Coach Urban Meyer says he made a “bad decision” in choosing to bring Zach Smith to Ohio State and that he should have made athletic director Gene Smith aware of the assistant football coach’s legal history at the time.
Meyer told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi that he couldn’t recall why he didn’t inform his athletic director, noting that it was several years ago, but said, “In hindsight, I should have.”
“I just can’t tell you exactly what my mindset was at the time,” Meyer told Rinaldi in an interview that aired Sunday morning.
Meyer also admitted that he “erred” in his handling of Smith.
“I erred when I made a decision to do the best I can to help stabilize that situation,” Meyer said. “And one of the things I look back now — I probably should’ve fired him.”
Meyer had been prohibited from coaching the Buckeyes’ first three games for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against Smith and how he represented his awareness of the allegations in July. Meyer’s three-game suspension ended Sunday.
Meyer, who was suspended without pay, had been allowed to participate in practice the past two weeks.
Smith was fired as the Buckeyes’ wide receivers coach in July after a pretrial hearing on a charge of criminal trespassing and a report detailing domestic violence allegations toward Smith from his then-wife, Courtney Smith, in 2009 and 2015. Smith was arrested in the 2009 incident, while police in Ohio did not pursue charges in 2015.
Meyer told Rinaldi that he addressed the 2009 arrest a day after it happened and that the couple both denied the incident involved domestic violence.
“I was told that it was not domestic violence, that she threw him out of the house and that there were going to be no charges,” Meyer said. “I was completely reliant on information from law enforcement. There was no charges.”
Meyer denied being told about text messages between Courtney Smith and his wife, Shelley, regarding the abuse allegations in 2015. He declined to “speak on her behalf” regarding how Shelley Meyer handled her interactions with Courtney Smith.
“She has reasoning for why she didn’t react,” Meyer said. “And I’m not here to speak for Shelley, but she had a reasoning and her reasoning was what it was. That’s why she did not alert me or just go anywhere else with it.”
Meyer said he decided to hire Smith in 2012 to have someone familiar with his offense. Smith also served as an assistant under Meyer while he was Florida’s head coach.
“Zach seemed like a guy that was doing very well,” Meyer told Rinaldi. “And I checked on him, did background checks with the coaches he worked with. It came back very high, very high marks, and so I made a decision to hire him at Ohio State.”
Ohio State football has a list of “core values” that includes treating women with respect. Asked how Courtney Smith was respected or protected by the program, Meyer acknowledged “that’s a tough question now that all the information is out.”
“I thought the best thing I could do with a very troubled marriage, with a child custody issue going on. And I really thought it through,” Meyer said. “I thought the best thing I could do is try to help stabilize this thing. If I fire him at the time, sever that relationship, and I see these two young kids. And that’s why I’ve always thought, how do you help stabilize someone.
“At the time I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Meyer came under criticism for not directly apologizing to Courtney Smith during a news conference Aug. 22 announcing his suspension. He tweeted a public apology to Courtney Smith on Aug. 24.
He told Rinaldi that he associates Courtney Smith with an “extremely difficult situation.”
“A very troubled marriage, a situation that I wish I had known more and I wish I’d done more,” Meyer said.
Meyer said it “breaks my heart” to hear that Courtney Smith would believe that he would choose to help and enable an abuser. He added that he was sorry for the perception that he did not take the allegations seriously.
Ohio State’s first game with Meyer back on the sideline will be Saturday against Tulane.