Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had no choice. Not if he wanted to follow his own rules. Not if he wanted to avoid appearing soft on domestic violence.
So it was goodbye OSU receivers coach Zach Smith. And hello Brian Hartline? We shall see. For now it is enough that Smith is gone, fired Monday evening after reports surfaced that the 34-year-old grandson of former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce has been accused of multiple incidents of domestic violence.
After it surfaced last week that Smith had been cited May 12 on one count of criminal trespassing — stemming from a dispute with his ex-wife over their son’s drop-off location — news broke Monday afternoon that Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, also had obtained a domestic violence civil protection order against her ex-husband in connection with the complaint in May.
Smith's attorney, Bradley Koffel, has argued that the misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing was baseless and that Smith was just dropping off one of his children at his ex-wife's apartment.
In June 2009, according to court records in Alachua County, Florida, Smith was arrested by Gainesville Police on a charge of aggravated battery. That charge was dismissed. At the time, Smith was a graduate assistant under Meyer at Florida, and Smith's wife was nearly three months pregnant.
Koffel said Smith and his then-wife got into an altercation at a holiday party and that Courtney Smith later asked for the charges to be dismissed.
Did Meyer know about the 2009 incident? We should find out today when he is scheduled to meet with media at the Big Ten media days in Chicago. Questions will be asked. Let’s hope Meyer gives straightforward answers, because this is not merely some inconvenient distraction to the upcoming season. If Smith was physically abusive toward his wife/ex-wife, the actions run hard against Meyer’s own non-negotiable team rules.
Meyer lays out three core values above all others: 1. Don’t lie; 2. Treat women with respect; 3. No stealing, drugs or weapons. Players caught breaking any of those rules are punished with reduced playing time or dismissal.
In 2013, Meyer put his no-play promise into action when Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde was caught on surveillance tape getting into a brief altercation with a woman at a Columbus nightclub. Though not charged with a crime — it was not clear from the tape whether Hyde made physical contact with the woman — Hyde served a three-game suspension for not walking away from the situation.
The allegations against Smith would warrant an even stiffer penalty. Meyer obviously agrees, because he quickly cut loose the last remaining assistant from his original staff in 2012.
Smith’s coaching ability was a mixed bag. His critics pointed to a lack of improvement among the receiving group, but there were successes, too, including Michael Thomas. There were murmurings that Smith had a job only because of Meyer’s love for Bruce, who hired him as a graduate assistant in 1986.
When Bruce died in April, speculation began that Smith’s job security might be in peril. But no one saw the exit happening this way. At least hopefully no one.
Smith’s forte was recruiting, which Meyer values in a coach more than almost anything else. But the latest allegations surely damage Smith’s ability as a recruiter. Imagine trying to explain the 2009 police incident report to a recruit’s mother:
Smith “picked (his wife) up by grabbing her T-shirt and threw her against the bedroom wall.” From the same report officers concluded Zach Smith was the primary aggressor.
An Ohio State press release said coaching staff adjustments will be announced later. Here’s guessing that Hartline gets the call. The former Buckeyes receiver with NFL experience served last season under Meyer as a quality control coach. Regardless of who gets the job, what Meyer and OSU need now is a quality coach with control of his behavior.