Urban Meyer, coach of college football powerhouse Ohio State, insisted Friday that he followed procedure in reporting domestic violence allegations against a now-former assistant.
The assistant, meanwhile, was telling two media outlets that he never hit his ex-wife.
Meyer, who is on administrative leave, said, “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.”
“Please know truth is the ultimate power and I am confident I took appropriate action,” he said.
At issue is when Meyer knew about domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith made by his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. The head coach has acknowledged knowing of a 2009 incident. He told reporters he was unaware of a 2015 allegation until last month, but Friday said he had followed protocol “regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.”
Zach Smith told ESPN in an interview Friday that he and Meyer discussed the incident days after police notified school officials about an investigation.
Zach Smith said he met with Meyer before talking to police investigators and told the coach he didn’t commit domestic violence.
Meyer told him that “if I find out you hit her, you’re done,” Smith recalled his boss saying.
Smith said to ESPN that he told police anything that happened to his then-estranged wife was the result of defending himself.
He said he told the coach after the meeting with investigators that he wasn’t going to be charged because he didn’t do anything wrong.
In an interview with Sports Radio 105.7 FM The Zone, in Columbus, Ohio, he said he and his wife had a volatile relationship but he denied allegations of physical abuse.
“I never hit her … I never got charged,” he said. “I got investigated twice, and no charges ever came about it because I didn’t do anything physically to harm her.”
Allegations of abuse
Zach Smith was fired on July 23 after he was served a civil protection order on behalf of Courtney Smith. The order, which was signed July 20, is effective until 2023 and prohibits Zach Smith from going within 500 feet of his ex-wife.
In a July 23 Facebook post, college football reporter Brett McMurphy detailed a series of domestic violence allegations against Smith dating back to 2009 and 2015.
Courtney Smith spoke recently to Stadium sports network, outlining accusations that Zach Smith on various occasions threw her against a wall, picked her up by her neck, and took a golf club to her car and broke her windshield after a recruiting dinner.
This came on top of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, as well as attempts to financially drain her, she told the network. The abuse began in 2009, while he was an assistant to Meyer at the University of Florida, she said.
Courtney Smith said she made Meyer’s wife, Shelley, aware of the alleged abuse and Shelley Meyer said she would speak to her husband, but Courtney Smith did not follow up to find out whether Urban Meyer had been informed.
“In 2015, I came forward with it. I told Shelley. I sent her some pictures. I spoke to her on the phone,” Courtney Smith told Stadium.
Zach Smith, grandson of the Hall of Fame former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce, and his wife moved to the Columbus area in 2012, and “everything went out of control,” Courtney Smith told Stadium. She felt the pressure of his job forced him into a toxic lifestyle, and he became abusive when questioned, she said.
Courtney Smith separated from him in 2015 after eight years of marriage, but she said the abuse did not end. In the 2015 incident, Zach Smith came to her house wanting to take their son, but it wasn’t his parenting night. She told him no, she recalled.
“When I stood up to him, he didn’t like it. He took me and shoved me up against the wall with his hands around my neck – something he did very often. My daughter was clinging to my leg,” she told Stadium.
She called police after he left with their son, but Zach Smith was never charged, she said. “I don’t know what happened,” she added.
Zach Smith said Athletic Director Gene Smith knew about the 2015 allegation because it was the AD who called him to tell him to come back to campus.
He said the administrator told him to be on the next plane home because “We need to find out what is going on.” The two men are not related.
Meyer’s comments to media
The day after Smith was fired, Meyer was asked about the allegations during the Big Ten Conference Football Media Day.
Meyer said he was aware of an incident involving Zach and Courtney Smith in 2009, while they were still married. Meyer said he and his wife, Shelley Meyer, “actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.”
Meyer said he didn’t know anything about the 2015 incident involving the Smiths.
In his lengthy statement Friday to Ohio State fans, Meyer referred to the Media Day remarks.
“My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading … However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions.”
Meyer said he was ready to answer questions from school investigators looking into the matter.
College football commentators have called for Meyer to be fired, but Meyer said he looks forward to rejoining the coaching staff soon.
Meyer has one of the best college football winning percentages of all time, with 188 wins and only 34 losses in 17 years. He coached the Bowling Green Falcons and Utah Utes before winning two national championships with the Florida Gators. He won a third national championship, with Ohio State, in 2015.
Meyer took the helm at Ohio State, one of the country’s winningest programs, from Luke Fickell, a longtime Ohio State assistant who ascended to the top job for a year after the once-heralded championship coach Jim Tressel resigned. An NCAA investigation found Tressel knew several players, including his star quarterback, had swapped memorabilia for tattoos and other benefits, but failed to report it. The Buckeyes vacated 12 wins from their 2010 season after the episode.
Ohio State athletics came under fire again twice last month. A lawsuit naming the Ohio State University Diving Club accuses former coach William Bohonyi of sexually preying on two divers, one of them a minor. In a separate matter, dozens of former male athletes from 14 Ohio State teams accused former school doctor Richard Strauss of sexual misconduct. Strauss killed himself in 2005.
CNN’s Janet DiGiacomo, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Darran Simon, Jill Martin, Madison Park, Sheena Jones and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.