Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer was suspended for three games without pay in the wake of an investigation into what he did about spousal abuse allegations leveled against former assistant coach Zach Smith, the university announced Wednesday night.
Athletic Director Gene Smith was suspended without pay from August 31 to September 16, according to a summary of the investigative findings and university actions.
“Although neither Urban Meyer, nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an assistant coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes,” the summary said.
Ohio State fired Zach Smith on July 23, three days after he was served with a civil protection order on behalf of his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. She has accused her former husband of abuse, including domestic violence in 2009 and 2015. Police looked into the 2015 allegations, but no formal charges were filed, officials said.
Meyer apologized to Ohio State fans, but did not mention Courtney Smith.
“I’m fully aware I’m ultimately responsible for this situation,” Meyer said. “I followed my heart and not my head. At each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.”
The school said that Meyer is suspended through September 2 and for the games on September 1, 8, and 15 without pay. He lose six weeks pay, the school said.
Gene Smith is suspended without pay from August 31 to September 16.
“Coach Meyer and AD Gene Smith, although acting in good faith, did not report the (police) investigation of Zach Smith … to (the Title IX) compliance (department) as we believe they should have,” said Mary Jo White, who headed the investigation.
White said the compliance department would have been in the best position to assess whether to conduct an internal investigation.
In a statement, Zach Smith’s attorney said his client should not have married Courtney Smith.
“Vengeance against her ex-husband regrettably resulted in collateral damage to Urban Meyer, Gene Smith & The Ohio State University,” lawyer Brad Koffel said.
The suspension announcement followed an 11-hour meeting in which the Ohio State University Board of Trustees discussed the job status of the famed football coach and three-time national championship winner.
Ohio State put Meyer on paid leave August 1, saying it wanted to investigate exactly what he knew about the allegations against Zach Smith, a wide receivers coach.
The day after Smith’s firing, Meyer told reporters that he knew about the 2009 allegation, but didn’t know about the 2015 allegation.
Then Courtney Smith told Stadium, a sports network, that she told Meyer’s wife, Shelley, about the alleged 2015 incident that year – leading to speculation about whether the coach did know.
Ohio State, already embroiled in separate scandals involving alleged sex abuse by a now-deceased athletics doctor and a diving coach, put Meyer on leave and formed a group led by White, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman, to conduct an investigation.
Zach Smith told ESPN on August 3 that he indeed discussed the 2015 incident with Meyer as police investigated the matter. Meyer told him that “if I find out you hit her, you’re done,” Smith recalled to ESPN.
Meyer said Wednesday his relationship with Earle Bruce, the former coach and Meyers’ mentor, likely impacted his judgment. Bruce was Zach Smith’s grandfather.
“I did not know everything about Zach Smith and what Zach Smith was doing and the report made this clear,” Meyer said. “I should have been more demanding of him, as I am of my players. … I should have done more.”
Smith and Meyer both said the coach could have done a better job at a Big Ten media day, when he said he knew about the 2009 incident involving Smith, but not the 2015 incident.
“He was not as complete and accurate on media day and didn’t uphold the standard of the university on that day,” Smith said.
Meyer faulted for failing to apologize to alleged victim
While Meyer offered an apology to “Buckeye nation,” he drew the ire of critics for failing to properly apologize to Courtney Smith. When asked what he would say to her, Meyer instead addressed “everyone involved in this.”
“My message for everyone involved in this, I’m sorry that we’re in this situation,” Meyer said. “And, uh, I’m just sorry we’re in this situation.”
To some, Meyer’s response exhibited a lack of remorse.
“The fact that he could not mention the victim’s name, Courtney Smith – he was asked specifically about her, said he felt sorry for everyone involved,” Christine Brennan, a sports columnist for USA Today and a CNN sports analyst, told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Thursday morning.
“Just an incredibly poor performance, Alyson, by a man in 2018 who should know better and who should be very lucky today that he kept his job.”
Meyer has one of the best college football winning percentages of all time, with 188 wins and only 34 losses in 17 years.
He had brief but successful coaching stints at Bowling Green University and the University of Utah, then won two national championships with the Florida Gators before coming to Ohio State in 2012.
He won a third national championship, with the Buckeyes, 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’ football season opener is September 1 against Oregon State. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day is the acting head coach. Ohio State was voted No. 5 in the Associated Press preseason poll. It is No. 3 in the coaches’ poll.
The allegations against Zach Smith
The abuse allegations became public July 23, when college football reporter Brett McMurphy posted details of the alleged 2009 and 2015 incidents on Facebook.
Courtney Smith told Stadium that in 2009, when Meyer and Zach Smith coached at the University of Florida, Zach Smith “picked me up by my shirt and threw me up against the wall” during an argument at home.
She asked prosecutors not to press charges against her then-husband under pressure from his family and an attorney who represented members of the football team, she told Stadium.
Meyer acknowledged in July that he know about the 2009 incident, and said he and Shelley Meyer “actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.”
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. Later that year. Zach Smith came to her house wanting to take their son, but it wasn’t his parenting night. She told him no, she recalled.
“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.
In an interview this month with Sports Radio 105.7 FM The Zone, in Columbus, Zach Smith said he and Courtney Smith 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.”
CNN’s Jill Martin and Jay Croft contributed to this report. Elizabeth Joseph reported from Columbus, Ohio.