Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer has apologized to the ex-wife of former assistant coach Zach Smith, saying that his apology to the alleged victim of spousal abuse should have come earlier.
Ohio State fired Smith on July 23, three days after he was served with a civil protection order on behalf of his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. She has accused her former husband of abuse, including domestic violence in 2009 and 2015. Police looked into the 2015 allegations, but no formal charges were filed, officials said.
On Wednesday, Ohio State suspended Meyer for three games without pay in the wake of an investigation into his handling of the allegations against Smith.
In a media conference that night, Meyer apologized to Ohio State fans, but did not mention Courtney Smith by name.
‘What I should have said’
Friday, Meyer issued a statement of apology, saying his “words and demeanor” did not show how seriously he took relationship violence.
“I understand my lack of more action in this situation has raised concerns about this commitment. I once again apologize for this and I extend my empathy to all women, men and families who are affected by relationship violence,” Meyer said.
“Let me say here and now what I should have said on Wednesday: I sincerely apologize to Courtney Smith and her children for what they have gone through.”
Meyer said that at a young age he had been taught that he would be kicked out of the house if he ever hit a woman and he had the same rule in his house and Ohio State’s football program.
The day after Smith’s firing in July, Meyer told reporters that he knew about the 2009 allegation against Smith, but didn’t know about the 2015 allegation.
Then Courtney Smith told Stadium, a sports network, that she told Meyer’s wife, Shelley, about the alleged 2015 incident that year — leading to speculation about whether the coach did know.
Zach Smith told ESPN on August 3 that he did indeed discuss the 2015 incident with Meyer as police investigated the matter. Meyer told him that “if I find out you hit her, you’re done,” Smith recalled to ESPN.
Ohio State, already embroiled in separate scandals involving alleged sex abuse by a now-deceased athletics doctor and a diving coach, put Meyer on leave August 1.
The board of trustees launched an investigation led by Mary Jo White, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman, the findings of which were announced Wednesday.
Meyer has been suspended without pay through September 2 and for the games on September 1, 8, and 15. Athletic Director Gene Smith is suspended without pay from August 31 to September 16, according to a summary of the investigative findings and university actions.
“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 summary said.
“Coach Meyer and AD Gene Smith, although acting in good faith, did not report the (police) investigation of Zach Smith … to (the Title IX) compliance (department) as we believe they should have,” White said.
Meyer said Wednesday that his relationship with Earle Bruce, the Hall of Fame former Ohio State head coach and Meyer’s mentor, likely impacted his judgment. Bruce was Zach Smith’s grandfather.
“I’m fully aware I’m ultimately responsible for this situation,” Meyer told the news conference. “I followed my heart and not my head. At each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.”
While Meyer offered an apology to “Buckeye nation,” he drew the ire of critics for failing to properly apologize to Courtney Smith. When asked what he would say to her, Meyer instead addressed “everyone involved in this.”
“My message for everyone involved in this, I’m sorry that we’re in this situation,” Meyer said. “And, uh, I’m just sorry we’re in this situation.”
In a statement, Zach Smith’s attorney said his client should not have married Courtney Smith.
“Vengeance against her ex-husband regrettably resulted in collateral damage to Urban Meyer, Gene Smith & The Ohio State University,” lawyer Brad Koffel said.
Meyer has one of the best college football winning percentages of all time, with 177 wins and only 31 losses in 16 seasons as a head coach.
He had brief but successful coaching stints at Bowling Green State University and the University of Utah, then won two national championships with the Florida Gators before going to Ohio State in 2012.
He won a third national championship, with the Buckeyes, in 2015.
The Buckeyes’ football season opener is September 1 against Oregon State. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day is the acting head coach. Ohio State was voted No. 5 in the Associated Press preseason poll. It is No. 3 in the coaches’ poll.