Former Ohio State assistant Zach Smith might have been fired on July 23, but exactly a month since he lost his job due to allegations of domestic abuse, his time at Ohio State remains on the forefront of the minds of many.
Smith’s tenure and history only grew in importance after Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
After nearly a 12-hour meeting that left the public without any insight until an 8:50 p.m. press conference, questions still remain on how Smith kept his job, or even started, at Ohio State for so long.
“This particular case did not give me the red flags to cause me to [include others in the investigation], and I failed in that regard,” Athletic Director Gene Smith said.
At the end of the night, Gene Smith had been suspended until Sept. 16 for his failing “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,” according to the statement.
Head coach Urban Meyer also received a suspension for the first three games of the season, but can return to the team for practices on Sept. 2.
“Permitting such misconduct to continue is not consistent with the values of the University and reflects poorly on Coach Meyer, Athletic Director Smith, and the University,” the statement said.
With a two-week investigation, followed by a 12-hour meeting and suspensions given to two of the biggest names at Ohio State, the Meyer investigation ended, seemingly, as dramatically as it started.
But can a mistake like Zach Smith’s six-year tenure be avoided in the future?
For Meyer, the problem came from his strong relationship with former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce.
Meyer said his relationship with Bruce “likely impacted” his treatment of Zach Smith over the years.
“I followed my heart, not my head and fell short in pursuing all information because, at each juncture, I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt,” Meyer said. “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.”
Zach Smith’s “red flags” include a 2009 incident when he allegedly picked up his now-ex-wife, Courtney Smith, and threw her against the wall. Other “red flags” include a handful of police reports from 2015 to 2018 made by Courtney Smith that range from him refusing to give their children back to her to Smith “relentlessly stalking” and “harassing” her.
When asked about what Meyer would say to Courtney Smith, he only had this to say “for everyone involved.”
“I’m sorry that we’re in this situation.”
Gene Smith said he was unaware of the Zach Smith incident in 2009, and University President Michael Drake said it has to do with the system in place at the time.
“The policies that were in place then were the policies that were in place then, and as Gene said, background checks were done as they are with all employees,” Drake said. “I know he spoke with HR today about things we can do to have more information when hiring and that would be something that would be an improvement for the future.”
Gene Smith might not have known about Zach Smith’s history when he was hired in 2012. Meyer might have given Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt back in 2009.
But, Smith stayed on the Ohio State staff for six years, and the “red flags” came for years before his eventual dismissal a month ago.
“As the head coach, you’re ultimately responsible for everybody’s behavior, and that’s a very difficult thing to do we all know that,” Meyer said. “However, there were red flags and I had wished I had known, I wish I had did a better job at finding things out, I wish I was told more things.”
Text messages between Courtney Smith and Meyer’s wife, Shelley, in 2015 showing images of alleged abuse are just more “red flags,” though Urban Meyer said at the press conference that he did not know about these texts back in 2015.
Gene Smith and Meyer serve their time over the next few weeks, but not without plenty of questions about what could have been done earlier, and how many “red flags” were missed for years until Zach Smith was fired.