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Ohio State has placed head coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave.
The school’s decision comes in the fallout of the situation involving wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who Meyer fired last week. Smith was accused of domestic violence multiple times over a six-year period by his then-wife, Courtney, dating back to Zach’s time on Meyer’s staff at Florida. How much Meyer knew about the accusations against his longtime assistant has come into question and is at the center of Wednesday’s announcement.
In a press release, Ohio State said it is “conducting an investigation into these allegations.” Ryan Day, the team’s offensive coordinator, will serve as acting head coach.
“We are focused on supporting our players and on getting to the truth as expeditiously as possible,” the release said.
Meyer also released a statement: “[AD] Gene [Smith] and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion. This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
At Big Ten Media Days last week, Meyer acknowledged he was aware of a 2009 incident involving Smith and his then wife — when Meyer was the head coach at Florida and Smith was a staff intern — but was quick to deny any knowledge about an incident from 2015. However, text messages obtained by veteran college football reporter Brett McMurphy, plus an on-camera interview given by Courtney Smith, paint a different picture.
Text messages exchanged between Courtney and other wives of Ohio State football staff members, including Shelley Meyer, the wife of Urban, show widespread knowledge of the abuse Courtney was suffering at the hands of Zach, according to McMurphy’s reporting, which also included images of a bruised Courtney.
Among the exchanges in McMurphy’s report is a Nov. 5, 2015, conversation between Courtney and Lindsey Voltolini, the wife of Brian Voltolini, OSU’s director of football operations and a longtime colleague of Meyer. The exchange makes it seem that Meyer was aware of a 2015 incident where Courtney accused Zach of domestic violence.
Here is that exchange, via McMurphy:
Courtney: “(Zach’s) trying to make me look crazy bc that’s what Shelley is saying (he’s doing)”
Lindsey: “He (Urban) just said he (Zach) denied everything”
Courtney: “I hope urban is smarter than that”
Lindsey: “He (Urban) doesn’t know what to think”
Courtney: “I don’t really care. Ya know”
Lindsey: “Yeah, don’t worry about urb”
Other text messages viewed by McMurphy showed correspondence between Courtney and Shelley Meyer.
In an interview with Stadium, Courtney detailed those interactions.
“In 2015, I spoke to Shelley. I sent her some pictures. I spoke to her on the phone,” she said. “Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban. I said, ‘That’s fine. You should tell Urban. We can’t have somebody like this coaching young men.’ ”
From there, Shelley would check in on her. However, Courtney said she does not know if Shelley ever relayed the specifics of their conversations to Urban.
“She would reach out to me, ask me how I’m doing, tell me she’s worried and that if I needed anything she was there,” Courtney said. “When somebody is crying out for help, I believe the coach and the coach’s wife have a duty. They have a duty to do something. To help.”
Courtney Smith said she believes Urban was aware of the abuse.
“I hope in the future he never turns his head away again. I know Shelley did everything she could. I firmly believe that. She was very supportive. She never made me feel uncomfortable. She never made me feel like I was a threat by telling her these things,” Smith said.
She continued, “I believe [Urban] knew. Instead he chose to help the abuser. Nobody from the university came to me and asked me for my side of the story. That’s a problem. It needs to change.”
EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Urban Meyer assistant Zach Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, opens up about reported domestic violence and what she believes Meyer knew. pic.twitter.com/dNWA9x2F4y
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) August 1, 2018
The years of abuse came to light after Zach Smith was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass in May. That charge led to Courtney Smith obtaining a protection order against Zach. The order prohibits Zach from being within 500 feet of Courtney.
In the ruling, the court said Courtney Smith is “in immediate and present danger of domestic violence” and the conditions of the protection order are “necessary to protect” her and her children “from domestic violence.” Courtney Smith filed for divorce in Nov. 2015.
Bradley Koffel, an attorney representing Zach Smith, released the following statement to ESPN: “Zach Smith wants to be as transparent and honest as possible but it is not going to be done today through the media. It will only be after he and his ex-wife are sworn in to testify. 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.”
The connection between Zach Smith and Meyer goes back a long way.
Smith walked onto the Bowling Green football team coached by Meyer in 2002. The two reunited with Meyer bringing Smith on as an intern at Florida in 2005. He stayed at UF in various roles until 2009. From there, he had full-time positions at Marshall and Temple before Meyer hired him to be Ohio State’s wide receivers coach in 2012. In 2015, Smith was given the additional title of recruiting coordinator.
Smith is the grandson of former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce, a father figure to Meyer. Just last week at Big Ten Media Days, Meyer said Bruce, who died in April, was “the strongest relationship I’ve ever had other than my father.”
Meyer has been the head coach at OSU since 2012. In six seasons, he has a 73-8 record and won the 2014 national title — his third as a head coach. He previously won titles in 2006 and 2008 at Florida.
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