Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and his former assistant responded publicly Friday to the handling of allegations involving domestic abuse that have engulfed the program as it prepares to open practice.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Meyer admitted he had knowledge of the domestic abuse allegations brought against Zach Smith in 2015 despite claiming otherwise last week, and asserted that he reported the situation in accordance with Ohio State’s policies. Meyer, who was placed on paid administrative leave by the university Wednesday, said in the statement that he has “always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.”
In a news conference at Big Ten media days in Chicago shortly after Smith’s firing, Meyer said he knew about a 2009 incident involving Smith and his wife and did not believe the initial allegations of abuse were accurate. In the same news conference, he denied any knowledge of the 2015 incident. Regarding that denial, Meyer said in his statement, “I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions.”
Ohio State also announced Wednesday that it was conducting an inquiry into the allegations made by Courtney Smith. In a statement at that time, Meyer said that he and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith agreed that “being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion.” The school announced Thursday night the formation of an independent six-person group that will conduct an investigation into Meyer. Per ESPN, the six people will be made up of three members of the university’s board of trustees and three not affiliated with the university. Ohio State also relayed that it will have no media availability with players or coaches “until further notice” as the investigation goes on.
In his statement Friday, Meyer said he looks forward to answering questions from investigators and will refrain from answering questions publicly “out of respect for the ongoing inquiry.”
Smith was fired as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach a day after the allegations were reported by former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy. McMurphy’s story, which he published to his Facebook page, contains detailed allegations of abuse from Courtney Smith and text conversations with Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife, in which the two discussed it. Courtney Smith has alleged her ex-husband physically abused her in 2009, when Smith was an assistant under Meyer at Florida, and in 2015, when Smith worked under Meyer at Ohio State. She has a restraining order against her ex-husband.
In appearances on ESPN and a Columbus radio station Friday, Smith denied abusing his ex-wife. In his radio interview, Smith said he never told Meyer about the allegations in 2015 because he “didn’t think it was a problem [Meyer] had to deal with.” Smith said Ohio State handled the situation “exactly how they should have handled it,” and added that police alerted the university of the allegations, the police investigated it and no criminal charges were found.
“I made mistakes,” Smith said in the radio interview. “But I don’t believe I’ve ever threatened her.” He also described his relationship with his ex-wife as “volatile” and “toxic.”
Meyer’s full statement is below: