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Urban Meyer walks back denial of assistant abuse allegations, says he knew and reported

Posted at 5:19 PM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 18:25:30-04

Although he previously denied knowing anything about them, suspended Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer claimed Friday afternoon that he "followed proper reporting protocols" when he became aware of domestic violence accusations levied at longtime assistant coach Zach Smith in 2015.

"I deeply regret if I have failed in my words," Meyer wrote in a statement. "As the son of an amazing women and the husband to another and, as the father of two incredible young women, those who know me best know the admiration and respect I have for all women."

Sports journalist Brett McMurphy reported July 23 that Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, had been granted a domestic violence civil protection order after what she claimed was a prolonged campaign of harassment, stalking and intimidation by the  wide receiver coach. 

McMurphy also found Smith had at least twice been arrested in connection to physical altercations with Courtney Smith during their marriage: Once in 2009, on their first wedding anniversary, and again in 2015, when Courtney Smith told police she had endured "sustained physical abuse" at his hands.

The Ohio State University fired Zach Smith hours after McMurphy posted his report to Facebook, and Meyer -- who would be placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation of Smith's conduct -- claimed the following day he had been unaware of the 2015 incident when it happened. 

RELATED: Urban Meyer timeline: What put Ohio State football coach on hot seat?

However, an Aug. 1 follow-up report from McMurphy included screenshots of texts between Courtney Smith and Meyer's wife, Shelley Meyer, as they appeared to discuss Smith's abuse.

"A lot of women stay hoping it with get better," Meyer wrote in one text. "I don't blame u! But just want u to be safe. Do u have restraining order? He scares me"

Smith told McMurphy she had been sure all the coaches' wives knew what she had experienced and that Meyer had spoken of telling her husband. Additional texts between Smith and Lindsey Voltolini, the wife of football operations director Brian Voltolini, referenced a supposed confrontation between Urban Meyer and Zach Smith that ended without resolution.

If Meyer did report the allegations in 2015, Smith still remained part of the Buckeyes coaching staff for three years afterward. Explaining why and how that happened will likely become a focus of the ongoing investigation.

On Thursday, Buckeyes-turned-Bengals Billy Price, Sam Hubbard and Chris Worley expressed surprise that Meyer had been implicated in the ongoing scandal, with Price the most fervent in his belief that Meyer would have acted morally if he knew about the allegations.

"If it was a situation he knew about it, he gets those things corrected. He always says, ‘You know, you mess with my career, it's going to be a bad day for you,'" Price said.

However, according to McMurphy, Courtney Smith believed the veil of silence around her ex-husband's behavior was a deliberate attempt to protect the football program and its reputation. 

"Everyone was out to protect themselves," she said. "Zach had people that were far more powerful than I would ever be that were protecting him and for the wrong reasons. I think people that knew (about the abuse) should have helped me. Instead, they chose to enable an abuser."