Ohio State suspends football coach Urban Meyer three games: ‘I want to apologize’: While Urban Meyer’s suspension can be debated, one thing cannot: OSU and Meyer botched their reaction and explanation of the decision.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State suspended its national championship football coach Urban Meyer for three games after the school investigated his handling of allegations of domestic abuse involving one of his former assistant coaches.
The announcement comes after the school’s Board of Trustees appointed an independent panel to oversee a two-week investigation of Meyer and what he knew about domestic abuse allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. The board reviewed the report and discussed its actions for nearly 11 hours on Wednesday.
Meyer, who will miss games against Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU, is suspended without pay. He has been on paid leave since Aug. 1.
He cannot work with the team at all through the Oregon State game. After that, he can coach practices but cannot beat the next two games.
“I appreciate the opportunity to learn from a mistake,” Meyer said at a press conference. “There were red flags (with Zach Smith). I wish I did a better job knowing things and finding out things. I wish people told me more things. . . . I wish I had known more.
“I want to apologize to the Buckeye Nation. I followed my heart and not my head. … At each juncture, I gave Zach the benefit of the doubt.”
Athletic director Gene Smith also was suspended from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16. “I have ultimate authority and oversight and I’m accountable for the athletic department, and in particular, the football program,” Gene Smith said. “I could have done a better job in this particular instance.”
According to the report: “Although neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management activities relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an Assistant Coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes. 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.”
During his administrative leave, Meyer was barred from coming on campus. But he was seen entering the building early in the trustees’ session. His wife, Shelley, arrived around 2:30.
Zach Smith was accused of abuse by his ex-wife on several occasions, most recently in 2015. Meyer initially denied knowledge of the alleged 2015 incident during an appearance at Big Ten Conference media days in July. He later he admitted to previously knowing about the matter and said he followed proper reporting protocols and procedures.
In an interview for the website Stadium, Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, said she had told Meyer’s wife, Shelley, and Lindsey Voltolini, the wife of Ohio State’s director of football operations, about her ex-husband’s abusive behavior.
Among the correspondences between Smith and Shelley Meyer were photos showing bruises stemming from the 2015 incident.
Following the interview with Smith, the school’s Board of Trustees appointed an independent panel to oversee the investigation of Meyer.
Ryan Day, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is serving as interim head coach.
Across multiple stops, each more successful than the last, Meyer’s coaching career has been a contradiction of near-unparalleled success marred by bouts of controversy.
At Florida, where Meyer led the Gators to national championships in 2006 and 2008, his program dominated the Southeastern Conference yet too often found itself in the headlines for player misconduct. Off the field, a program that seemed invincible was anything but.
Thirty-one players were arrested during Meyer’s tenure, which spanned from 2005-10. A report by Sporting News detailed an altercation between Florida assistant coach Billy Gonzales and star receiver Percy Harvin, which saw Harvin grab Gonzales by the throat and tackle him to the ground before being separated by two assistants.
Another one of Meyer’s stars at Florida, tight end Aaron Hernandez, was involved in two incidents during his time with the Gators, both in 2007. In one, Hernandez punched a restaurant employee in the side of the head, rupturing the individual’s eardrum. In the other, Hernandez was viewed as a person of interest in a shooting that occurred after a night at a local nightclub.
In 2013, Hernandez was arrested and charged in the murder of an acquaintance in North Attleborough, Mass. Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2015.
On the field, on the other hand, Meyer led Florida back to prominence after a brief dip following the retirement of former head coach Steve Spurrier.
Led by quarterback Tim Tebow, the Gators won the national championship in both 2006 and 2008, finished No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll in 2009 and finished lower than 16th nationally just once, in Meyer’s final season in 2010.
Meyer nearly retired in the winter of 2009, after a health scare involving chest pains following the recent conference championship game and a desire to spend more time with his family. He officially stepped down on Dec. 9, 2010, with a 65-15 record at the school, and spent the 2011 season as an analyst for ESPN.
“At the end of the day, I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won,” Meyer said at the time.
But it wasn’t long before he returned to coaching. A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer was hired by Ohio State in late November of 2011, and immediately moved the Buckeyes into elite company: OSU went 12-0 in his debut season, in 2012, though the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason due to sanctions stemming from the Jim Tressel era.
Of Meyer’s six teams, just one, in 2013, finished outside the top 10 of the Coaches Poll. The 2014 team claimed the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship. Each of the five Meyer-coached teams eligible for the postseason reached a New Year’s Six bowls; all six combined for just three losses in regular-season Big Ten play.
He always had a reputation for being difficult, addicted to the details, micromanaging every detail of his program, however small. At Ohio State, for instance, the desk in Meyer’s office was angled toward the door leading into the Buckeyes’ main football facility — allowing him to see who was going in and out, and when.
Yet you could never argue with the results. Meyer holds a career record of 177-31, which includes earlier, two-year stints at Bowling Green and Utah. His final team at Utah, in 2004, went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl. In the history of the FBS, just three coaches have done better than Meyer’s 85.1 winning percentage.