Following two weeks of investigation into domestic abuse allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, Ohio State held a press conference to announce findings.
The full transcript of that press conference is below.
Mary Jo White, Investigative Team Chair
Let me just start my remarks by thanking chair Jo Anne Davidson and the entire special independent board working group for their valuable advice and consultation throughout this process. We've worked very hard in a short period to investigate this matter and have arrived at our findings independently.
It's important to emphasize that the findings of the independent investigation are the findings of the investigative team and they are ours and ours alone.
I thought I would start with a brief summary of the process that we followed in this investigation. And it's really a summary level but over 40 witnesses were interviewed. Many more than one time. Many, several times, in person and over the phone. More than 60,000 electronic documents and 10,000 pages of Coach Meyer's text messages from the past year were accessed and reviewed. In addition to relevant media statements, police reports, court filings, the employment contracts of Coach Meyer, and athletic director Gene Smith.
Other documents, relevant rules and policies, as well as applicable state and federal laws. We also reviewed photos and text messages provided by Courtney Smith, Coach Meyer's calendar entries, and other materials provided by other witnesses.
Key witnesses included Coach Meyer, athletic director Smith, Courtney Smith, and Zach Smith. We also interviewed key personnel on the football and athletic staffs and the offices of legal affairs and university compliance and integrity and other OSU departments, local law enforcement, family members of certain witnesses, and others.
I'd like to really emphasize we have received absolutely extraordinary cooperation from the OSU community throughout this process for which we are really, really grateful. As you know, we were asked to conduct an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the hiring, retaining, supervising and firing of former assistant coach Zach Smith on July 23rd, and whether head coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith acted appropriately in connection with Zach Smith's alleged commission of domestic violence against his former wife.
A significant focus of the investigation was on Coach Meyer's statements at big ten media days on July 24, 2018 and whether he misrepresented his knowledge of a prior law enforcement investigation involving Zach Smith in 2015 and, if so, whether he did so intentionally. So let me just briefly summarize some of our key findings. I should say at the outset that these and all of our findings are discussed in detail in our written report which I believe is expected actually to be publicly released later tonight. So as to some of those key findings.
First, Coach Meyer was, in fact, aware of the 2015 law enforcement investigation into allegations of domestic violence by Zach Smith. He was informed of that investigation by athletic director Gene Smith in the fall of 2015. And both Coach Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith regularly monitored the progress of that investigation for a period of months. Although the investigation did not ultimately result in any charges or an arrest.
Second, Coach Meyer and AD Gene Smith, although acting in go faith, did not report the investigation of Zach Smith for domestic violence in 2015 to compliance as we believe they should have, although law enforcement had not brought charges at the time that Coach Meyer and AD Smith became aware of the investigation, the compliance function would have been in the best position to assess whether to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations had they known about them. In the domestic violence context especially, there are many cases in which abuse takes place but there is no arrest or criminal prosecution. And so simply relying on law enforcement to take action in the face of such allegations is not, in our view, an adequate response.
Third, despite Coach Meyers's clear awareness and monitoring in 2015 of the law enforcement investigation of Zach Smith for domestic violence, we ultimately did not conclude that Coach Meyer deliberately lied during his comments at big ten media days on July 24th, 2018. He has consistently maintained that he did not recall in July 2018 what he knew in 2015 regarding the domestic violence investigation of Zach Smith by law enforcement. And we credit that Coach Meyer, in answering reporters' questions on July 24th was closely focused on erroneous reports that Zach Smith had been arrested on felony charges in 2015 which Coach Meyer had determined the night before not to have occurred. But his answer swept more broadly than the falsely reported arrest and Coach
Meyer falsely stated he lacked knowledge of all relevant events regarding alleged domestic violence by Zach Smith in 2015. While those denials were plainly not accurate, Coach Meyer did not, in our view, deliberately lie.
Forth, Coach Meyer impressed us with his sincere respect for women core values, that he espouses and try to see instill in his players. We believe that AD Smith shares that strong commitment.
Fifth, the independent investigation also identified and reported on a number of instances of misconduct and other problematic conduct by Zach Smith while he was employed at OSU as an assistant coach, some of which was known to Coach Meyer and AD Smith, and some of which was not.
Again, as I said at the outset. These findings, that I just summarized for you and all of our findings, and the analysis supporting those findings are set forth in detail in our written report. Thank you.
Chris Davey, VP of Communications at Ohio State
It's been a long day for everyone and we hope to get to all of the questions but we will limit it to 20 minutes and if there are things we don't get to you, I think you all know where you can reach us. We talk tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Michael Drake, Gene Smith, and Urban Meyer.
Dr. Michael Drake, Ohio State University President
Thank you for joining us here tonight. For myself and on behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express my disappointment at the circumstances that has led us here today. We issued our summary of investigative findings and university actions earlier this evening.
I'd like to thank our independent committee for its tireless work. They work seven days a week and the product reflects their diligence.
I would also like to thank the Board of Trustees for its careful review and consultation. The board met together for more than ten hours and had a frank and comprehensive discussion.
Based on the independent investigation, I want to state clearly that we believe Urban Meyer did not and does not condone domestic abuse. However, he did fail to take sufficient management action regarding Zach Smith and he was not as complete an accurate at Media Days and did not not uphold the high standards and values of the university on that day.
Therefore, Urban Meyer is suspended through September 2nd, 2018, and for the games on September 1st, 8th, and 15th.
Meyer will forego pay for that period of time.
In addition, athletic director Gene Smith also failed to take sufficient action in relation to Zach Smith's misconduct and did not exhibit the leadership we expect in his role as overseeing the department of athletics, including the football program.
As a result, Gene Smith is suspended without pay from August 31st to September 16th, 2018.
The discipline reflects our collective judgment based on the findings of the investigative report and the independent committee. The board fully supports this conclusion. We made this decision today based on the facts and our values as a university. We value the truth and this independent team thoroughly and faithfully sought the truth. We value consensus, and today's decision reflects the collective wisdom of the board and the leadership of our university.
Next our athletic director Gene Smith would like to say a few words.
Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director
To Buckeye Nation, to the Board of Trustees and President Drake, I want to express my sincere apologies of the situation we have before us.
I appreciate the hard work and effort of the investigative team and the leadership of our president.
I'm very appreciative of the working relationship I have with Dr. Drake and look forward to continuing that relationship well into the future.
I would also like to thank our Board of Trustees and my colleagues at the university for their hard work and support during this time. I fully support the findings of the report and the subsequent actions that the university has taken.
I have ultimate authority and responsibility and oversight and accountability for our athletic department and particularly the football program. And I understand that I could have done a better job in this particular instance.
I want to thank our university community and all of Buckeye Nation for their understanding and humbly ask them for their continuous support of our most cherished asset, our student-athletes. Particularly our football team as they prepare for the start of another season in their academic pursuits as well.
I want to thank Coach Ryan Day and ask that all of us continue to support him and our support staff around football. They have been strong leaders through this time and we are appreciative of everything that they have done.
My top priority over the next few days is to make sure that we do everything that we can to reaffirm Coach Day's commitment to being our interim coach during this time frame. I also will be working to ensure our student-athletes have every resource they need to maintain their focus on academics and competition.
I know that the leadership team in our department of athletics will continue to keep our operations running smoothly. I am really appreciative of President Drake and really appreciative of our Board of Trustees and I sincerely apologize to Buckeye Nation and all the student-athletes that we ultimately serve for the situation we are in today.
At this point, i'd like to ask Coach Urban Meyer to come up and share a few words.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State Head Football Coach
I know that the impact that the events last three weeks have had on this institution, an institution that I love and how challenging this has been for our community, our president, a man who I have great respect for and for that I am deeply sorry.
I am fully aware that I'm ultimately responsible for the situation that has harmed the university as a whole and our department of athletics and our football program.
I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation.
I followed my heart and not my head and was short in pursuing information and at each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.
As I reflect my loyalty to his grandfather Earle Bruce who was my mentor and like a father to me and likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years. I did not everything about Zach Smith which was what Zach Smith was doing and I'm pleased that the report made this very clear. However, I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags.
I needed to show more care and concern for the entirety of the situation and the people involved. I should have been more demanding of him in the same way I am of my players, other staff members and myself.
I should have done more and I am sorry for that.
I did a poor job at Media Day. It's a big reason why we are here today. I was not being as complete and as accurate as I should have been on Media Day and afterward but no intent to mislead. My role is to set a good example and in this instance I did not live up to the university's standards.
The suspensions are tough but I fully accept them. I wished go back and make different decisions but I can’t. These difficult lessons are a constant reminder of the duties and obligations that I have as a member of this universities and this community.
I take full responsibility—I take this responsibility very seriously and I will do better.
I've been a buckeye my entire life. For the past six years and worked diligently to build a great program for the state of Ohio and Ohio State can be very proud of and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from a mistake and work as hard as I ever had to make our strong program even stronger.
Thank you very much.
This is for Urban and Gene. How hard is it to accept the suspension and when Urban, especially you, when you look back at – you said you're disappointed with the way you kind of gave Zach the benefit of the doubt. What specific things do you regret handling in this matter?
I'm sorry, what?
What things do you regret handling in this matter specifically with Zach Smith?
Gene Smith: I answered your question earlier, Bill. I have huge regret for my inability to be the effective leader that I should have been in this particular situation.
The greatest pain that I have is to people that I serve every single day. The 565 employees that I go to work with every day, the thousand plus student-athletes that we work for every day. And, of course, all of Buckeye Nation and this institution.
But it's been painful. It's been hard. Particularly when people like you reached out to me and wanted me to comment and I wanted to have an opportunity to correct some of the things that were being said. Very difficult for me. And so, it's been hard but I'm very supportive of where we are today. We have a valuable lesson that we learned. We are going to move forward and we going to be stronger for it. So, I'm very supportive of the decisions that have been made.
Urban Meyer: Most I know about Zach Smith is work-related. Throughout my career I've taken a point when I see someone seeking distress or struggling I seek to get counsel and help for that person. The biggest regret, I wish I would have known more and if I had known more, I would have taken action much quicker.
President Drake and Gene Smith, can you tell us... the 10 hours is a long time to deliberate anything. Can you tell us what the conversations were today and why it took that amount of time to reach a decision? Then for Coach Meyer, do you feel you should have been suspended for what happened?
President Drake: So that the discussion today was with our entire board and so there are many people involved. We had heard the findings a couple of days ago preliminarily and had a chance to discuss and deliberate those today.
We wanted to be fair. We wanted to be equitable. We wanted to be just. We wanted to be appropriate. We worked to refine our decisions and our actions to be able to do the best that we could to achieve those goals. This is a very difficult and complicated situation. Many things to consider over a long period of time and the reason it took 10 hours of this is to try to make sure that we were being thoughtful and considerate in every case.
The goal of all of it is to first learn what we can and as Gene said to make our program and university stronger and better. We know this is one of those circumstances where there is no right answer. It's very difficult to not – not possible to do something that makes everyone happy. And so in that circumstance, we are trying not to seek the sole perfect answer for everyone but to be fair, to be just, to be equitable and to be appropriate and to do what we can to help us make our program stronger.
Gene Smith: Dan, just to be clear, I was not a part of those deliberations. Urban Meyer: I trust and support our president.
Gene, I'm wondering can you give us more insight as to why the decision was made to fire Zach Smith when you did, if there was prior knowledge of this? Because it kind of just happened in Chicago.
And Urban, do you feel you've done an adequate job throughout your entire career reading your employees and making sure that people are, you know, not troubled? Because it seems that Zach Smith dating back to 2015 and 2013 with the OVI, what is the coach's responsibility and trying to find those things out and notice them just based on what you see in the building?
Gene Smith: To your question, Urban and I had conversations throughout that day and ultimately he came to a decision that – where he wanted to terminate Zach Smith as a result of a number of different things over Zach's tenure. So i'd have to really let Urban articulate a little bit more but he made that recommendation and I 100% and supported it but it wasn't just because of that singular incident.
Urban Meyer: Please repeat.
When you're in the building, given the fact it seems that Zach Smith has been a troubled employee for nine years, what is your role as Ohio State's head coach and noticing things, you know, kind of getting a gauge of your employees and making sure that you're aware of the things that go on in their lives and a little bit more insight into your decision to fire Zach when you did?
Urban Meyer: Well, as a head coach, you're ultimately responsible for everybody's behavior and that is a very difficult thing to do. We all know that.
However, there were red flags and I wish I had known and I wish I did a better job of finding things out. I wish I was told more things. Ultimately, that is part of the job you're ultimately responsible to represent this incredible university and, man, I wish I had done more. I wish I had known more.
I received on that week, I can't remember the exact date, that someone told me there was a court date, that was I aware a court date involving Zach. I said I was not. They started to explain to me a trespassing issue. So I immediately contacted Gene.
I told Brian Voltolini to find out more about what had happened and I actually called Zach Smith in. He was on vacation. I had him come in and say what is this all about? He told me in great detail what had happened and that he was dropping his children off at a certain location and then went to the house and eventually had a citation for trespassing.
He made it sound like it was not big a deal.
I told Gene and Gene and I both decided to keep us updated and I was very disappointed it happened approximately two months prior to that and I was very upset he didn't share that me. I made that clear, you have to keep my exactly posted on any situation like this so I can alert Gene.
Then I go to media days and that Monday I find out there was a restraining order and that is when termination entered my mind. First of all, the seriousness of restraining order and the fact I made very clear you keep me posted and alert me to any situation and he did not do that. Later the day I made the decision to fire him.
Gene and I guess President Drake as well, we know Urban was aware of domestic abuse allegations against Zach Smith at Florida in 2009. Gene were you aware of those allegations when Zach Smith was hired at Ohio State in 2012?
Gene Smith: No, I was not.
Is that a problem? And will there ever than a review of hiring practices at all should Ohio State have been informed about that since Urban knew that when he chose to hire Zach Smith in 2012? Is that something that should have been divulged to Ohio State when he was hired?
Gene Smith: Doug, it's a great question and I appreciate it. I had a conversation with our new vice president for human resources today around our hiring practices and how we might be able to expand on our effort relative to our background checks.
Obviously, all of our employees go through a standard background check. But the reality is we can probably go deeper with some positions and that is one that we can go deeper on.
So I have committed to work with her, as we move forward to implement new tactics and strategies to make sure that we can be a lot more thorough so that hopefully this never happens again.
Good question, Doug, thank you.
And president Drake, you weren't here at the time but do you feel that was failure or mistake on Ohio State's part that Zach Smith was hired here to begin with?
President Drake: Policies that were in place then were the policies that were in place as Gene said background checks were done as they are in all employees. It would be good to know more information than that particularly for a particular certain position so I support, as Gene said, I know he spoke with HR today to have more things about hiring and that would be an improvement for the future.
On the process of the decision making today, President Drake, what kind of consideration was there given in that process to firing Gene Smith or Urban Meyer?
President Drake: I would say to be fair, we looked at the findings and then we considered the range of options that might be available and we wanted to consider the entire range of options that might be available and then worked hard to find a place that we thought was just, fair and appropriate. As I said, again, would lead us to the lessons that would allow us to be a stronger university moving forward.
Dr. Drake, according to the narrative that was given out here, the way I read it, Gene Smith was aware of the Zach Smith situation in 2015 and had confab with Urban Meyer about it. So, Urban Meyer's higher-up – immediate higher-up knew about about it. Where is the breakdown now and is there some sense in the university that things need to be more clear or call from the standpoint of these kind of situations?
Gene Smith: If I may, boss. The reality is, sure, I was the first one to have been contacted about the allegation and at that particular time and I took it to Urban.
My failure, as a leader, as effective administrator was to include others. My normal practice is always to include others. Now this particular case did not give me the red flags to cause me to do that. And I failed in that regard. And I shouldn’t have. I hopefully hope that answers your question. At the end of the day, I should have included maybe our vice president of compliance and integrity as we continue to try and evaluate what was going on.
So that hopefully answers your question.
But to clarify, is Urban Meyer also supposed to contact the compliance department also?
Gene Smith: I should have.
You should have?
Gene Smith: I should have.
We may get to talk to Urban now until September 3rd maybe. Coach Meyer, you've been away from football three weeks and heart of preseason camp and until September 2nd I guess you won't be around. How tough is this for you in that regard? Number two I guess what would be your message to Ryan Day and your players?
Urban Meyer: It’s been very tough. One of the toughest things I've experienced and I have very good players and a very good staff. My message when I get to speak to the team is that I love them dearly and appreciate everything they have done for this incredible university.
As I shared with Dr. Drake this is one of the best groups I've been around on the field and off and but is also one of the best coaching staffs I've had so I look forward to watching them continue to grow and get updates as we move forward.
This is for Dr. Drake and Gene Smith. Obviously, this was not – there are few other kind of, you know, unfortunate instances that have allegedly or indeed have been happened around athletics, mainly, there is troubling allegations a former diving coach and, of course, the Dr. Strauss stuff. This spans, in some cases, decades and clearly multiple tenures of multiple presidents and athletic directors. Having said that, you know, there are more than one, I guess you could say. I guess my question for both of you is -- do you see this -- the handling of Zach Smith as kind of an isolated incident and related to anything else? Or do either of you have broader concerns about the culture in the athletics department?
President Drake: Thank you. I’ll answer that. First, you know we’re a large enterprise. We have 60,000 students on campus and 40,000 athletes. We have 100,000 people engaged in a variety of activities that are complicated and nuanced. All of those things are happening all the time.
You mentioned incidents or circumstances have occurred as you mentioned a span of 40 years and multiple generations of leadership. And with people who have no association with one another. Except for they happen to happen here in that enterprise that we mentioned.
So I would like to say a word about the diving coach situation. We are under litigation so I don’t – I'm going to say some things that were in an article that was in your newspaper and say those things. This is a circumstance where complaints came to us on a Sunday about a coach in a club sport and not one of our varsity sports. That person was put on suspension and university access was eliminated that day.
An investigation began the next day by our HR and our university. That investigation continued and during that investigation within a few days, the police began an investigation were notified and began an investigation. Then two and a half weeks after the investigation began, the individual was terminated and without possibility of rehire.
Several other organizations were notified. USA diving and the state of Maryland law enforcement, because there had been alleged incidents there. Then our law enforcement was continuing the investigation. At the request of the original complainant, that investigation was stopped.
So this was a situation where there was a complaint on a Sunday roughly two and a half weeks later, after being suspended immediately, two and a half weeks later, the part-time employee who was a summer diving coach was terminated without possibility of rehire and authorities here and across the country were notified.
So I just want to say that particular incident was one that, again, under litigation, I guess I shouldn't say any more than what I'm relating from the article in your newspaper. But I think it's fair to say that we tried to do a good job to handle that and get that contained.
The incidents that you mentioned that occurred 20, 30, 40 years ago are also understand investigation and subject of a lawsuit and I don't have any independent information about that so I can't talk about that.
We look at everything that happens and try to learn from it and to move forward. We think for our athletics program, there are lessons that we have learned in this particular situation and we want to take those lessons to heart to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday and that is the goal of a university, honestly, is to learn things, to teach things and teach ourselves to be better and that is what we will continue to do.
Coach Meyer, you said you support the decision by president but if you could be more specific knowing that your superiors were aware, do you think you should have been suspended? Follow-up question is – what message do you have for Courtney Smith?
Urban Meyer: Well, ultimately, I'm responsible for everyone's behavior in that football department. There was some behavior going on that maybe I was unaware of but I should have been aware of it so I fully support our president's decision and respect it. The second one is?
What message do you have for Courtney Smith?
Urban Meyer: Well, I have a message for everyone involved in this. I'm sorry that we are in the situation. And I'm just sorry we are in this situation.
What about Shelley's text messages? Why were you not concerned from her messages about this situation?
Urban Meyer: I was not aware of Shelley's text messages at the time.
Coach, does this change in any way? Gene addressed some things that they may change. Does it change the way you do business going forward? Maybe hiring or policing the Woody Hayes?
Urban Meyer: I will say that this has been a learning experience. I'm a different person now than I was in 2009, 2012. My awareness of domestic violence and how serious you hear that accusation and I’ve grown and I've grown over the years, and I will be very cautious.
Gene and I have a great relationship. We talk constantly and I'm sure this – we haven't had a chance to really have deep conversation about this, but I will not make any hire without having complete open dialogue with Gene and making sure that we are fully aware of what we are getting into.