Let’s start here: we’re still not sure precisely why Urban Meyer fired wide receivers coach Zach Smith.
In an open letter to Urban Meyer, my editor, Jason Kirk, crystalized the biggest unanswered question.
If you felt the 2009 battery allegation against your former wide receivers coach “wasn’t actually what happened” and didn’t know about a 2015 incident that either did or didn’t produce an arrest (Brett McMurphy reports the police paperwork has changed) and have had no comment yet about Courtney Smith’s many other police complaints against Zach Smith, then why’d you fire him on July 23, a month before kickoff?
We’ve since learned that Meyer was aware of at least one 2015 domestic violence allegation (cops went to the Smiths’ house on two occasions regarding domestic violence claims within two weeks). In a late-Friday apology for misspeaking at Big Ten Media Days, Meyer said he ran an incident up the flagpole.
But Ohio State only fired Smith years later, a few days after Courtney received an order of protection against Zach.
Which brings up a seperate question: What’s Gene Smith’s role in this?
Whatever you might think about Meyer’s influence, the org chart still says the athletic director is his boss. We have not really heard directly from the Ohio State AD.
Meyer says he followed protocol, which means directly or indirectly, word reached his boss about what was going on.
But we have another indication Gene likely knew, because the fired assistant says Gene pulled him off the road in the month of those incidents, while the coach was recruiting.
Zach Smith: “I found out about the allegation [in October 2015] because Gene Smith told me. He said I had to be on the next flight home.”— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 3, 2018
The decade-plus relationship between Zach Smith and Meyer makes me feel like there’s still more.
The former WR coach, whose ESPN interview happened to nearly coincide with Meyer’s statement, gave various explanations for Courtney’s allegations that Zach abused her multiple times across multiple years, allegations that are backed up by photos and text messages found credible by experienced reporter McMurphy.
In the interview, he came off understandably defensive, nervous, and skittish.
Zach told ESPN that eight times, he had physical altercations with his then-wife. He blamed her. He said any altercation they had was “never offensive, never aggressive,” on his part and that he was merely protecting himself or restraining her.
During one of the 2015 incidents, Courtney said that he choked her while their toddler clinged to her leg. Text messages allege to show he choked Courtney two more times in 2015.
Asked Zach Smith about this just now. He said he does not recall any altercation between him and Courtney Smith in Punta Cana. He said he had not seen the published image of the text but did not believe it was credible. https://t.co/re4cdsUpYO— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) August 4, 2018
Smith said he’d be “heartbroken” for Meyer (whom he identified as “the man who fired me”), the program, and others if the head coach were to lose his job. He called Meyer’s hypothetical firing a crime. Smith comes off as trying to protect both himself and Meyer at the same time.
Zach Smith's attorney, Brad Koffel, texted me to say that Smith didn't tell Meyer even about this May's criminal trespass charge as a way of protecting Meyer, even though Koffel advised him to do so.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) August 1, 2018
When things go wrong, loyalty to the ones you love can be your undoing.
It’s clear that Meyer has loyalty to Smith, seen in the fact that Meyer hired his former Bowling Green player (and mentor Earle Bruce’s grandson) at Florida and has kept him around on two staffs for 11 years. Smith is not, by all accounts, that good of a coach above replacement level. There was not a compelling reason based on Smith’s aptitude to keep him around, even if Meyer was convinced there was nothing to Courtney’s allegations.
Meyer’s loyalty to Bruce — who died in April — could be why Meyer tried to let Smith slip out the door in Columbus in the months prior to all of this becoming public.
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
Smith was the only coach Meyer has had on his staff through his entire tenure in Columbus, after bringing Smith from Florida.
Smith is also employing some legalese.
Smith has had at least nine run-ins with the law over the last three years. He was arrested once in 2009 (he said on radio that he wasn’t, likely because the charge was eventually dropped; Courtney’s alleged she was pressured to do so by Meyer’s camp).
Zach Smith: "I was not a good husband. I pushed her buttons. I could make her mad easily. There's a lot of things I did wrong. That's between her and I. There was never domestic abuse. I never hit her. Never got arrested. Never got charged."— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) August 3, 2018
He was also arrested in 2018 on a trespassing charge after they’d divorced, pleading not guilty.
It remains unclear if he was also arrested in 2015, because police paperwork was later altered, McMurphy reported. Some of the records regarding these incidents were sealed, and that does explain some of the inaction here by different parties, but it doesn’t explain all of it.
Smith has never been convicted of anything, which is something that he will point to in the court of public opinion.
When Ohio State placed Meyer on administrative leave, it seemed like the beginning of the end.
“Administrative leave” can mean putting an employee on ice while you figure out the way to fire him with the least liability. An independent investigation often means looking for a smoking gun to justify a decision that already looks pretty obvious.
Courtney’s alleged Meyer’s wife and other wives on staff knew what was going on, and McMurphy’s repeatedly defended evidence that he says supports her claim.
EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Urban Meyer assistant Zach Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, opens up about reported domestic violence and what she believes Meyer knew. pic.twitter.com/dNWA9x2F4y— Stadium (@WatchStadium) August 1, 2018
And now we have both Meyer and his fired assistant essentially placing a portion of that blame on the AD. They both allege he knew as well.
To bring Meyer back with a slap-on-the-wrist suspension is certainly still in play, but after Friday evening, it doesn’t look like an easy avenue.
One thing that’s clear: somebody at Ohio State besides just Zach Smith is also going down.
It could be Meyer, it could be athletic director Smith, and it could be someone else.