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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Visitors peered through the locked gates of Ohio Stadium on Saturday, many hoping Urban Meyer would be on the sideline leading the Buckeyes when the season opens up here a month from now against Oregon State.
"I don't think he deserves to be fired," said John Woods, whose nearly 3-year-old son wore a No. 1 Ohio State football jersey that matched his red sunglasses. "I doubt it'd be an issue as much as it is now."
The "now" is the throes of the #MeToo movement, which has drawn focus on sexual harassment and misconduct of men in power that has grown to encompass domestic abuse. Meyer was put on paid administrative leave last week after questions arose over his handling of allegations leveled against former assistant coach Zach Smith, whose alleged abuse of his then-wife was known to Meyer as far back as 2009 and others at Ohio State since 2015.
Amid people playing tennis and basketball on the courts that lay outside the stadium on this cloudless 90-degree afternoon, there was the sense among some that Meyer is a victim of timing. Had this happened only a few years ago, there wouldn't be near the scrutiny that has placed Meyer's tenure, which includes a national championship in 2014, in jeopardy.
"It's not his wife," said Nick Ruth, a student at a nearby community college who plans to attend OSU next year, in defense of Meyer. "He didn't beat anybody. To be honest, if Urban knew and (athletics director) Gene Smith knew, I would feel like the whole college should be taken down, too. It had to go up the chain."
"He's not a baby sitter," piped in his friend Max Reynolds, who will soon start his first year at OSU.
Woody Hayes has streets and buildings named after him here, but it's certainly not 1978, the legendary coach's final season at the school, anymore.
These are hyperpolitical times amid the post-truth era, and there are conspiracy theories out there to explain this one, too.
The central issue Meyer faces as the school conducts its investigation is straightforward: What did he know, when did he know it and what was done?
"A coach has to know," said Eric Massenburg, who lives in Baltimore and stopped by the stadium as part of a road trip. "If one of your assistant coaches is abusing his spouse, you have to correct the problem. You are the head coach of a major football program. It's your business because it reflects poorly on you and the university."
That's exactly what doomed Jim Tressel, but that was over NCAA violations that have led to the firings of several other coaches. Tressel resigned in 2011 over allegations he covered up players receiving improper benefits.
The NCAA, however, could be the least of Meyer's concerns.
Meyer attempted to set the record straight in a statement Friday, more than a week after he told reporters at Big Ten media days that he "never had a conversation about" the October 2015 incident where Smith's then-wife, Courtney, told police she "sustained physical abuse" in a domestic situation.
Meyer said he's always elevated "issues to the proper channels" when it comes to misconduct by coaches and he did so in 2015. He said he followed the same procedure when Zach Smith was arrested in an alleged domestic violence incident in 2009, when Smith was a graduate assistant under Meyer at the University of Florida. Prosecutors did not pursue the two felony charges.
Zach Smith was not charged as a result of the alleged incident in 2015 in Powell, Ohio, a town about 20 minutes north of the Ohio State campus. Smith has not returned text messages sent by USA TODAY.
Zach Smith said in interviews Friday that AD Gene Smith was aware of the allegations and pulled him off a recruiting trip as a result. He remained on the coaching staff until July 23 when allegations surfaced of a criminal trespassing charge in May as part of Courtney Smith's protection order application.
Meyer has provisions added to his contract as part of his extension in April, one that requires him to report "sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking" to the school administrator. Failure to do so, another provision states, could lead to "termination for cause."
Smith has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor trespassing count and said in an interview he "never committed domestic abuse against" Courtney Smith. The two share custody of their two children, ages 6 and 8, as part of their divorce settlement finalized in 2016.
Powell police documents obtained by USA TODAY show that officers received eight calls from Courtney Smith between October 2015 through July 11, ranging from allegations of Zach Smith abusing her to him destroying a wreath on the front door. Zach Smith also called police in January alleging Courtney took their children across state lines in violation of their custody agreement.
The Ohio State University board of trustees announced Wednesday that it has appointed an independent board to lead the Meyer investigation. Ohio State had its first practice on Friday, which, like Saturday's, was closed to the media.
It's unclear when the review will be completed. Co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day serves as acting coach.
Many here think, or at least hope, their popular coach will be back. Said student Max Reynolds, "I think this will blow over."
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