The ex-wife of former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith, who was fired in July, says several people close to Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, including his wife, knew of a 2015 allegation of domestic violence against Smith.
“All the [coaches’] wives knew,” Courtney Smith told college football reporter Brett McMurphy in a story posted on his Facebook page. “They all did. Every single one.”
Smith told Stadium in a video posted to Twitter that she believes that Meyer also knew at the time.
“I do believe he knew and instead he chose to help the abuser and enable the abuser and believe whatever story Zach was telling everybody,” Smith said.
Shelley Meyer, Urban’s wife and an instructor in Ohio State’s College of Nursing, was among the coaches’ wives who knew that Courtney Smith had reported a domestic violence incident in 2015, Smith said. Smith added that she was never told that Shelley Meyer had told her husband about the allegations at the time.
Smith also said that Hiram de Fries, who is the special assistant to the head coach at Ohio State and has been a confidant of Urban Meyer for years, told her in 2009 not to pursue charges against Zach Smith after an incident in Florida. Meyer was the Gators’ head coach at the time; Smith was an intern on his staff.
“[De Fries] said, ‘If you don’t drop the charges, Zach will never coach again,'” Courtney Smith told McMurphy. “‘He’s never hit you before. He was drinking. He’ll probably never do it again. You should think about giving him a second chance.'”
She did not press charges in 2009. Zach Smith was investigated in 2015 for suspicion of felony domestic violence after an incident that resulted in unspecified injuries and showed evidence of sustained abuse. In the Powell, Ohio, police report regarding that incident, Courtney Smith said she had been a victim of habitual domestic abuse. Cleveland.com on Wednesday identified nine reports from Powell police involving domestic disputes between the couple from 2012-18.
Bradley Koffel, an attorney representing Zach Smith, told ESPN: “Zach Smith wants to be as transparent and honest as possible but it is not going to be done today through the media. It will only be after he and his ex-wife are sworn in to testify. Once he gets his chance to tell his side of events, don’t be surprised when it is corroborated by every police who ever responded to Ms. Smith’s calls.”
The 2009 and 2015 accusations came to light last month, when Zach Smith was charged with criminal trespassing after dropping their children off at Courtney Smith’s home, which led to his firing as wide receivers coach on July 23.
On July 25, Meyer denied knowing that Zach Smith had been accused of domestic violence in 2015, saying at Big Ten media days that “I was never told about anything.” Meyer said the decision to fire Smith was a “very tough call.”
Koffel said Wednesday that Smith never informed Meyer about the criminal-trespass charge even after Koffel told Smith to do so. “I now understand why Zach compartmentalized the info — to protect Urban,” Koffel said. “You cannot impute every family argument involving an employee and his wife to the CEO of a company or the head coach of a large football program.”
Courtney Smith told McMurphy that Shelley Meyer knew about the 2009 and 2015 allegations and that they often discussed Zach Smith’s abuse of her, including sharing pictures.
“Shelley said she was going to have to tell Urban,” Courtney Smith said. “I said: ‘That’s fine, you should tell Urban.’ I know Shelley did everything she could.”
But in the Stadium interview, Courtney Smith said that Shelley Meyer never confirmed that she told her husband about the abuse.
“She did not, she did not,” Courtney Smith said of Shelley Meyer. “She would reach out to me, ask me how I’m doing, tell me she was worried, if I needed anything, she was there.”
Terry Thomas, an attorney who used to represent Courtney Smith, said Columbus attorney Larry James reached out to him in November 2015 seeking information about the incident between Zach and Courtney Smith. James served as Ohio State’s lead counsel to represent student-athletes in NCAA investigations.
“He called me and asked, ‘How bad is it?'” Thomas told McMurphy. “I said, ‘It’s bad.’ I assume he wanted the information so he could report this back to his client.”
Thomas confirmed the conversation with James to ESPN.
Urban Meyer said July 24 that he was aware of the 2009 incident and that he and Shelley “got involved” by talking to the Smiths after police finished their investigation. Meyer said he called his boss after learning about it and then waited to hear back from the investigators. He said the recommendation made to him at that time was counseling for Smith and to move forward.
Meyer also said what he was told about the incident in 2009 was different from the details of the report that came to light Monday.
Courtney Smith said she felt the Meyers should have done more to help her.
“When somebody is crying out for help, I believe the coach, along with the coach’s wife, have a duty,” Courtney Smith said in the Stadium video. “They have a duty to do something to help, instead of worrying about winning games, or instead of worrying about who his mentor is and who his family is and trying to protect that; somebody’s safety and the safety of their children and the environment they’re in needs to be more important.”
Reached Wednesday by ESPN, an Ohio State spokesman said that “[Meyer] addressed this at media days and said he wasn’t aware,” although that response came before the spokesman had seen McMurphy’s report.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg and Dan Murphy contributed to this report.