COLUMBUS — In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Urban Meyer admitted hiring Zach Smith at Ohio State was a bad decision.
Meyer sat down with Tom Rinaldi before Saturday’s game vs. TCU — the last of his three-game suspension to start the season — to discuss his handling of domestic abuse allegations against Smith, who was fired in July after he was levied with a civil protection order from his ex-wife. The first part of the interview aired Sunday, with the second part scheduled for Monday morning.
Meyer is set to meet with the Ohio State media at 11:45 a.m. Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
On the subject of Zach Smith — the grandson of Meyer’s mentor, former OSU coach Earle Bruce, who Meyer hired in 2012 at OSU to coach his receivers — Meyer said he viewed him as an up-and-comer in the coaching business despite 2009 allegations of domestic abuse by Courtney Smith when Zach Smith was employed by Meyer at the University of Florida.
"Zach seemed like a guy that was doing very well," Meyer said. "And I checked on him, did background checks with the coaches he worked with. It came back very high, very high marks, and so I made a decision to hire him at Ohio State."
When Rinaldi told Meyer that Courtney Smith, Zach Smith’s ex-wife, said he enabled the abuser, Meyer responded, “That breaks my heart. I didn’t hear that until just now. I apologize that she believes that. That’s never been my intent. My intent was to try to help all involved the only way I knew how at the time. I had two choices: fire a man and really put a family in upheaval financially or try to stabilize someone so he could grow up and be a good father.”
Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith were suspended Aug. 22 by Ohio State. The school said while neither Meyer nor Gene Smith “condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an Assistant Coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes.”
The sit-down with Rinaldi is Meyer’s first interview since answering questions at the Aug. 22 news conference at which Ohio State announced the suspension. He returns to the sideline Saturday against Tulane after being allowed to coach during the week since Sept. 3.
In his most recent public comments — at Big Ten media days in Chicago and the suspension press conference — Meyer has made multiple missteps. He said at the Chicago event he knew nothing of 2015 allegations of domestic violence against Zach Smith, then released a statement in which he said he did know and report the allegations. After the Ohio State news conference in August, he put out a statement apologizing for his “words and demeanor” when asked what he’d say to Courtney Smith.
“I’m very clear on my view of life, my view of people, and domestic violence is at the forefront,” Meyer said. “I can’t stand when I see it. I can’t stand when I hear it. For anyone at this university to believe that Urban Meyer would turn his back on domestic violence, I need to leave. It’s very clear [what] my stance [is] on domestic violence. I was not suspended for that. I was suspended because I mismanaged a very troubled employee, and I went too far to help him.”
Meyer reiterated for at least the third time his wife, Shelley, did not share with him or discuss text messages from Courtney Smith from 2015 where she alleged abuse from Zach Smith and shared photographs. Shelley Meyer offered encouragement to Courtney Smith in several text messages and said Zach Smith scared her.
“She wanted to be as compassionate as possible,” Meyer said of his wife. “She has reasoning for why she didn’t react, and I'm not here to speak for Shelley. But she had her reasoning. And if her reasoning was what it was, that’s why she did not alert me or go anywhere else with it.
“I do recall her concern about the children and very messy divorce that was going on. I don’t want to speak for Shelley, and I don’t want to disrespect the families that are involved.”
When players walk into Ohio State’s football facility, the program’s core values are plastered on the wall. The first two demand honesty and treating women with respect. In the past two months, Meyer’s come under fire for being a moralist who turned the other way.
“I still hold those value so firm and so strong,” Meyer said, “and I apologize for the perception that I don’t.”
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