Before his return to full-time duties as head coach of the Ohio State football team, Urban Meyer talked to ESPN about the circumstances that led to his six-week, three-game suspension.
Part one of what the network says is a two-part interview aired Sunday morning during SportsCenter:
"I'm very clear on my view of life, on my view of people, and domestic violence is at the forefront," Meyer told the network. "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, my stance 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.”
That “troubled employee” was Zach Smith, a long-time member of Meyer’s staff and the grandson of Earle Bruce, Meyer’s late mentor.
Smith was fired in July after he was hit with a restraining order from his ex-wife, Courtney. Allegations Zach Smith physically abused her during their marriage were reported at that time.
Meyer acknowledged he and his wife, Shelley, counseled the Smith’s through an incident in 2009 (when Urban Meyer was head coach at Florida and Zach Smith worked for him there) that resulted in domestic violence charges being pressed but later dropped.
He also said at Big Ten media days in Chicago an alleged incident between the Smiths in 2015 in Dublin, Ohio, did not happen, raising suspicions about how he handled the situation when it was later reported his wife, Shelly, had been in contact with Courtney Smith about that incident and even received pictures of alleged abuse.
Urban Meyer told ESPN in the interview airing Sunday his wife had not shared that knowledge with him, though Shelley Meyer had expressed concern about the tenor of the Smiths’ divorce and the wellbeing of their two children.
Urban Meyer’s sullen demeanor at a press conference held to announce the findings of the investigative report — which found he had not acted to cover up domestic violence allegations but uncovered numerous acts of misconduct by Zach Smith during his time on Meyer’s staff, resulting in the discipline from the university — led to widespread criticism and ultimately a Twitter apology to “Courtney Smith and her children for what they have gone through.”
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Although the firing of Zach Smith in 2018 was the result of “an accumulation of factors,” Meyer told ESPN on Sunday he had kept Smith on staff previously in hopes of creating a better situation for the Smith family.
“My intent was to try to help all involved,” Meyer said. "The only way that I knew how at the time, and I had two choices: fire a man and really put a family in upheaval financially, etc., or try to stabilize someone so you can go up and be a good father.”
He also acknowledged he did not tell Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith (no relation to Zach or Courtney Smith) about the 2009 incident when he decided to hire Zach Smith at Ohio State in late 2011.
“In hindsight, I should have,” said Meyer, who could not recall why he didn’t tell Gene Smith at the time.
Meyer also said he did a background check on Zach Smith in 2011, including speaking to those he had worked for in the interim, and “it came back very high marks.”
Asked how he views that decision now, Meyer said, “Bad decision.”
At the conclusion of part one of the interview, Meyer was asked, “Who protected Courtney Smith?” in the wake of her allegations.
After a long pause, Meyer replied:
“That’s a tough question. Now that all the information is out, now that I’ve learned more, if I fire him at the time, sever that relationship that I see with these two young kids, it’s, and that’s the way I’ve always thought. How do you help stabilize something? At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Meyer was allowed to return to coaching Sept. 3 — with the exception of game day.
Ohio State went 3-0 in his absence, including a 40-28 come-from-behind victory against TCU in Texas on Saturday night.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes face Tulane at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Columbus.
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