As Ohio State football players sweated through the first day of training camp, their absent coach issued an apology for denying he knew about a history of domestic violence allegations involving a former staff member.
Urban Meyer has been placed on administrative leave while the university investigates what he knew — and when he knew — of accusations leveled against receivers coach Zach Smith over the past nine years.
Meyer fired Smith last month, and told reporters at the Big Ten Conference media days he only recently understood the full scope of the situation.
On Friday, Meyer acknowledged that wasn’t true.
“My words, whether in reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate and most of all, completely accurate,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately … I failed on many of these fronts.”
At roughly the same time Meyer’s apology was posted, Smith granted an interview to ESPN in which he offered a timeline of the events.
“I don’t know what he was thinking. Not really,” Smith said when asked about Meyer’s initial denial. “He knows everything that has gone on in my marriage that he needed to know.”
The controversy has made national headlines just as the Buckeyes begin preparing for a season in which they are expected to contend for a national championship. In the coaches preseason poll, they are ranked No. 3 behind Alabama and Clemson.
“My heart is heavy today as I witness the toll that events of the past week have taken on the Buckeye family and the university community that I love so dearly,” Meyer stated.
The situation dates to 2009, when Meyer was coaching at Florida and employed Smith as an intern. At the time, Meyer became aware of an incident between Smith and his then-wife, Courtney. He spoke with Smith but took no further action.
“It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened,” Meyer said.
Another allegation arose in 2015, after Smith had followed Meyer to Ohio State. Meyer claimed he did not learn of the second accusation until last month, but Smith had a different account.
He said he was summoned to campus from an October 2015 recruiting trip. After discussing the new allegation with Athletic Director Gene Smith, the former assistant said he voluntarily spoke with police in Powell, Ohio.
“Urban pulled me off the practice field and said ‘What the hell is going on? What is this? What is this?’” Smith told ESPN. “And I laid it all out for him. I said, ‘Apparently my ex-wife is trying to get me charged with domestic abuse from incidents that happened throughout our marriage.’”
Smith also recalled saying: “If I hit her, I wouldn’t come here. I know how you feel about that. If I hit her, I wouldn’t even come to work. I would know it’s over.”
No charges were filed but the story resurfaced in July when an Ohio judge issued a protective order against Zach Smith. College football reporter Brett McMurphy then posted a story on Facebook that included text messages showing Courtney Smith discussing the second incident with Meyer’s wife in 2015.
Still, when Meyer faced reporters at the Big Ten media days late last month, he insisted: “I got a text late last night something happened in 2015. And there was nothing.”
Though Meyer apologized Friday “for the way I handled those questions,” he dismissed the notion that he was indifferent to domestic violence.
“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,” he stated. “And I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015.”
The university has established an independent working group to investigate, calling upon three board members and three outsiders — a former state legislator and two former prosecutors.
Meyer expressed confidence that he soon will be allowed to rejoin his team.
“Please know that the truth is the ultimate power,” he wrote. “And I am confident that I took appropriate action.”