At a little before 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, Ohio State released a “summary of findings” into what investigators found happened regarding domestic violence in the home of Courtney and Zach Smith while Zach Smith was an assistant football coach for the university, as well as what head football coach Urban Meyer, his wife, Shelley, and athletic director Gene Smith knew about it. Overall, it finds that Zach Smith repeatedly, both within his work space and outside of it, had a “pattern of troubling behavior.”
But the concerns weren’t documented and lead to no discipline until Zach Smith’s firing this year, after Courtney Smith’s repeated requests for help from law enforcement became public. The reason, the report surmises, was because Meyer “may have been motivated, in part, by his loyalty to Earle Bruce, his mentor.” Bruce is Zach Smith’s grandfather and coached Ohio State football in the 1980s. The report also finds that Meyer “did not, in our view, deliberately lie.”
Earlier in the night, the university announced that Meyer would be suspended for three games this season, meaning he’s missing one of the easier stretches of the Buckeyes’ season with zero serious opponents from their conference. He’ll be back before they play Penn State in late September.
The report is 23 pages long and only a summary of what investigators found after, they said, they combed over thousands of pages of records. Here are some of its key findings regarding what’s already been reported as well as some new information.
Coach Meyer maintains that shortly after the 2009 arrest, both Zach and Courtney Smith met with him in his office at Florida to inform him that the arrest of Zach Smith had been based on incorrect information provided to the authorities by Courtney Smith and that, in fact, Zach Smith had not hit or otherwise been violent toward Mrs. Smith. Courtney Smith denies ever meeting with Urban Meyer, although she recalls meeting with Shelley Meyer at that time. Courtney Smith maintains that she has never recanted her allegations to anyone. Zach Smith also recalls that only he met with Urban Meyer, but that Courtney Smith did not. Urban and Shelley Meyer referred the couple to a counselor.
We find it more likely that only Zach Smith met with Coach Meyer in 2009, and that Courtney Smith likely did not recant her allegations of abuse at that time to Urban or Shelley Meyer, although it is clear that Courtney Smith decided not to pursue charges and that none were ever filed. Coach Meyer and Shelley Meyer took away from the 2009 events that Courtney Smith was not being entirely truthful when she called 911 to have Zach arrested.
The background check did not call for or return arrest information, and Zach Smith’s arrest in 2009 was therefore unknown to others at OSU at the time he was hired.
... Coach Meyer did not inform others at OSU about Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest. Coach Meyer has explained that he did not do so because no charges were filed and because he believed Zach Smith had not engaged in domestic violence in 2009.
Ohio State officials learned about it from a deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics, who heard about it from law enforcement. Urban Meyer told Zach Smith “You hit her, you are fired,” according to the report, with Gene Smith saying that criminal charges would lead to Zach Smith being fired. In the fall of 2015, Courtney Smith reached out to Shelley Meyer. Here is what Shelley did afterward, per the Ohio State report:
(ii) Shelley Meyer contacted the Powell Police Department to seek further information about the investigation of Zach Smith; the Powell PD would not release details other than acknowledging the existence of an ongoing investigation. Coach Meyer was not made aware of Shelley’s outreach to the Powell PD;
(iii) Shelley Meyer also maintains that she did not relay Courtney Smith’s expression of fear or allegations of abuse, including the photographs, to Urban Meyer at the time because she had doubts about the veracity of Courtney Smith’s allegations. Coach Meyer also does not recall any discussion with Shelley Meyer about either her or Courtney Smith’s concerns about abuse. Given the closeness of their relationship and Shelley’s concerns, we believe it is likely that Shelley and Urban Meyer had at least some communication about these allegations in late 2015 and were concerned about them, although both had doubts about the credibility of Courtney’s claims, based on, among other things, Zach Smith’s denials and their belief that Courtney Smith’s 2009 allegations had been false; by late October 2015, Coach Meyer knew of CourtneySmith’s domestic violence complaints against Zach Smith through his knowledge of the 2015-2016 law enforcement investigation.
However, during Zach and Courtney Smith’s divorce, his performance notably declined at work. He was warned, according to the report, but not fired until after Ohio State learned about the civil protection order.
(a) On the night of July 23, 2018 at 7:08 p.m., Meyer directed a message to staff stating that the reasons for Zach Smith’s dismissal were “Core value violation and cumulative issues. ‘Win the Moment’–most important thing is team and players at this time.” Meyer further directed “Zero conversation about Zach’s past issues. We need to help him as he moves frwd. Team and players!!”
(b) At 7:35 p.m., Shelley Meyer conveyed, in a text to Coach Meyer, that “I am worried about Zach’s response. He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.” Meyer did not respond to the message.
(This is one text block in the Ohio State report but being broken into sections here.)
Thereafter, still during the evening of July 23, 2018, Meyer received additional media reports discussing Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest and a “felony arrest” involving Zach Smith in 2015; at 10:25 p.m., Coach Meyer sent a message to Gene Smith, Jerry Emig, the Assistant Director, Athletic Communications, Brian Voltolini, Director of Football Operations, and Ryan Stamper, Director, Player Development, stating “I know nothing about this”; he asked “Is there a way to find out exactly what his issues were. I know about 2009 [it was dropped] and last week. That’s it. Need some guidance here so when I speak to media I’m not wrong.”
Later that evening, Stamper reported to Meyer that there was no record of Zach Smith being arrested in 2015, only records of a divorce. Meyer acknowledged this, stating “Stamp just confirmed there was no arrest in 2015.” As the same text chain continued into the morning of July 24, 2018, AD Smith cautioned “I would be careful. Do not get too detailed.” He went on to advise that whatever Coach Meyer says on this subject at Big Ten Media Days should be said in his opening statement “and take no more questions on it.” Gene Smith also suggested the following remarks for Meyer for Big Ten Media Days: “As you are aware through our release, we have made a change in our wide receivers coaching position. As Zach dealt with his personal challenge I was aware of two legal instances in 2009 and 2015. This most recent issue is inconsistent with our values. . . . Needs to be cleaned up in your words.....just a thought.” Meyer responds “Thx.”
Emig, the Athletic Communications Director, followed up at 7:26 a.m. on July 24th saying “[t]hose are good points” and recommending that Meyer, with respect to the events of 2015, state “[t]here were no charges in 2015 and I really don’t even recall any details.” Meyer does not respond.
We cannot logically square Coach Meyer’s responses on Big Ten Media Days broadly denying knowledge of the 2015 events regarding Zach Smith with his extensive knowledge of those events in 2015 and the evident knowledge of AD Gene Smith of the 2015 events reflected in the group text message of July 23 and July 24, 2018 sent to Coach Meyer. (As noted, AD Smith says that his recollection of the 2015 events was triggered by the social media report on the evening of July 23rd.) In the group text on the morning of July 24th, AD Smith suggested that Coach Meyer should acknowledge in his Big Ten Media Days remarks later that day the events of both 2009 and 2015 without giving details. Coach Meyer did not do so.
3. We accept that in July 2018 Coach Meyer was deeply absorbed in football season and wanted to focus on football at Big Ten Media Days. The firing of Zach Smith the day before – the first time Coach Meyer had fired a coach – was also on his mind, as was the erroneous media report of a felony arrest of Zach Smith in 2015. We also learned during the investigation that Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events. He has also periodically taken medicine that can negatively impair his memory, concentration, and focus. All of these factors also need to be considered and weighed in assessing Coach Meyer’s mindset on July 24th.
In the course of our review, as the factual discussion in this summary reflects, we identified a pattern of troubling behavior by Zach Smith: promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cyber crimes. Repeatedly, Zach Smith’s conduct was met with reprimands and warnings by Coach Meyer, but never a written report, never an investigation and no disciplinary action until July 23, 2018. While we do not doubt that Coach Meyer respects women and is dedicated to fostering an environment of respect for women in his program, his apparent blind spot for Zach Smith seems to have impaired his judgment and his management of the behavior of at least one of his assistants.
It later adds that: “Coach Meyer’s desire not to publicly discuss Zach Smith’s ‘cumulative issues’ may have been motivated, in part, by his loyalty to Earle Bruce, his mentor.” Meyer himself, per the report, told university leaders that “his decision to fire Zach Smith was difficult because Zach was Earle Bruce’s grandson and Bruce had been a close mentor to Meyer.”
The full report is below.