Zach Smith has known Urban Meyer as long as he can remember.
As Earle Bruce’s grandson, Smith grew up knowing the mutual love and respect his grandfather and Meyer shared, which began with Meyer getting his first college coaching job under Bruce at Ohio State in 1986.
Smith turned down scholarship offers to become a walk-on at Bowling Green, where Meyer was coach at the time, because he knew from when he was 8 years old that he wanted to be a coach as well.
“My grandfather told me if I wanted to be a coach you had to go play for this guy,” Smith said.
Now, after six years as Meyer’s receivers coach at Ohio State, Smith was fired on July 23 after accusations of domestic abuse. Meyer’s response to those accusations have imperiled his own career. Meyer’s fate rests with a six-person investigative committee formed by OSU’s board of trustees.
After playing for Meyer, Smith got his coaching start as an unpaid intern under him at Florida. Meyer imparted some blunt guidance right away.
“He said, ‘Here’s the only advice I’ll give you,’ ” Smith recalled. “ ‘If I have to ask you to do something, you should be offended that I had to ask. And you should do it and lay it on my desk as if you’re saying, ‘Here’s your freaking report. It’s better than you ever thought I could do, it’s better than you wanted and you’ll never have to ask me for anything ever again because I’ll have it done before you ask and I’ll be offended if you have to ask, because that’s my job.’
“That’s when I was 22 years old. To this day, it’s the best advice I’ve ever been given.”
Smith then coached at Marshall and Temple. Shortly after Ohio State hired Meyer in late 2011, Bruce’s wife, Jean, died. At her wake, Meyer asked Smith to join his staff.
“He came to my grandmother’s wake because he was very close to her,” Smith said. “He didn’t want to make an ordeal of it, but he talked to my grandfather and saw me and just said, ‘So do you want to coach at Ohio State?’ ”
Smith said that when he asked the question, it was if he felt Jean Bruce’s presence in the room.
“The receiver position is a position I coached for a long time, so I have a firm belief of how to do it,” Meyer said five years ago. “Zach played for me and coached for me. He’s not going to stray off what I believe in. Obviously, he had ties here.”
Now those ties are broken. Smith said he knew his situation might be tenuous when allegations of domestic abuse surfaced. Respect for women is said to be one of the program’s core values — it is painted on the wall of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
But Smith said he believed the fact that he hadn’t been charged with a crime stemming from the 2015 accusation of domestic abuse would keep him from losing his job.
Instead, Meyer fired him in a phone call.
“He and Gene called me on speaker phone from Chicago on that Monday,” Smith said. “It was short, to the point, didn’t really give me a reason. They just said with everything going on, it’s time to make a change and he no longer was going to have me as receivers coach.”
Smith said he was devastated, but understood the decision. He said that he and Meyer haven’t spoken since.
Smith broke his public silence on Friday just as Meyer released a statement apologizing for saying at Big Ten media days that he knew nothing about the 2015 allegations. But Meyer also asserted that he had followed the proper protocol otherwise.
Smith defended his now former boss. He said that he didn’t tell Meyer about the accusations because he considered it a private matter and didn’t want to burden him.
“For this to even be a topic of conversation or a possibility is absolutely against all logic, because he handled it the way he was supposed to,” Smith said. “He did what he was supposed to do.
“He didn’t know about things that I didn’t tell him about because they weren’t his issue. When he did find things out, he reported them the way he was supposed to and handled them properly. For this to even be a question, it’s a sad state of how society, the media, social media all works.”
A relationship that, because of the Earle Bruce connection, went beyond head coach-assistant coach has ended, at least professionally.
“I’m sure at some point I’ll talk to him,” Smith said. “I don’t know the timeline of that.”