Urban Meyer defended himself Friday, admitting he was not forthright with reporters when questioned about 2015 allegations of domestic violence against one of his assistant coaches, but also insisting he handled the situation properly at the time.
The assistant Meyer fired, Zach Smith, also spoke up, denying he abused his wife, backing his former boss and placing Ohio State’s athletic director into the middle of the picture.
Two days after Ohio State sidelined Meyer and opened an investigation into what its superstar coach knew and did about accusations of abuse made against Smith by his ex-wife, two central figures in this college football drama answered some questions — and left much to be explained.
Meyer posted a statement addressed to Buckeyes fans on Twitter not long after his team, expected to be one of the best in the nation, opened practice for the upcoming season without him. Meyer was put on paid administrative leave Wednesday.
While Meyer’s statement was still being digested, Smith went on Columbus radio station 105.7 The Zone. In the interview , Smith said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith questioned him during the 2015 football about the allegations made by Courtney Smith that fall. Police reports were made about two separate incidents, but Zach Smith has never been criminally charged.
Zach Smith was fired last week by Meyer, a few days after his wife obtained a protective order against him.
Smith also did an interview with ESPN. He said never assaulted his wife and any physical injuries she might have suffered were the result of him defending himself.
He said Gene Smith was alerted by police about the 2015 allegations. Zach Smith said after speaking to Gene Smith about them and he spoke to Meyer. He said Meyer told him then he would fire Smith if the head coach found out Smith hit his wife.
“I don’t know what else Urban Meyer could have done,” Zach Smith told ESPN.
The crisis at one of the most storied programs in college football history comes as the school is reeling from a sexual abuse scandal involving a now-dead sports doctor, Richard Strauss.
The Buckeyes open the season at home Sept. 1 against Oregon State. Co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day is acting head coach and there is no timetable for the Meyer inquiry to conclude.
“Over the past several days I have been portrayed as being indifferent to domestic violence and as someone who did not take appropriate action when warranted,” Meyer said.
“Here is the truth: While at the University of Florida and now at the Ohio State University I have 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. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.”
At Big Ten media days last week, Meyer said he knew of an incident involving the Smiths in 2009 and that he and his wife, Shelley Meyer, addressed it with the Smiths. He was also asked about a 2015 incident alleged by Courtney Smith, who also said she told Meyer’s wife about those incidents.
“I can’t say it didn’t happen because I wasn’t there,” Meyer said at the time. “I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light. I’ve never had a conversation about it. I know nothing about it. First I heard about that was last night. No, and I asked some people back at the office to call and say what happened and they came back and said they know nothing about it.”
Meyer said his intention at media day was not to say anything inaccurate.
“However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions,” Meyer said
Meyer said he will fully cooperate with investigators. Ohio State did not respond Friday to a request seeking comment on the comments by Meyer or Smith, who told the radio station his marriage was volatile and that he made mistakes. The Smiths divorced in 2016.
“I don’t believe I have ever threatened her or anyone,” said Zach Smith, who had been an assistant at Ohio State since Meyer was hired in 2012, in the radio interview.
Smith, the grandson of late Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce, a mentor to Meyer, played for Meyer when he was coach at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Smith also was a graduate assistant for Meyer at Florida for five seasons.
In 2009, Zach Smith was accused by his wife of assault, but charges were not filed. Meyer has said he and his wife, Shelley, counseled the couple at the time. Courtney Smith has also said she told Shelley Meyer about the 2015 incidents and shared pictures of injuries through text messages that she shared with college football reporter Brett McMurphy .
In one text to Courtney Smith, Shelley Meyer said of Zach Smith: “He scares me”
Meyer has been at Ohio State for six seasons, going 73-8 with a national championship in 2014 and two Big Ten conference titles. He earlier won two national titles at Florida.
Ohio State’s policy on sexual misconduct says anyone who supervises faculty, staff, students or volunteers has a duty to report “when they receive a disclosure of sexual misconduct or become aware of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that sexual misconduct may have occurred involving anyone covered under this policy.”
A clause in Meyer’s new contract, which raised his salary to $7.6 million this year and runs through 2022, also requires him to “report to Ohio State’s Title IX athletics any known violations” of the sexual misconduct policy involving students, faculty or staff at the risk of being fired with cause.
Firing Meyer without cause would cost Ohio State a nearly $40 million buyout.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen on https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/id1138957862?mt=2