Urban Meyer, Gene Smith Suspended After Ohio State Investigation

Aug 22, 2018

Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith have both been suspended after a university investigation into what they knew about an assistant coach's alleged abuse.

Meyer will be suspended without pay during the first three games of the season, through September 16. Smith will be suspended without pay from August 31-September 16.

At a press conference late Wednesday night, university president Michael Drake said the review found that while neither Meyer nor Smith "condone domestic abuse" or attempted to cover up information, both failed to take sufficient actions in response to claims against assistant coach Zach Smith.

"I’m fully aware that I’m ultimately responsible for the situation that has harmed the university as a whole and our university athletics program. I followed my heart, not my head," Meyer said at the press conference. "I should have done more, and I am sorry for that."

The announcement followed a marathon meeting of the Board of Trustees that stretched on for more than 10 hours behind closed doors.

“Their handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect of our Athletic Director, Head Coach, Assistant Coaches and all on the football staff," the university said in a press release before the conference.

What's Been Happening

In July, Ohio State fired receivers coach and lead recruiter Zach Smith. Smith had been charged with trespassing in a dispute with his ex-wife, who filed for a protection order. Smith and his ex-wife Courtney Smith had a troubled history: Smith was arrested in 2009 and charged with battery when he coached at the University of Florida, and in 2015 was arrested and charged with domestic violence.

Both charges were ultimately dropped, and the two divorced in 2016.

After Smith's firing, Meyer told reporters at Big Ten Media Days that when he hired Smith in 2011, he knew about the 2009 incident. But he denied hearing about the 2015 incident, which occured while Smith was an Ohio State employee. 

Meyer's account was called into question by Courtney Smith, who said she told Meyer's wife Shelley about the 2015 incident. After an independent journalist provided text messages that seemed to verify Courtney's claims, Ohio State placed Meyer on administrative leave August 1 and launched an investigation into what he knew.

A special six-person committee, which included several Ohio State trustees, was appointed to conduct the review.

Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, right, and then-assistant coach Zach Smith, left, at a game in Oklahoma on Sept. 17, 2016.
Credit Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press

Both Meyer and his wife, who is also an Ohio State employee in the College of Nursing, are required by school policy to report any known allegations of sexual misconduct by university employees, including "intimate violence and stalking."

Two days after his suspension, Meyer released a public statement admitting that he did indeed know about the 2015 incident, but said he followed "proper reporting protocol" at the time.

"My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading," Meyer said. "However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive isues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions."

A private law firm hired spent two weeks investigating before delivering their results to the special board working group. A day later, that board committee briefed the entire board on the investigation and set a special meeting for August 22.

The Investigation

According to lead investigator Mary Jo White, the investigative counsel interviewed some 40 witnesses, reviewed more than 60,000 emails and 10,000 texts. They also reviewed the hiring, supervising and maintaining of Zach Smith as an assistant coach.

“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 review concluded.

The review found neither Meyer nor Gene Smith followed the exact requirements of their contracts when they failed the report the abuse claims, but that “they did so based upon a good faith belief that they did not have sufficient information to trigger a reporting obligation or initiate a disciplinary action in the absence of law enforcement action.”

Regarding Meyer’s comments at Big Ten Media Days, which the coach later walked back, the review found “they were not part of a deliberate cover-up to keep Zach Smith on the coaching staff in the face of evidence of domestic violence by him.”

However, the review did fault Meyer and other athletic officials for having other knowledge of “inappropriate conduct” by Smith.

“Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith’s efforts to help Zach Smith overcome his personal issues went too far in allowing him to remain as an employee in the face of repeated misconduct,” the release said.

Meyer admitted fault at Wednesday’s press conference, saying he gave Smith “the benefit of the doubt" in part because of Smith's status as grandson of legendary Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who Meyer said "was like a father to me."

“I should have demanded more from him, and recognized red flags,” Meyer said. "I needed to show more care and concern for the entirety of the situation and the people involved."

Asked if he had a message for Courtney Smith, Meyer said merely, “I should have done more, and I am sorry for that.”

Meyer will be suspended without pay during football games on September 1, 8 and 15 against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU.