Ohio State University head football coach Urban Meyer has been suspended for the first three games of the season without pay after an investigation into Meyer’s knowledge of domestic violence allegations against longtime former assistant coach Zach Smith.
In a Wednesday evening press conference, lead investigator Mary Jo White said the investigation found that Meyer was aware of of a 2015 law enforcement domestic violence investigation into Smith and “monitored” it for months. While the investigation did not lead to any convictions, White said Meyer did not report the domestic violence investigation to OSU.
“I want to apologize for Buckeye Nation,” he said. “I followed my heart, not my head. I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt... I should have been more demanding of him.”
OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith has also been suspended from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16 in the wake of the investigation.
The Ohio State board of trustees assembled in Columbus at 9 a.m. to decide Meyer’s fate in light of an investigation into the Buckeye coach’s response to domestic-abuse allegations against Smith, reports The Columbus Dispatch.
Board Chairman Michael Gasser on Wednesday thanked White, a former federal prosecutor, for her “thorough” and “professional” work at the five-minute public meeting before the board went into a private executive session. White’s six-person investigative team reportedly included current university trustees, litigators, and lawmakers from across the state.
Meyer, who has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 1, had been set to be the nation’s highest paid football coach at a public university, at $7.6 million this season.
Ohio State President Michael Drake was charged with making a final decision after consulting with the board, according to The Dispatch.
Thirty-four-year-old Smith was fired last month after he was served with a domestic-violence civil-protection order filed by his ex-wife. A Delaware, Ohio, court found Courtney Smith to be “in immediate and present danger of domestic violence.” The former wide-receivers coach and recruiting coordinator is prohibited from going within 500 feet of his ex-wife for at least five years, and he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing.
College football reporter Brett McMurphy broke the news weeks ago that Meyer knew in 2015 about the allegations, despite his earlier claims that he “was never told about anything.” Smith reportedly said in an interview this month that he told Meyer “only what he needed to know.”
Meyer did, however, admit last month that he was aware of other abuse allegations against Smith from 2009, when both men were coaching at the University of Florida. Smith, who was arrested but never charged in that incident, allegedly pushed his pregnant wife into a wall during an argument. Meyer has said he spoke to the couple and advised they seek counseling in the wake of the incident.
Federal civil rights laws and Ohio State’s sexual-misconduct policy require all university employees to report any known violations by a faculty or staff member, including domestic-abuse allegations, even if the individual has not been charged or convicted.
In particular, the policy stipulates that campus leaders “have an additional obligation to report known or suspected incidents of sexual misconduct” because of their position of authority.
In his report this month, McMurphy obtained screenshots of text messages between Courtney Smith and Meyer’s wife of three decades, Shelley Meyer.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney told McMurphy. “I said, ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.’ I know Shelley did everything she could.”
“All the [coaches’] wives knew,” she is purported to have said in the texts. “They all did. Every single one.”
In preseason rankings, the Ohio State Buckeyes are ranked No. 5 in the country. Meyer has led the team to one national championship, and won two more as coach of the University of Florida Gators.
—Julia Arciga contributed reporting.