Football coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave Wednesday by Ohio State, a stunning twist to his wildly successful tenure amid allegations he was aware of multiple instances of domestic abuse involving one of his former assistant coaches.
That assistant, former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, was accused of abuse by his ex-wife on several occasions, most recently in 2015. Meyer denied knowledge of that incident during an appearance at Big Ten Conference media days in July, though he said he was aware of a 2009 dispute between Smith and his ex-wife when he hired Smith in 2012.
"The University is conducting an investigation into these allegations," said a statement form the school. "During the inquiry, Urban Meyer will be on paid administrative leave. ... We are focused on supporting our players and on getting to the truth as expeditiously as possible."
Ryan Day, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will serve as interim head coach during the investigation, the school said.
Meyer also released a statement: "Gene (Smith, the AD) and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion. This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter."
In a taped appearance for the web site 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.
At Big Ten media days, Meyer said members of the Ohio State staff had looked into the 2015 allegations, and that “there’s nothing.”
Meyer continued, “I don't know who creates a story like that."
Yet a text-message exchange between Smith and Voltolini obtained by former ESPN reporter Brett McMurphy implied that Meyer was aware of the allegations. “He (Urban) doesn’t know what to think,” reads one text message sent by Voltolini.
“I do believe he (Meyer) knew, but instead he chose to help the abuser and enable the abuser and believed whatever story Zach was telling everybody,” Smith said.
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 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, 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 bowl; 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.