State: "While an assistant coach at Florida in 2009, I was aware that there was an issue in the personal life of Zach and Courtney Smith. I did not know specifics, and I knew the matter was in the hands of university personnel and that the couple was involved in counseling. As a husband, father and coach, I have zero tolerance for domestic abuse. There is no place in our program at Boston College for any member of our staff involved in domestic violence."

Smith left Temple for Ohio State after one season. Meyer didn't tell his school all he knew in deciding this man was the most qualified to be his assistant coach. Investigators found no further arrests for domestic violence, although they did find a driving-while-impaired arrest of Smith in 2013, with no evidence that anyone at Ohio State knew of it. By 2015, however, the university was aware that starting in October 2015 through the following year, there was a police investigation of Smith for possible domestic violence "and cyber offenses" against Courtney Smith.

At that point, investigators said, Meyer told Smith, "If you hit her, you are fired." The investigation said Meyer arranged for counseling for Smith at the time. There was no arrest made. Smith stayed on. The raises continued.

Because they believed Zach Smith's denials …

What changed in July was that an Ohio judge issued a protection order that forbids Smith from getting within 500 feet of his ex-wife. While Smith continues to deny the allegations against him, Meyer fired him on July 23. First, Meyer publicly denied knowing about the 2015 investigation, then he reversed himself after a published report made clear it wasn't true. He denied that his wife had told him about her text exchanges with Courtney Smith. Investigators found it likely that Meyer and his wife had at least some communication about the matter.

The findings also included this passage:

"We also learned during the investigation that Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus."

Even in explaining factors that must be considered in assessing Meyer's mindset earlier this summer, he is diminished.

Then there was the matter of Meyer's phone. The investigation found that when reporter Brett McMurphy broke the news earlier this month that Meyer had prior knowledge of the 2015 police investigation, Meyer and his director of football operations "discussed whether the media could get access to Coach Meyer's phone, and specifically discussed how to adjust the settings on Meyer's phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted."

Further, the investigation found, "Our review of Coach Meyer's phone revealed no messages older than one year." Investigators called all this "concerning."

After Ohio State's president and board of trustees decided on the three-game suspension Wednesday, there was a news  conference, with Meyer in attendance. Asked what he would say to Courtney Smith, at least Meyer did not say that he had believed Zach Smith.

"I have a message for everyone involved in this,'' Meyer said. "I'm sorry that we're in this situation, and I'm just sorry we're in this situation."

Diminished, even by his own words.