What did he know, and when did he know it?
That famous line from the Watergate investigation by the U.S. Senate 45 years ago applies to Urban Meyer now.
The gravity of what eventually brought down a sitting president and what is being investigated at Ohio State right now aren't comparable. One was an investigation that shook our nation's values to its core; what's going on in Columbus is shaking only a university and a tragedy inside of a marriage.
Urban Meyer, or someone at Ohio State University, has been covering for an assistant football coach who allegedly has been abusing his wife for years. The allegations finally led to Zach Smith's firing late last month, but the story dates back almost 15 years.
In 2002, Smith "walked on" to the team Meyer was coaching at the time, Bowling Green. When Meyer became the head coach at the University of Florida, he hired Smith as one of his assistant coaches.
Smith came with a pedigree: He was the grandson of Earle Bruce, the former Buckeyes head coach. It was only natural, when Meyer accepted the head coaching job at Ohio State, that Smith would follow him.
Detailed reporting by national college football writer Brett McMurphy revealed last month that Smith allegedly began abusing his wife in 2009, when both Meyer and Smith were together at the University of Florida. Smith's wife filed a protective order against him.
When that order was issued is a point of contention, but if McMurphy's reporting is accurate, Meyer would have had to know about Smith's behavior for years.
It's not a large leap to believe that. Coaches are control freaks. They know everything that goes on inside their program.
What did he know and when did he know it?
Those were Sen. Howard Baker's words in 1973. Undoubtedly, those are the same words being asked by the six-member panel investigating Meyer's role in latest Smith affair.
Meyer knew this back in 2009: While Smith was on his staff, as one of his assistant coaches, the Gainesville, Florida police arrested Smith on a domestic abuse charge. Courtney Smith, Zach Smith's wife, was pregnant with their child at the time.
The Gainesville cops said they didn't have enough evidence to proceed with the case; Courtney Smith said her husband's mother, her husband's attorney and Earle Bruce all pressured her to drop the charges. She did. Hard to believe Meyer didn't know.
In 2012, Meyer knowingly brought Zach Smith into the Ohio State University family.
In 2015, about three years after Smith and his wife separated, there was an incident in Powell, a Columbus suburb. That's where Courtney Smith was living at the time. She called the Powell police over a custody issue with the Smiths' son.
At the time, Courtney Smith told police that her husband had abused her multiple times. No charges were brought against Zach Smith. Pictures published on a website reportedly show Courtney Smith beaten, allegedly by her husband.
Sportingnews.com has pieced together a timeline of how this began and why Ohio State is in, at the very least, an embarrassing situation.
Fast forward to now. Meyer is on paid leave while his role in all of this is investigated. As of today, there seems to be no fireable offense that Meyer has committed. But the answer to that lies in the investigation. And where that's heading might be as convoluted as the one Robert Mueller is running.
In a lengthy tweet last Friday, Meyer defended his actions in dealing with Smith. Of course, that came about a week after telling hundreds from the Big 10 media that he knew nothing about the 2015 incident that allegedly happened in Powell. In part, Meyer tweeted:
"Here is the truth: While at the University of Florida and now at the Ohio State University, I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false."
OK, report to whom? To Gene Smith, the athletic director at Ohio State? To the Title IX coordinator? And if so, what was Zach Smith still doing on Meyer's coaching staff three years later, nine years after the alleged incident at the University of Florida?
So, where is this heading?
"I don't know, I swear to God. Ken, I've been asked this all this time."
Tim May covers Ohio State football for the Columbus Dispatch. You can imagine what his last week has been like.
"Until Meyer came out with his statement, it didn't look good for him," May told me. "The way he laid it out, in his mind, he followed proper protocol. And if you believe what he wrote, it makes you wonder, why is he on paid leave when he didn't break a rule?"
If indeed Meyer followed protocol, why did he continue to keep someone like Smith under his employ? And why, in front of the assembled Big 10 media in late July, did Meyer deny knowing about the 2015 incident in Powell?
What did he know, and when did he know it?
"Every coach lies to the media," said Bill Bender, a writer at large for sportingnews.com. He thinks this is an "either-or" situation now, with regard to Meyer's future at Ohio State.
"When the McMurphy report came out last week, I thought it was 60-40 he was gone," Bender told me. "Then it quieted down and I thought he'd stay. I don't think Meyer's tweet helped. I don't think Zach Smith's interview (on ESPN) helped. I don't think Urban Meyer will resign. He'll be fired or stay and fight it. Nobody really knows until they do that investigation. But the last week was not a good look for Ohio State."
And if Courtney Smith's lawyer is to be believed, that anyone at Ohio State failed to contact her after the 2015 incident with the Powell police, there could be institutional failure, something more than just a football coach and his program.
Though legal minds I've talked with don't entirely agree, I think the biggest jeopardy for Meyer may exist in Title IX, and when and if Meyer and his wife decided to alert the university's Title IX coordinator. Shelley Meyer is also an employee of Ohio State University. She works in the College of Nursing.
Ohio State's sexual misconduct policy requires all faculty members to report, among other things, domestic violence issues involving students and staff within five days of becoming aware of them.
Reportedly, Shelley Meyer and Courtney Smith have been friends since their days together in Gainesville. When did Shelley Meyer become aware of any alleged abuse against Courtney Smith? Did she report it to the Title IX coordinator within five days of knowing? Did she tell her husband about it? It would be disingenuous for anyone to believe that husbands and wives don't talk about things going on with friends and employees.
"An addendum added to Meyer's contract this past spring says he's required to report anything in his program that relates to the Title IX program," said Dan Hope, a writer for the Ohio State athletic-centric website Eleven Warriors. "If he did not do that, the university would have grounds to fire him. But he did say he reported through proper channels. As for Shelley Meyer, we don't know what she did in any reports. But if Title IX guidelines aren't followed, there would be an issue here."
It is all of this, and more, that the six-member committee must deal with now. There could be firings, suspension or no punishment. Regardless, one of America's most storied universities is at a crossroads.
"Even at a university where football is the cash cow, and with this, what does it say about the university?" Bender asked. "Do they value football over everything or do they value the truth? And they better find the truth."
What did he know and when did he know it?
Now ... on to other things that may or may not be pertinent in the times we live in.
- I don't think this idea will fly. But Terrell Owens' boycott of the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony last weekend fit right into his narrative. He is one of the most (if not "the" most) selfish players in NFL history.
- RELATED: Owens reminds us why he's the most selfish player in NFL history
- An interesting "take" on the Reds, courtesy of my pal Joe Sheehan, who writes for SI.com and published this blurb in his almost-daily baseball newsletter:
It's an open question whether management has any idea what they're doing....
GM Dick Williams seems to have an overly rosy view of his charges. "We see this as a club that is competing with some of the best teams right now," he told the Dayton Daily News. "We're pleased with the performance we've seen in the middle of the summer. We have been trying to keep an eye on next year, but also this year is important. The winning vibe and winning culture that have been present recently is something we've been looking for a while. We're pleased to have found it. We don't want to do anything to disrupt it."
The Reds needed to be aggressive, not just because players like Gennett, Schebler and Harvey won't be part of their core when they're contending, but because they have a lot of position players coming through who need to play. ... Standing pat at the deadline was a bizarre choice, and one that adds to my perception that this organization doesn't quite know what it's doing right now."
Sheehan doesn't think Jim Riggleman should be the manager past this season. But I'd bet it's almost a fait accompli with the smart guys inside Great American Ball Park.
REO Speedwagon's 'guiding light'
One of the greatest power-ballad bands is at Riverbend tonight. That would be REO Speedwagon, just voted by the Lincoln Presidential Library as the greatest music act in the history of Illinois, ranked ahead of Cheap Trick, Allison Kraus and the band that REO Speedwagon is appearing with tonight, Chicago.
I had REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin on my 700 WLW radio show this past weekend. He wrote most of the band's hits and told me he labored a long time with this song.
"I sure did. The verses came to me late one night. At first, the title for the song was 'My Guiding Light.' But that just didn't work. The verses, I just felt so committed to. But the chorus just wasn't there. So those verses stuck in the back of my head for 10 years. It turned out I just hadn't lived the chorus yet. So that's why it took so long to write. But it ended up being the most popular song I've ever written."