Ohio State’s football team enters fall camp this week without head coach Urban Meyer, who was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday. Recent reports have called into question Meyer's claim that he was unaware of 2015 domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach.
Until last month, Zach Smith was Ohio State’s lead recruiter, receivers coach and Meyer’s longest-serving assistant. But Smith was fired in late July after being charged with trespassing in a dispute with his ex-wife, Courtney Smith, who filed for a protective order.
Smith had a long history of conflict with his ex-sife. In 2015, Powell Police arrested Smith after a dispute with Courtney, in which she claimed to have been physically abused. Before that, Smith was accused of battery against Courtney in 2009.
In fact, Cleveland.com reports that Powell Police were called to Smith’s house nine times over four and a half years. Smith, however, was never convicted of a crime – charges for domestic violence and battery were both dropped.
Meyer admitted to knowing about the 2009 incident, but not about the 2015 arrest. The coach has long preached the importance of treating women with respect. So why did Meyer keep Smith kept on staff for so long?
Zach Smith’s Deep Ties
From the perspective of the Ohio State football team, Smith was first and foremost a premier recruiter. His biggest skill was convincing high school kids to come to Ohio State, which was routinely ranked in the top 5 in the nation for recruiting classes.
Smith was named Big Ten recruiter of the year at least twice. Many of his top recruits now fill out NFL rosters and make millions of dollars – a big selling point for Ohio State.
But Smith also had strong personal and professional connections to Urban Meyer. The head coach has known him at least since Smith was a teenager and played for Meyer at Bowling Green. Smith later interned for Meyer at the University of Florida, where the first domestic violence accusations surfaced.
Smith then followed Meyer to Ohio State in 2012.
Smith has deep Ohio State connections, too. He's the grandson of former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce, who died in April. Meyer worked for Bruce as a graduate assistant at the university in the 1980s and lists him as a big mentor.
What Did Meyer Know?
After Smith was fired in July, Meyer told reporters that he knew about the 2009 incident when he hired Smith. But he said he did not know about the 2015 incident, which happened while Smith was on the Ohio State payroll.
On Wednesday, Smith’s ex-wife Courtney came forward with claims that would possibly contradict Meyer. She told Stadium TV that she told Meyer’s wife Shelley about the 2015 incidents.
Shelley Meyer is an Ohio State instructor and registered nurse, and was regularly involved with helping out the football team.
Independent journalist Brett McMurphy then published text messages from Courtney that reportedly show conversations where she told Shelley about being abused. Shelley promised to inform Meyer in turn.
The allegations that Meyer knew about Smith’s history doesn’t square with Meyer’s stated values. Meyer repeatedly said treating women with respect is one of the core values of his system, and spoke out often about domestic abuse.
Meyer booted well-known players from his team for such issues before. That includes Brionte Dunn, who was kicked off the team for a 2016 altercation with his girlfriend. Dunn was later indicted on rape charges by a Franklin County grand jury.
In 2013, Carlos Hyde was suspended after he slapped a woman inside a night club. Meyer publicly cricitized Hyde, but reinstated him to the team after charges were dropped.
What Happens Now
With Meyer suspended, offensive coordinator Ryan Day is serving as acting head football coach while Ohio State launches an investigation into Meyer.
"[Athletic director Gene Smith] and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion," Meyer said in a written statement on Wednesday. "This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter."
Meyer recently signed off on a two-year contract extension, which would keep him as Ohio State's coach through at least 2022. His salary got a significant bump to $7.6 million in 2018.
However, both Meyers are in danger of violating Ohio State's Title IX sexual misconduct policy for reporting allegations of domestic violence made of university employees. Urban Meyer was required by contract to immediately report any "known violations" of that policy, including "intimate violence and stalking."
Ohio State has shut off access to football coaches and athletes, closing practices and denying all interview requests. That includes cancelling a media availiabity for preseason practice on Friday.
“We anticipate providing an update on availability Monday,” said university spokesperson Ben Johnson.