Ohio State suspends coach Urban Meyer, AD Gene Smith
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State on Wednesday night suspended head football coach Urban Meyer for the first three games of this season after a two-week investigation found that he mishandled domestic assault allegations made against former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith and misrepresented what he knew about the situation in a public statement in July.
Meyer was suspended without pay and banned from interacting with the football team through Sept. 2. He can rejoin the team at that point, but he will not be able to coach in games against Oregon State, Rutgers and No. 16 TCU.
Meyer said Wednesday that his allegiance to former mentor and Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce, Zach Smith's grandfather, clouded his judgment and caused him to miss red flags about the former assistant's behavior.
"I followed my heart and not my head," Meyer said in a news conference. "... I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt."
Ohio State also suspended athletic director Gene Smith without pay for more than two weeks. His suspension will take effect Aug. 31 and will finish Sept. 16. Smith said he failed as a leader to alert others to red flags about Zach Smith's conduct after he learned that police were investigating accusations of domestic abuse in 2015.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff committee, said Smith's suspension will "not affect Gene's status on the committee." Smith is one of 13 members on the CFP selection committee.
"Although neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith's misconduct and retained an Assistant Coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes," the school said in a statement outlining the investigation's findings.
"Permitting such misconduct to continue is not consistent with the values of the University and reflects poorly on Coach Meyer, Athletic Director Smith, and the University. Their handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect of our Athletic Director, Head Coach, Assistant Coaches and all on the football staff."
Following Wednesday night's announcement of the suspensions, Ohio State released a 23-page document detailing all of the investigation's findings.
Though the school said in its outline of findings that Meyer did not attempt to cover up any of Zach Smith's actions, the findings call into question Meyer's behavior after a story by college football reporter Brett McMurphy that detailed allegations against Smith made by his ex-wife, Courtney, that included a series of text messages.
Associate athletic director Brian Voltolini and Meyer "discussed at that time whether the media could get access to Coach Meyer's phone, and specifically how to adjust the settings on Meyer's phone so that text messages older than one year would be deleted," the summary of findings detailed. When Meyer turned his phone over to the investigative team, it had no text messages that were older than one year.
While that is not an admission of guilt, the investigators found it "nonetheless concerning that his first reaction to a negative media piece exposing his knowledge of the 2015-16 law enforcement investigation was to worry about the media getting access to info and discussing how to delete messages older than one year."
Ohio State placed Meyer on paid administrative leave Aug. 1, shortly after Courtney Smith said in an interview with Stadium that she believed Meyer and others at the football program knew that her ex-husband was abusing her in 2015 and failed to do anything to stop it. Meyer fired Zach Smith on July 23 after a pattern of past allegations of abuse came to light in a report by McMurphy.
Meyer initially said he was previously unaware of any domestic issues between the Smiths that occurred during the time that Zach Smith was a coach at Ohio State. He backtracked shortly after being placed on leave, saying instead that he misspoke when first answering questions about Smith and that he followed proper protocol in reporting the incident in 2015.
Lead investigator Mary Jo White said she believes Meyer did not deliberately lie when answering questions in a July 24 interview but that he misrepresented what he knew about the 2015 incident. She said her investigative team believes Meyer has a "sincere commitment" to respecting women.
When asked during Wednesday night's news conference what message he had for Courtney Smith, Meyer said, "Well, I have a message for everyone involved in this: I'm sorry that we're in this situation."
Courtney Smith did not immediately respond Wednesday night to phone calls from ESPN seeking a response to Meyer's suspension and comments.
Meyer said he supports and trusts university president Michael V. Drake, who made the decision to suspend him. Meyer said he was not aware of some of Zach Smith's behavior while Smith was a coach at Ohio State but that he should have been.
"I wish I could go back and make different decisions, but I can't," Meyer said. "These difficult lessons are a constant reminder of the duties and obligations that I have as a member of this university and this community. I take full responsibility, I take this responsibility very seriously and I will do better."
Zach Smith was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault in 2009 while working as a graduate assistant on Meyer's staff at the University of Florida. He was not charged with a crime. Meyer said he was aware of that incident, and he recommended the Smiths seek counseling at the time.
Gene Smith said he was not aware of the 2009 incident when Ohio State hired Zach Smith in 2012. Gene Smith said he spoke with the university's vice president of human resources this week about revising their hiring practices to make sure similar issues wouldn't go unnoticed in the future.
Zach Smith also was arrested on drunken driving charges in 2013 and pleaded guilty to lesser charges. He said he didn't tell Meyer about the arrest.
Meyer said he ultimately decided to fire Zach Smith last month when he learned that Smith failed to tell him about a criminal trespassing charge that occurred in May and a restraining order issued by an Ohio judge in July. Both of those incidents are ongoing legal issues.
Courtney Smith said in her interview with McMurphy that she exchanged text messages with Meyer's wife, Shelley, in 2015 and that Shelley Meyer -- who also is a university employee -- told her she would let Urban Meyer know about her accusations. Urban Meyer said Wednesday that he was not aware of those text message exchanges.
The board of trustees convened at 9 a.m. Wednesday and announced its final decision more than 12 hours later. Drake said the board wanted to take its time to be as thorough and equitable as possible, knowing it would not be able to please all parties with the decision.
"We worked to refine our decisions and our actions to be able to do the best we could to achieve those goals," Drake said. "It's a very difficult and complicated situation."
White said the investigators conducted more than 40 interviews and reviewed 60,000 emails, 10,000 text messages and relevant reports from media and police. That information led the board to believe that "the handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect."
In a statement, the Big Ten said it supported Ohio State's findings.
"The hiring, retention and firing of institutional personnel lies solely in the hands of the individual institutions and their boards and is not something upon which we would have further comment," the conference said.
Ryan Day will continue to serve as the fifth-ranked Buckeyes' interim coach during Meyer's absence.
Meyer has a 73-8 record in seven years at Ohio State, and he won the national championship with the Buckeyes following the 2014 season.
Meyer had a 65-15 record at Florida and won two national championships there, following the 2006 and 2008 seasons.
His overall record in 17 years at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State is 177-31.
Meyer has a salary of $7.6 million for the 2018 season and is under contract through 2022.
ESPN's Heather Dinich contributed to this report.