Meyer on hot seat over handling of assistant abuse claims
Urban Meyer’s Ohio State program has been one of the best in college football and for the most part has avoided major off-field issues and player behavior problems that tarnished his championship teams at Florida.
Now Meyer appears to be in jeopardy of losing his job as Buckeyes coach over the handling of a longtime assistant who has been accused of domestic violence.
Ohio State placed Meyer on paid administrative leave Wednesday while it investigates claims that his wife knew about allegations of abuse against former Buckeyes assistant Zach Smith, who was fired last week.
Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, told Stadium that she told Shelley Meyer in 2015 that Zach Smith had assaulted her . Courtney Smith provided text messages to former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy between her and Shelley Meyer about Zach Smith’s behavior, and threatening text messages she said were sent to her by Zach Smith.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney Smith told Stadium. “I said: ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.’”
Courtney Smith said she did not know if Shelley Meyer told Urban Meyer about the allegations against Zach Smith, who has never been convicted of a crime or charged with assaulting his ex-wife.
Zach Smith’s attorney, Brad Koffel, said in a statement to ESPN on Wednesday: “Once he gets his chance to tell his side of events, don’t be surprised when it is corroborated by every police who ever responded to Ms. Smith’s calls.”
Ohio State will now look into what Urban Meyer knew and when, which could determine whether he remains coach of the Buckeyes.
Meyer is heading into his seventh season at Ohio State, where he is 73-8 with a national title in 2014 and two Big Ten Conference championships. Shelley Meyer is a registered nurse and is employed as an instructor at Ohio State. Both Meyer and his wife could be in violation of Ohio State’s Title IX sexual misconduct policy on reporting allegations of domestic violence against university employees.
Violation of the university’s policy could result in Meyer being fired with cause by the university, according to provisions placed in his contract when it was extended by two years in April. The deal runs through 2022 and increases Meyer’s salary to $7.6 million in 2018, with annual 6 percent raises for the bulk of his compensation.
Offensive coordinator Ryan Day will serve as acting head coach for the Buckeyes, expected to be one of the top teams in the nation again this season. Ohio State’s first preseason practice is scheduled for Friday. The season starts Sept. 1 with a game against Oregon State in Columbus.
Meyer said in a statement that he and athletic director Gene Smith agreed that him going on leave was best for the investigation.
“This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter,” Meyer said.
Meyer is on the short list of most accomplished coaches in college football history, with three national championships and an .851 winning percentage in 16 seasons at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State, the team he grew up rooting for in Northeast Ohio.
Meyer won national championships with Florida in 2006 and ‘08, but his teams also had more than two dozen players get into trouble with the law. He resigned twice at Florida, citing health reasons, first in the 2009 season after the Gators lost the Southeastern Conference championship game while trying to repeat as national champs. He changed his mind soon after and coached another season. The Gators went 8-5 in 2010, and afterward, Meyer stepped down for good.
Meyer was out of coaching for a season but was hired by Ohio State in November 2011. The Buckeyes had fired Jim Tressel, another national championship-winning coach, before that season for lying to the NCAA and university of about rules violation committed by some of his players.
Since returning to coaching, Meyer’s program has been one of the most dominant in college football, and his players have mostly stayed out of major trouble.
Meyer did face some criticism in 2013 for allowing running back Carlos Hyde to return to the team after he was charged with striking a woman in a bar. The case was dropped by police when the woman chose not to pursue charges, but Hyde was suspended three games by Ohio State.
Zach Smith is the grandson of late Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, whom Meyer has long praised as a mentor and one of the most influential people in his life. Smith played for Meyer at Bowling Green and began his coaching career under Meyer in Florida.
In 2009, Zach Smith was accused of aggravated battery on his then-pregnant wife while he was working for Meyer in Gainesville, Florida. The charge was dropped because of insufficient evidence.
Meyer hired Smith to join him at Ohio State in 2012 and fired Smith last week after an Ohio court granted a domestic violence protective order to Courtney Smith against her former husband. The firing came on the same day the 2009 allegation against Zach Smith was reported, along with police reports detailing two other accusations Courtney Smith made against Zach Smith in the fall of 2015. Charges were never filed in those cases. The Smiths separated in June 2015 and divorced in 2016.
Zach Smith was charged in May with misdemeanor criminal trespass. He pleaded not guilty, and a hearing is scheduled for Friday.
At Big Ten media days last week, Meyer said he knew of the incident in 2009 and that he and Shelley Meyer addressed it with the Smiths. He was also asked about the 2015 incident alleged by Courtney Smith.
“I can’t say it didn’t happen because I wasn’t there,” Meyer said. “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. First I heard about that was last night. No, and I asked some people back at the office to call and say what happened and they came back and said they know nothing about it.”