Urban Meyer is keeping his job as head football coach at the Ohio State University. But he will serve a three-game suspension. This follows an investigation into his handling of domestic violence accusations against former assistant coach Zach Smith. He will not be paid during the suspension. Ryan Day will remain as interim head coach for the beginning of the season.
Meyer spoke during a news conference following the announcement. He apologized and accepted the suspension. He talked about Zach Smith, commenting that he gave his former assistant coach “the benefit of the doubt” over the years. Meyer said he “should have demanded more from Zach Smith” and taken notice of red flags.
Athletic director Gene Smith was also suspended, to be served August 31 until September 16. He will also not be paid during that time.
Meyer has been on paid administrative leave since August 1. The Ohio State Board of Trustees met behind closed doors on Wednesday, August 22 to review the report from investigators and determine next steps. The meeting began at 9 a.m. and lasted about 10 hours. The announcement was made at 9 p.m.
Meyer was there at the Longaberger Alumni House as the meeting went on. Shelley Meyer also arrived around 2:30 p.m.
Two sources told the Columbus Dispatch ahead of the decision that the likely result would be a suspension. University President Michael V. Drake was responsible for making the final decision.
As the hours dragged on, reports surfaced that the hold-up was due to disagreement between the trustees and Drake. The board reportedly pushed to reinstate Meyer immediately, while the university president preferred that Meyer be suspended.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Assistant Coach Zach Smith Was Fired in July Amid Domestic Violence Allegations and Wife Courtney Said Publicly That She Confided in Shelley Meyer
Zach Smith and now ex-wife Courtney Smith had a documented record of discord in their marriage. In 2009, while working for Urban Meyer as a graduate assistant at the University of Florida, Zach Smith was arrested for domestic violence. He was accused of shoving Courtney, who was pregnant at the time, against a wall. No charges were filed in that incident.
Zach Smith was accused again of abuse by his wife in 2015. Courtney has said publicly that she confided in Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife, about the situation. She spoke with sports network “Stadium” on August 1. Courtney says that when she confided in Shelley Meyer, Shelley had said she would have to tell Urban what was going on.
Fast forward to 2018: Courtney filed a protective order against Zach in July. It stemmed from an incident in May, when Zach was charged with criminal trespass after driving his car into her driveway. Smith pleaded not guilty. He was fired from his job as an assistant football coach on July 23.
Former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy added fuel to the fire as all of this unfolded in early August. He published text messages allegedly sent between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer, in a Facebook post.
2. Urban Meyer Clarified in a Twitter Statement That He ‘Elevated’ the Domestic Violence Allegations Against Zach Smith ‘to the Proper Channels’
Urban Meyer inadvertently increased the scrutiny on himself during Big Ten Media Day in July. When asked about the 2015 domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith, Meyer denied knowing about it prior to that week. “I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light. I’ve never had a conversation about it. I know nothing about it.”
That turned out not to be inaccurate. Meyer clarified in a statement posted to Twitter on August 1 that he did in fact know about the 2015 situation and that he had reported it to his superiors. He apologized for mishandling the question. Meyer wrote, “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 the 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.”
As the investigation continued, the public learned that Ohio State was made aware of the allegations against Zach Smith by local police. The Powell police department notified university officials, who passed on that information to Meyer. As referenced above, Courtney Smith was granted a protective order against Zach Smith shortly before his firing from Ohio State.
3. Zach Smith: Urban Meyer Said to Me, ‘If You Hit Her, You’re Fired’
Zach Smith gave an interview to ESPN on August 3, two days after Urban Meyer was put on paid administrative leave. Smith described his relationship with ex-wife Courtney as “toxic” but has repeatedly denied hitting or abusing her. He said that if Courtney had any bruises, they would have been the result of him defending himself, “to remove myself from the situation.”
Smith said he spoke with Urban Meyer in October of 2015 following interviews with police. Smith said he informed Meyer that the case was not continuing, “because there’s nothing there, I didn’t do anything.” He was never charged with a crime stemming from the domestic violence allegations.
Smith told ESPN that during that conversation, Meyer said, “I swear to God, Zach, if I find out you hit her, you’re done, you’re fired.” Smith responded, “I understand, Coach. I didn’t. I’m fine.”
Smith also said that he did not initially tell Meyer about the ongoing turmoil with his wife. He described it as a private matter between spouses, and that he felt the head coach did not need to be brought into it.
4. The Ohio State Investigation Was Led by Mary Jo White, Who Has Previously Prosecuted Terrorists and Mob Bosses
The Ohio State University hired a New York-based law firm to conduct the investigation into what and when Urban Meyer knew about the domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith. The woman leading it is a behemoth in her field: Mary Jo White.
White is currently the senior chair of the Debevoise & Plimpton International law firm, and leader of its Strategic Crisis Response and Solutions Group. She formerly served as a U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. Her resume includes prosecuting the terrorists responsible for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. She handled the case against crime boss John Gotti. White has also prosecuted financial fraud cases.
As the investigation unfolded, media outlets have tried to obtain police records pertaining to the Zach Smith allegations in 2015. The 2015 case was handled by the Powell Police Department. Powell is located about 15 miles north of Ohio State University in Delaware County. The Columbus Dispatch has filed public-records requests in the Ohio Court of Claims, arguing that the public has the right to see the police report on the Smith case. That request is still pending.
5. OSU Shielded Its Players From the Media as the Investigation Continued
Assistant coach Ryan Day was named as the interim head coach after Urban Meyer was put on paid administrative leave. Day was originally promoted to defensive coordinator in January of 2018, after two seasons as a quarterback coach.
Day penned a letter to fans on August 17, which you can read in the tweet above. He did not mention Urban Meyer or the investigation. Instead, he gave explanations about each position and how the players were doing ahead of the first game on September 1. Day wrote, “You will be proud to know that our players and coaching staff have attacked each day ad forged together as a team.”
Ohio State has kept the majority of practices closed to media. The team has also shielded its players from interviews.
As the investigation continued, many Buckeye fans rallied behind Urban Meyer. Support was especially strong after Meyer revealed that he had in fact spoken to his superiors about Zach Smith, and that Powell police had been the ones to alert Ohio State to the allegations against Zach Smith.