- By Tom Archdeacon Staff Writer
If it were his own daughters – Nicki and Gigi – getting smacked around, he certainly would want someone to step in with the power to put an end to it. He’d want to make sure the abuser wasn’t continually being enabled or, at the very least, that the proper people were alerted so they could put a stop to it.
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer did none of that when it came to someone else’s daughter.
Instead, Zach Smith – his longtime assistant, who allegedly was physically abusing his wife Courtney already back in 2009, did it again in 2015, had a dozen calls to the police about him in the past three years and had several other glaring transgressions in recent years – wasn’t fired until just a month ago and only after a restraining order was issued and the media got wind of it.
Because of Meyer’s own inaction, because he didn’t inform his bosses about most of this, because he didn’t intercede as his contract – which will pay him around $7.8 million this year – requires him to do, he’s now been suspended without pay for the first three games of the Ohio State season.
Athletics director Gene Smith – for his failures in the matter – will be suspended without pay from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, as well.
Inside the Ohio State locker room, painted on the wall in big letters, is the reminder:
“Treat Women With Respect.”
Right now that message looks more like decoration than doctrine.
When this scandal first broke at OSU, I gave Meyer the benefit of the doubt. After all, he says the right things when he’s at the podium in front of his players or the press – stuff like: “Man Up…Own up to what you do…Take responsibility” – and I figured he didn’t know a lot of what was happening.
I think differently now.
After seeing all the things the independent investigators working for Ohio State uncovered in their two-week probe, after seeing some of the questionable things Meyer did as this situation came to light – the investigators wonder if he intentionally deleted all his text messages prior to Aug. 1 as they found he and Brian Voltolini, the Buckeyes director of football operations, discussed at a practice once the story broke – after listening to him fail to truly “Man Up” during his two most recent press conferences, I’ve changed my mind.
Initially, I thought it would be OK if he were reinstated after the investigators and the school addressed their findings Wednesday night at a press conference on campus. He had been on paid leave since Aug. 1, so he had time served.
But now I think he’s lucky he still has his job at OSU.
What he did – or, better yet, didn’t do – was enough to get him fired.
And if he didn’t win over 90 percent of his games, hadn’t won a national title for the Buckeyes and didn’t have a 6-0 dominance over Michigan since he came to Columbus, he may well have been shown the door.
But before we go any farther, let’s be clear.
The villain here is Zach Smith.
His wife has alleged he’s been abusing her for years and she sent text messages and photos revealing that to Meyer’s wife Shelley, who believed her, cautioned her about Zach and once wrote, “He scares me.”
Smith, the grandson of Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State coach who was Urban’s beloved mentor – worked for Meyer first at Florida and then at Ohio State.
In that time, along with his toxic relationship with his wife – he was arrested for but not charged for supposedly punching Courtney when she was pregnant back in 2009 and then allegedly slammed her against the wall in 2015 — he had several other troubling incidents.
There was a DUI unreported to OSU authorities in 2013 and a year later he was called in for running up huge tabs at a strip club as he and another OSU assistant entertained a high school coach during a recruiting visit.
Meyer did call him on the carpet that time and a morals clause was put into his contract. But Smith still got a raise.
Investigators also found that after his divorce from Courtney in 2016, Smith’s job performance nose-dived. He was late for practices and workouts and didn’t show up for some recruiting functions even though he claimed he did.
It was also discovered he took sexually explicit photos of himself while in the OSU training facility and even while visiting the White House.
And in January of 2016, Meyer directed him to be admitted to a drug treatment facility for addiction to a stimulant used to treat ADHD.
Meyer did not pass that information on to Smith, either.
Meyer knew all this and yet when asked about it at a press conference at the Big Ten Media Day on July 24, he said he was unaware of the allegations Courtney had made about Zach.
And Wednesday night – after it was announced he would be suspended for games against Oregon State, Rutgers and Texas Christian for failing to report the 2015 abuse allegations to the OSU compliance department as he was required to do — Meyer stepped to the microphone and quickly read a prepared statement that fell short.
“I wish I had known,” he read. “I wish I had done a better job of finding out. I wish I was told more things.”
Although he and Shelley both claim she didn’t share with him the texts and photos she got from Courtney – a claim investigators didn’t find plausible – one text from his wife was found.
“I am worried about Zach,” Shelley wrote to her husband. “He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. I’m afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.”
Meyer didn’t respond to that text.
Through all this you wonder why Meyer would allow Smith to continue coaching at OSU. Sure there’s the loyalty to Earle Bruce, but he also has a commitment to the school, the program and especially the players.
Would you want your son being mentored by Zach Smith?
Would you want your daughter around him?
Maybe Meyer wasn’t trying to purposely hide things about Smith – be it with those suddenly deleted text messages or the failure to pass all that he knew on to his bosses and school authorities – but he has shown there’s no truth in the advertising.
“Treat Women With Respect” looks too much like decoration, not doctrine, on the locker room wall.
At Wednesday’s press conference – after apologizing to the Buckeye Nation, but never mentioning Courtney Smith – Meyer was finally asked what message he had for her.
He seemed stumped and finally said:
“Well, my message for everyone involved in this is: ‘I’m sorry were in this situation.”
And because of another response just as anemic, he’s been suspended three games.
But it could have been worse.
At least no one bigger and stronger and fueled on rage slammed him against the wall .