Urban Meyer’s penchant for second chances has long been well-known. From 2005 to 2010, Meyer’s Florida Gators were arrested 31 times. Some of those transgressions were dumb college stuff, other stuff was actual violence, or the threat of it. For better or worse, Meyer has always believed in his programs’ ability to change troubled players, with Utah RB Marty Johnson as the example he’d probably point to.
So it’s not necessarily shocking — whether we agree with it or not — that he gave Zach Smith a second chance following Smith’s 2009 domestic violence arrest, which didn’t result in charges. Meyer did not believe Smith “engaged in domestic violence in 2009,” partly due to the fact that Smith’s then-wife, Courtney, did not file a charge.
Meyer then hired Smith at Ohio State without the school knowing of the 2009 incident, according to AD Gene Smith.
Needless to say, Zach Smith made a mockery of his second chance.
The university’s commissioned report found a record of Smith engaging in “promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cybercrimes,” plus another arrest and the domestic violence protection order that finally got him fired.
Then you dig into Smith’s job performance, and things get even murkier.
Most of Smith’s performance reports released in a document dump by Ohio State are filled out much like you would do an online survey. Smith has 5s or 4s (out of 5 max) for most of his grades.
Where Meyer is quite critical is in productivity in recruiting, where he once graded Smith a 2/5 with a note: “not even close to expectations/capability.”
Meyer was also critical when it comes to Smith’s aptitude as a coach in their first performance report at OSU, dated in March of 2013, covering his performance during Smith’s 2012 season.
The review also said Smith had to work on, among other things “value to staff” and “practice demeanor.”
Smith’s on-field performance improved during the 2013 season, according to a report published in June 2014. Meyer’s note was that Smith “made strides, need to continue growth.” Same with Smith’s summer 2015 and 2016 performance reports.
But a line in Smith’s 2017 performance report lists “personal matters” as something Smith had to work on.
The fact that these reports are public — and both Meyer and Smith knew they were, because that fact is bolded at the top — can account for some of the generic language and grades.
But by that 2017 performance report, Smith’s conduct had undeniably gotten out of hand, and Meyer was tolerating quite a bit, off the field and on it. During the press conference in which Meyer’s suspension was announced, he said:
“I did not know everything about Zach Smith and what he was doing, and I’m pleased that the (investigators’) report made this very clear. However, I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags.”
What Meyer did know about Smith’s conduct should have been more than enough to fire him.
In May 2014, Smith ran up a “significant” bill at a strip club with a co-worker and one or more high school coaches. Meyer claimed he didn’t know the amount Smith spent, but said that if it happened again, he’d fire Smith. Meyer updated the coaches’ manual to include a morality clause that instructed staff to avoid (specifically) “strip clubs or venues that would embarrass The Ohio State University.” It’s unclear if the incident was an NCAA violation.
Also from OSU’s public report, again Meyer threatened termination as Smith’s “personal matters” harmed the program:
During and after his divorce proceedings in 2015 and early 2016, Zach Smith’s job performance suffered, and he was regularly late to practice and workouts; on other occasions, Zach Smith failed to appear at scheduled recruiting visits at various high schools, despite reporting internally that he had; Coach Meyer was made aware of these issues and Zach Smith recalls that Meyer warned him that if he continued to be late and otherwise unreliable, he would be fired;
Gene Smith was “generally” aware of these issues, and suggested that Meyer replace the assistant.
Meyer again threatened to fire Smith in 2015, when the WR coach was pulled off of the road on a recruiting trip. Zach said that Meyer told him “I swear to God Zach, if I found out you hit her, you’re done — you’re fired.” Gene Smith said, per the report, that if Courtney filed charges against Zach, that he would be fired.
In June 2016, at Meyer’s direction, Smith was sent to rehab “for addiction to a stimulant prescription drug used to treat ADHD,” something that Gene Smith was unaware of.
That could have been used as a violation of Zach’s contract, which has a clause that reads that “use or consumption by Coach of alcoholic beverages, drugs, controlled substances, steroids or other chemicals as to impair his ability to perform his duties hereunder” was enough for termination for cause, as is “neglect or inattention to duties.”
And yet, throughout all of this, Zach Smith was still one of nine assistants on Ohio State’s staff, one of the most elite in football.
Smith was given multiple second chances, and while Meyer threatened to fire him, he reportedly worked behind the scenes to get rid of him.
To follow up on Brett McMurphy’s reporting...— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) July 23, 2018
I have a source that tells me Zach Smith interviewed for multiple jobs this offseason at Urban’s request.
It would seem that Urban has been trying to get Smith off the staff without firing him. https://t.co/Vb4XYqxbSK
Oh, and Meyer excusing Smith on possible domestic abuse because he and his wife did not believe the allegations is still problematic to begin with.
In Meyer’s press conference on Aug. 22, he said (emphasis added):
“As I reflect, my loyalty to [Smith’s] grandfather Earle Bruce who was my mentor and like a father to me and likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years.”
That was a presumably carefully worded and read statement, but it’s clear that that is what blinded Meyer. Smith was treated with kid gloves and enabled with multiple raises. Meyer was repeatedly weak on dealing with Smith, tolerating his bad behavior for years with little more than a finger wag and a threat that had no oomph behind it.
That is, at best, a dereliction of Meyer’s duty as a head coach.
Meyer is a man of second chances, but Smith got way too many, whether you believe every accusation against him or not.