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Football: Urban Meyer opens up in first press conference since returning from suspension

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer answers questions during a press conference on Sept. 17. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Urban Meyer does not describe himself as “a social media guy.”

But, after Ohio State gave its head coach a three-game suspension in response to how he handled domestic violence allegations made against a former employee, he had to clear some things up about perceptions made about him and the situation.

Meyer said he took to Twitter on the advice of his daughter, posting a statement defending himself, saying that he was not suspended because of domestic violence.

In his first press conference back, knowing he would have to go in-depth regarding the suspension and domestic violence allegations made against former wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Smith, Meyer was visibly shaken when asked about his credibility.

“It’s tough to take,” Meyer said. “I’ve spent 30-plus years in coaching. Never been perfect. Tried extremely hard. My love of players, my love of development of players, my love of team, my love of the university has never been challenged. When I start to hear that — that’s why I’m hoping that something like this, for clarity, I wanted to go through everything.”

Repeatedly throughout the 56-minute press conference, Meyer made it clear that his suspension was not about turning his back to the domestic violence allegations made against a former employee. It was, he said, giving that former employee a chance at redemption, as he had done in the past for many others.

He added that if he ever learned Zach Smith had committed domestic violence, Meyer would have fired him immediately.

“My error was, and I have been accused of this before, was giving second and third chances and I saw a guy with work-related issues that had two children and an ex-wife he needed to support a way a man is supposed to support them,” Meyer said. “I was suspended for the fact that I went too far in trying to help a guy with his work-related issues.”

When he was hired in 2012 as the head coach at Ohio State, Meyer said Zach Smith had “glowing reviews” by both his previous coaching staffs, Temple and Marshall, about his family life and his recruiting. Meyer also said his knowledge of the Ohio State offense was a factor in his hiring, something that he showed off in his first two seasons with the team.

In 2015, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith went up to Meyer during a practice and told him about domestic violence allegations made against Zach Smith.

 

“We were both furious,” Meyer said. “I remember getting ahold of Zach and telling him if this is domestic violence, you are fired immediately.”

Along with Zach Smith denying the allegations, law enforcement told Meyer that it was not domestic violence, but that “this was a very nasty divorce, child custody issues involved,” and that there were no arrests made or charges filed.

Meyer and Gene Smith said they decided to keep Zach Smith on staff, but made him complete “intense counseling,” something Meyer said would help “stabilize” his life.

However, just prior to the 2018 Big Ten Media Days, Meyer said he found out about Zach Smith’s trespassing charge from an outside source and had to alert Gene Smith. Meyer said he found out about the charge two months after it had occurred.

“I was so angry I had to hear about it from somewhere else,” Meyer said. “I made it clear to keep me posted on everything. I made it clear from all our coaches, I need to know before I’m told from you.”

On July 23, prior to his appearance at Media Days, Meyer found out about the protection order filed against Zach Smith, another event the head coach had not been told about. Zach Smith was fired immediately from the football program.

In his past, Meyer has been known to give players multiple chances in off-the-field situations. He said he felt the same way about Smith.

“I have been accused of helping players too much, giving them too many opportunities. That’s an accusation I accept. And I’m very careful about that,” Meyer said. “But I also — I’ve been that way my entire life, even outside of football. When I see someone in need, you help the person in need. How far do you go? That’s that fine line.”

Even after firing Zach Smith, Meyer, when asked about whether he believes Courtney Smith was a victim of domestic violence, said neither yes nor no.

“I can only rely on what information I received from the experts,” Meyer said.

Also in the press conference, Meyer addressed the investigative findings that said the Board of Trustees could not determine whether he deleted text messages from his phone with information regarding the investigation and past events involving Zach Smith.

“I’ve never deleted a text message,” Meyer said. “I’ve never changed a setting on my phone.”

Meyer said an unnamed IT person in the Ohio State football program changed a setting on his phone to help increase his storage capacity. He said, with the changed settings, any text messages over a year old would be deleted, something he said he would not know how to do.

He also said he had nothing to hide in the text messages that were erased with the changed setting.

As he returns to the football program after serving his three-game suspension, Meyer said there were actions n response to the Zach Smith allegations that he would do better if he were to do it again.

“I’m here to tell you, three years later, six weeks after going through this, I need help,” Meyer said.

Meyer said when problems like that come up in the future, he hopes to receive help from experts, professionals and law enforcement to properly handle the situation.

“You have the right to go investigate the situation, report back to us, and we respond, and there’s never a charge, never an arrest, how do I respond?” Meyer said. “And I want to once again say that what I have learned is ask more questions.”

After receiving his suspension, Meyer said he sat in his house, staring at a wall for two weeks. He said he was exhausted and emotional.

Even with those feelings, he wanted to make something clear: he was not suspended for turning a blind eye to domestic violence allegations made by Zach Smith. In his opinion, he was just trying to do something he had done too many times before: help.

Looking back, Meyer believes, even with the success that Zach Smith had as a coach at Ohio State, through all of the successful recruiting, the wide receiver room culture he began and molding NFL-level talent, he kept Smith on staff too long.

“When I was hiring him, I believed I hired the right guy,” Meyer said. “In hindsight, now I look back with all these other issues that took place during that time period, I did not hire the right guy.”

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