COLUMBUS — Ohio State has placed head coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave as an investigation begins into what Meyer knew about the alleged domestic abuse of a former staff member.
Despite his denial last week at Big Ten media days, Meyer knew of the abuse allegations against former assistant Zach Smith in 2015, according to a report by college football journalist Brett McMurphy on Wednesday.
McMurphy, a former ESPN reporter, obtained an interview with the victim, Zach Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, as well photos of the abuse and text messages to and from her phone in a report published on Facebook.
Meyer terminated Zach Smith’s employment on July 23 after the domestic violence allegations against the wide receivers coach became public. The next day, Meyer spoke to the assembled media for the annual event in Chicago and denied any knowledge of two 2015 incidents in which the Powell Police Department investigated Zach Smith, but no charges were filed.
Zach Smith was arrested for a domestic abuse allegation on his then-pregnant wife in 2009 while he was on Meyer’s staff at the University of Florida, but no charges were filed. Meyer said he knew about that situation, but said last week that he would have fired Zach Smith if he knew about the 2015 incidents.
“I was never told about anything,” Meyer said about the 2015 incidents. “Never anything came to light, never had a conversation about it, so I know nothing about it. I asked people back at the office to call and see what happened, and they came back and said they know nothing.”
Quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day will be the team’s acting head coach. The Buckeyes begin training camp on Friday.
In a statement released by Ohio State, Meyer said he and director of athletics Gene Smith believe a paid leave is the best course of action.
“Gene and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion,” the statement read. “This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
One of the core tenets of the program, emblazoned on a sign in the team’s football facility, is: “Treat Women With Respect.”
In the interview with McMurphy, Courtney Smith said all of the Ohio State coaches’ wives knew about the alleged abuse, including Shelley Meyer.
“They all [knew],” Courtney Smith told McMurphy. “Every single one of them.”
In an interview published later Wednesday with Stadium, Courtney Smith said she believes Meyer knew about the domestic abuse incident “and chose to enable the abuser.” She said no one from the university asked for her side of the story.
Brett McMurphy via Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheBrettMcMurphy/) Enlarge
In text messages, Shelley Meyer asked Courtney Smith if she had a restraining order against Zach Smith, from whom she was separated at the time. Shelley Meyer also said “he scares me,” in reference to Zach Smith.
The two then discuss a protective order, and Shelley Meyer asks if the pictures of the abuse would be enough to obtain one.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney Smith told McMurphy. “I said: ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.’ I know Shelley did everything she could.”
Courtney Smith also had a text exchange with Lindsey Voltolini, who is married to longtime Meyer staffer Brian Voltolini. He currently is Ohio State’s operations director, and has followed the head coach at every stop from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to Ohio State.
Courtney Smith says in an exchange with Lindsey Voltolini that Zach Smith “is trying to make me look crazy bc that’s what Shelley is saying,” to which Lindsey Voltolini replied that Urban Meyer “said [Zach] denied everything.”
Courtney Smith says, “I hope urban is smarter than that,” and Lindsey Voltolini replies, “He doesn’t know what to think.”
Smith is the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, who first hired Meyer as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986. Meyer and Bruce remained close until Bruce’s death in April.
According to Courtney Smith, after Zach Smith was arrested in 2009, both Bruce and longtime Meyer staffer Hiram de Fries asked her to drop the charges.
After the couple eventually separated in June, 2015, Zach Smith continued to threaten Courtney Smith via text message, McMurphy reported. In September of that year, he threatened violence to “everyone involved. For ruining my life. I am getting myself right and getting punished.”
In November, 2015, Courtney Smith obtained a restraining order. Two days later, she filed for divorce, though the documents were sealed until Wednesday.
Meyer fired Smith last week when the 2009 and 2015 incidents became public. That came after Courtney Smith requested a domestic violence civil protection order against Zach Smith on July 20.
Zach Smith was a walk-on player at Bowling Green under Meyer before spending five seasons on the coach’s staff at Florida as a graduate assistant and quality control coach. In all, he worked for Meyer-coached teams for 11 seasons and was the only remaining member of Meyer’s original Ohio State staff from 2012. He was paid $340,000, the lowest among Ohio State’s 10 assistants.
Earlier this year, Ohio State gave Urban Meyer a contract extension through the 2023 season that makes him the second-highest paid coach in college football.
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