Ohio State announced Wednesday evening that the head coach of its storied football team, Urban Meyer, had been put on paid administrative leave while the university investigated allegations that Meyer knew a longtime former assistant coach had been accused of domestic abuse in 2015.
Meyer, one of the most successful coaches of the past two decades, said last week that he had not heard of the domestic abuse accusations until recent days, but a report on Wednesday suggested that Meyer had known about the accusations for far longer.
In a statement Wednesday released by the university, Meyer said he and Athletic Director Gene Smith had agreed “that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion. This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
Ryan Day, a 39-year-old co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who joined the program a year ago, will serve as acting head football coach, the statement said. Two other Ohio State coordinators, Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson, have experience as head coaches at major college programs.
The escalation to paid administrative leave for Meyer came after Brett McMurphy, an independent journalist who formerly covered college football for ESPN, published a report on Facebook in which Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of the former assistant coach Zach Smith, said that Meyer’s wife had extensive knowledge of the abuse allegations. Courtney Smith’s story was backed up by text messages, according to the report.
It is the latest sports-related scandal at a university already under fire over whether it could have acted sooner to stop a former doctor whom more than 100 former students have accused of sexual abuse. The reported abuse took place for more than a decade stretching to the mid-1990s. There is also a lawsuit stemming from a former assistant diving coach’s sexual relationship with a 16-year-old diver in 2014.
Ohio State is one of college football’s flagship programs. Meyer is one of just two active head coaches who have won multiple championships: two at Florida in the 2000s, and one at Ohio State after the 2014 season.
Meyer, a native of Toledo, Ohio, was hailed as a savior when he assumed the head coaching job in late 2011 as Ohio State emerged from a scandal in which players had exchanged signed memorabilia for tattoos. The head coach at the time, Jim Tressel, lied about when he learned of the infractions. Meyer’s salary — $7.6 million after he signed an extension through 2022 earlier this year — is among the highest in the sport.
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Meyer fired Zach Smith as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator last week after McMurphy reported that Courtney Smith had filed a domestic violence protection order against him the previous Friday and that he had recently been charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
McMurphy then reported that Zach Smith had also been the subject of criminal investigations into domestic violence, felonious assault and menacing by stalking stemming from two incidents in the fall of 2015. In 2009, while Smith was a graduate assistant under Meyer at Florida, Smith was arrested as a result of accusations of aggravated battery on a pregnant victim.
At a news conference last week, Meyer said he had been aware of the 2009 arrest. His wife, Shelley, and he attempted to help shepherd the young couple through it.
Meyer denied previous knowledge of the 2015 episodes, though. He said he had learned about them through a text message the night before the news conference.
McMurphy’s report Wednesday from Columbus, Ohio, included a text message exchange between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer discussing one of the alleged abuse episodes in 2015. In another text message exchange from that period, the wife of a longtime Urban Meyer assistant, Brian Voltolini, currently an associate athletic director, told Courtney Smith that Meyer had confronted Zach Smith about the allegation.
Shelley Meyer persistently reached out to Courtney Smith about the allegation, according to Smith.
“All the wives knew,” Smith told McMurphy, referring to the coaches’ wives. “They all did. Every single one.”
Courtney Smith also shared photos of her body, bruised and bloodied — by Zach Smith, she said — with McMurphy and said she had shared those photos with coaches’ wives in 2014 and 2015.
McMurphy is a longtime college football reporter based in Tampa, Fla., who was let go by ESPN in a large round of layoffs in the spring of 2017. In an interview Wednesday he said a noncompete clause in his contract had prohibited him from publishing stories on his beat for a rival outlet. So he has taken to releasing various reports via Twitter and Facebook.
He said his ESPN contract expires later this month, at which point he will join Stadium, a Chicago-based sports network. Later Wednesday, Stadium published an exclusive video interview with Courtney Smith.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Smith said in the video. She also said that Shelley Meyer never confirmed to her that she had told her husband about the allegations. Meyer is a registered nurse employed by Ohio State’s College of Nursing, according to an Ohio State website.
The lawyers listed in a local court docket as having represented Zach Smith and Courtney Smith in the recent proceedings did not reply to requests for comment Wednesday. Last week, Zach Smith’s lawyer, Bradley Koffel, told The Columbus Dispatch that the recent trespassing charge stemmed from a misunderstanding related to where Smith was supposed to drop off their children as part of their custodial arrangement.
Smith has worked for Meyer since 2005, when he was a graduate assistant at Florida, and he played for Meyer before that, at Bowling Green. He is also a grandson of Earl Bruce, a former Ohio State coach whom Meyer has identified as a mentor.
The questions of who knew what, and when, about allegations of domestic abuse against an Ohio State athletics employee echo those raised in recent weeks about two other former university employees affiliated with athletics.
Last month, Ohio State announced that an independent investigation, which is still continuing, had uncovered more than 100 former students who said that Dr. Richard H. Strauss, a former university employee and team doctor, had sexually abused them. Three lawsuits have been filed by former athletes in several sports. They say that Strauss used his position as a university-designated medical professional to molest them and that several authority figures knew about it, including a former wrestling coach and a former athletic director. Both have denied that they knew about the Strauss abuse.
That scandal has ensnared Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the most powerful elected Republican politicians in the country, who was an assistant wrestling coach for several years while Strauss was the team doctor. Jordan has denied having had knowledge of the allegations, and he has argued that accusers have been put up to fabricating stories by an unspecified “deep state.”
A woman who as a teenager trained with the Ohio State University Diving Club said that a former assistant diving coach, Will Bohonyi, had engaged in an abusive relationship with her that was amplified because there was no safe way to report it. Ohio State said it placed Bohonyi on administrative leave as soon as it learned about the relationship, and the university later fired him.
Bohonyi has not commented since the woman, Eszter Pryor, last week spoke publicly for the first time about her experience.