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Ohio State suspends Meyer for mishandling abuse case

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State on Wednesday night suspended head football coach Urban Meyer three games for mishandling domestic violence accusations, punishing one of the sport’s most prominent leaders for keeping an assistant on staff for several years after the coach’s wife accused him of abuse.

The move followed a two-week investigation into how Meyer reacted to accusations that former Buckeyes assistant Zach Smith abused his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. Zach Smith was fired last month after she asked a judge for a protective order.

Courtney Smith alleged her husband shoved her against a wall and put his hands around her neck in 2015. The university put Meyer on paid leave and began an investigation after Courtney Smith spoke out publicly, sharing text messages and photos she traded in 2015 with Meyer’s wife, Shelley Meyer. Shelley Meyer is a registered nurse and instructor at Ohio State.

Trustees discussed the decision to punish Meyer in a marathon meeting Wednesday while Meyer awaited the decision.

The investigation prompted a tweet from Meyer in which he insisted he followed proper protocols after learning of the 2015 accusations. But he also acknowledged lying to reporters a week earlier when he said he hadn’t heard of the incident until shortly before he fired Zach Smith.

The probe directly centered on the question of what Meyer knew and when. Meyer said in his tweet that he always elevated issues through the proper channels, and did so with the Smith situation in 2015. That contradicted what he told reporters at Big Ten media day a week earlier: “I was never told about anything and nothing ever came to light. I’ve never had a conversation about it. I know nothing about it.”

Speaking after the investigation was announced, Zach Smith said he spoke with Meyer at the time and athletic director Gene Smith also knew about the allegations.

Zach Smith said Meyer told him he would be fired if the head coach found out Smith had hit his wife.

Zach Smith — the grandson of late Ohio State coach and Meyer mentor Earle Bruce — has never been criminally charged or convicted of abuse. He has a charge of criminal trespass pending, and the Smiths are due in court next month for a hearing on a restraining order Courtney Smith was granted July 20.

Meyer was heading into his seventh season at Ohio State, where he is 73-8 with a national title in 2014 and two Big Ten Conference championships. Ohio State’s Title IX sexual misconduct policy includes reporting allegations of domestic violence made against university employees.

Violating that policy allows Meyer to be fired with cause, according to provisions placed in his contract when it was extended in April by two years. The deal through 2022, increasing Meyer’s salary to $7.6 million in 2018, with annual 6 percent raises. Meyer had about $38 million left on his contract.

Ohio State’s season starts Sept. 1 with a game against Oregon State in Columbus.

In 2009, Zach Smith was accused of aggravated battery on his pregnant wife while he was working a graduate assistant for Meyer at Florida. The charge was dropped because of insufficient evidence.

The Smiths separated in June 2015 and divorced in 2016.

Meyer is one of the most accomplished coaches in college football history, with three national championships and a 177-31 record in 16 seasons at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.

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