Ohio State placed football Coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave late Wednesday after the ex-wife of a longtime assistant called into question Meyer’s claims he was unaware of a 2015 allegation of domestic abuse against the assistant.
In an interview published Wednesday, Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of recently fired Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith, said she discussed the incident — in which she claims her ex-husband shoved her against a wall with his hands around her neck — in 2015 with Shelley Meyer, Urban Meyer’s wife.
“All the [coaches’] wives knew,” Courtney Smith told Brett McMurphy, a college football reporter laid off by ESPN last year who posted the story on his Facebook page. “They all did. Every single one.”
Smith provided text messages she exchanged with Shelley Meyer in 2015 about the incident, which brought a police visit but did not result in criminal charges against Zach Smith.
Meyer fired Zach Smith last month after the 2015 allegation came to light, as well as a 2009 incident in Florida in which police arrested Zach Smith on a domestic violence charge that Courtney Smith eventually dropped. At a news conference last month, Meyer said he knew about the 2009 incident and did not believe the initial allegations raised were accurate but denied knowledge of the 2015 allegation.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Ohio State said it was conducting an inquiry into the allegations raised by Courtney Smith. Meyer, in a separate statement, said he and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith agreed “being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion.”
Offensive coordinator Ryan Day will serve as acting head coach for the Buckeyes, who open training camp in Columbus on Friday.
“I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter,” Meyer said.
In a statement released by his lawyer, Zach Smith denied assaulting his ex-wife.
“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,” attorney Brad Koffel said. “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.”
In 2009, Zach Smith was a 25-year-old intern on Meyer’s staff at Florida when police were called to his home early one morning. Courtney Smith, then about 10 weeks pregnant, told police that her husband had “picked her up and threw into the bedroom wall,” a report states. Zach Smith was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.
Within days, Courtney Smith claims, she heard from two close friends of Urban Meyer, who both asked her not to pursue the criminal charge. One was Earle Bruce, a former Ohio State coach and Zach Smith’s grandfather. The other was Hiram deFries, a former oil executive and longtime Meyer confidante.
“[DeFries] said, ‘If you don’t drop the charges, Zach will never coach again,’ ” Courtney Smith told McMurphy, the former ESPN reporter. “ ‘He’s never hit you before. He was drinking. He’ll probably never do it again. You should think about giving him a second chance.’ ”
DeFries was unable to be reached for comment late Wednesday.
At Big Ten media days last month, Meyer discussed his recent firing of Zach Smith and acknowledged awareness of the 2009 incident.
“It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened,” Meyer said. “And Shelley and I actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised for counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.”
Meyer denied knowledge of subsequent allegations of domestic violence against Zach Smith, who joined the Ohio State staff in 2011. According to Courtney Smith, however, she reached out to Shelley Meyer after another incident in October 2015, when, she claims, Zach Smith shoved her up against a wall as their 3-year-old daughter clung to her leg.
“I am with you! A lot of women stay hoping it will get better,” Shelley Meyer texted Courtney Smith, according to messages she provided. “Do you have a restraining order? He scares me.”
Courtney Smith obtained a restraining order against her husband a few weeks later, then filed for divorce.
The 2009 and 2015 reports came to public attention last month, after Zach Smith, 34, had to appear in court on a charge of misdemeanor trespassing over an incident that he says actually was a dispute with his ex-wife over when and where he was supposed to drop off their son. Subsequent media reports uncovered prior allegations.
A few days later, Meyer fired Smith.
“It’s a decision that was made for the best interest of our team,” Meyer explained last month.
Meyer, 54, is one of the must successful active coaches in college football. In six seasons at Ohio State, he has compiled a 73-8 record and won the 2014 national championship, his third, along with titles he won in 2006 and 2008 at Florida.