The college football world received a potential big shakeup Wednesday night when Ohio State announced that head football coach Urban Meyer will be on paid administrative leave.
This announcement came hours after Brett McMurphy released a second bombshell report about Zach Smith, a recently fired assistant for the Buckeyes.
Smith was fired in July days after an Ohio judge issued a protection order that forbids Smith from getting within 500 feet of his ex-wife. This was not Smith’s first incident linked to domestic violence, however, as McMurphy detailed in an article. In 2009, Smith was a graduate assistant for the Florida Gators under Meyer. Prior to the start of the season, Smith returned home with a female co-worker and had appeared to have been drinking. An argument occurred between Smith and his then-wife of a year, Courtney. The police report said he picked up his wife by her shirt – she was 10 weeks pregnant – and threw her into the bedroom wall. He was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim. Courtney Smith never charged her husband. Meyer was aware of this issue and according to Meyer, he and his wife helped counsel the couple.
“We found out what happened according to both parties, we met with them. There were no charges. Everything was dropped,” Meyer said during Big Ten Media Days. “It was a very young couple and I saw a very talented young coach and we moved forward."
According to Meyer, this was the only incident that he knew of. When information about the 2009 incident was made aware, another incident was included in McMurphy’s report from Oct. 2015 where Courtney Smith suffered unspecified injuries and had been a victim of physical abuse linked to Zach Smith. Meyer claimed he was first informed of the 2015 incident the night before he was set to take the podium at Big Ten Media Days in July.
Then McMurphy released an article Wednesday morning on his Facebook page after interviewing Courtney Smith detailing her history with Zach. The couple divorced in 2016. The ex-wife provided details about the events, as well as photos of injuries and screenshots of text message exchanges, mainly between Courtney and Shelley Meyer, Urban Meyer’s wife.
While Courtney was not sure if the head coach knew of the events, she is sure that all of the coaches’ wives knew.
The article also mentions that a few days after the 2009 incident, Hiram de Fries and Earle Bruce persuaded her to drop the charges.
The two are some of the most respected men by Meyer. De Fries is described like an uncle in Meyer’s 2008 biography. De Fries is currently an off-the-field assistant to the team. Current player Isaiah Prince describes him as the “grandfather of the team” and full of wisdom. Meyer has regularly referred to de Fries as his “life coach.” Bruce was Zach’s grandfather and Meyer describes him as one of the strongest relationships he ever had other than his father. Bruce passed away this past April.
About seven hours after the article was released, Ohio State announced that an investigation will be opened and Meyer is on leave. Both Meyer and his wife could be in violation of Ohio State’s Title IX policy, which will most likely lead to the successful coach being fired, which must happen if he did have knowledge.
His run at Ohio State has been prolific with a 73-8 record in six seasons. Meyer took over in 2012 after Jim Tressel resigned during his controversy. The team won the first national championship under the current playoff format in 2014 with their third-string quarterback. Ohio State didn’t lose a regular season Big Ten game until 2015. They only lost two more in the regular season after that. Ohio State has won or tied for first in the division in every season under Meyer. His success was incredible on the surface, but that view changes if he knew.
If Meyer knew, he joins the list of coaches who put athletics above ethics. Winning was more important than the well-being of people. Art Briles did it at Baylor, Joe Paterno’s legacy was completely altered for doing it at Penn State, and Michigan State is actively trying to get through the Larry Nassar scandal. As someone who cares about sports so much that I chose a career of covering it, it sickens me to see stuff like this get ignored if it helps a team win. This isn’t players trading memorabilia for tattoos. Scandals like Baylor and Penn State ruined people’s lives and the issues weren’t addressed because there were games to win.
It also is highly hypocritical that Meyer preaches a zero-tolerance program against violence, yet kept a coach who has been linked to violence because he’s a “talented young coach.” The wall outside of the locker room at the Woody Hayes Center has the following message painted on it: decisions, honesty, treat women with respect and no drugs, stealing or weapons.
Treating women with respect must only apply to the players. If the Zach Smith stuff is true, the rules do not apply to the staff.
With Meyer’s time at Ohio State pretty much over, this is now the third time that OSU will move on after controversy with their star football coach. Woody Hayes was let go after punching Clemson player Charlie Bauman during the 1978 Gator Bowl and Tressel resigned in 2011 after lying to the NCAA on violations where players traded memorabilia including championship rings and jerseys for tattoos.
Honestly, I miss when we considered players receiving free tattoos the worst things happening in college sports and not teams covering up abuse. Winning is important in sports, but we need a culture change where winning isn’t put over ethical issues like abuse.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at email@example.com