Ohio State football/Urban Meyer investigation: Transcript of Zach Smith interview
Zach Smith spoke publicly for the first time on Friday in the aftermath of his firing as Ohio State wide receivers coach amid accusations of domestic abuse against his ex-wife.
He spoke with Dispatch Ohio State football beat writer Bill Rabinowitz in a wide-ranging interview that included discussion of the allegations, his termination and head coach Urban Meyer's involvement in the matter.
Here is the transcript of that interview.
Question: One of the big questions is whether you told Urban directly about what was going on that you’d been accused by Courtney of domestic abuse.
Answer: No, I never shared anything with him other than this 2015 accusation that I actually found out about from the administration at Ohio State when Gene called me. But I didn’t tell him about it. Gene or someone else did.
I discussed it with him but I didn’t tell him about anything because I didn’t believe and I still don’t firmly believe that marital issues need to be my boss’s issue. It’s between me and my wife and we’ll work it out. We’ll figure out what to do, what’s wrong. It’s not his burden to bear so I didn’t involve him.
Q: When did Urban found out there were allegations?
A: I think the only thing he knew was when the 2015 accusations came out – and those were allegations over years. I don’t know why they came out when they came out. I don’t know why the accusation came out when it happened – obviously we were already getting divorced so it wasn’t a great relationship. That’s when he found out that she was going to accuse me of that.
Q: What did he say to you when he asked you what happened?
A: He was not happy at all, obviously. He asked me, “What the hell happened? What’s going on right now?” I explained the whole story of what the accusations were, that I voluntarily went to the police station to basically provide a statement on anything they had or anything they wanted to talk about so I could make sure this didn’t turn into a witch hunt. I told him all about that interview. He looked at me and said, “All right, I’m going to let investigators do their job and investigate this but I swear to God if you hit her, you’re fired.” I said, “Coach, I already know that and I didn’t hit her, so I’m fine.”
Q: I’ve seen the photos of her arms being red and seen that it might have been from a prior incident, perhaps 2010.
A: I don’t know what they were from. I don’t know what caused them. I don’t know when they were. We really didn’t have volatile domestic issues in 2010, 2011 2012. Our marriage was actually doing pretty decent. So I don’t know when they’re from. But I don’t believe they’d be from 2010.
Q: But you believed it was pretty much common knowledge in the Woody Hayes center about your marriage failing, right?
Q: And you see that core value about having respect for women on the wall of the facility?
Q: You said it was OSU athletic director Gene Smith who called you while you were on a recruiting visit and told you to return home. What was his involvement?
A: He didn’t really have much involvement with me other than he’s the one who told me they got a phone call from the Powell police and I needed to come home and they had to find out what was going on. I think I talked to him one other time a little bit later about it just to update him. Outside of those two conversations, I had a couple conversations with Urban and that was about it. They were letting the police do their job before they had any reaction.
Q: How often did police come to your place?
A: All these (reports of) domestic instances where the police was called were a surprise to me because I’ve never seen a police officer (because of an incident). I’ve never been there when a police officer was called over some domestic incident. The only time I saw a police officer is when I drove myself to the Powell police and walked in to see one so I could find out what was going on and provide my stories. I’m not saying they didn’t happen but I wasn’t there when the police showed up. I don’t know how many times they were called. I’ve heard different numbers about that, but I have no idea.
Q: At that point — October 2015 — you were separated?
A: Yeah, we were separated.
Q: When did you separate?
A: I want to say like May of 2015.
Q: Do you know what the specific incident in October 2015 was?
A: I don’t. I don’t remember it. After we got separated, we would still hang out with the kids. It wasn’t like, cut ties, separate and never talk again. It was a very confusing time for both of us, trying to get through it. It was certainly a relationship that seemed to be over, probably needed to be over, but wasn’t necessarily over. I don’t know what incidents caused this whole thing. In October, I think it was actually a dispute about whether I’d have my son or not, but I honestly don’t remember.
Q: You have said you were not a great husband. How much do you regret your behavior in the marriage, or was this just two people who shouldn’t have been together?
A: I have regrets for sure. I definitely could have been a much better husband, a much more supportive husband, and could have not caused escalation in arguments or situations. It seemed when I got engaged and was going to get married it seemed like it was definitely the right decision. It obviously doesn’t look like it was right now, but I have two beautiful kids from it, so I don’t regret it.
Q: Is it hard to believe this has all happened?
A: I can’t believe it at all. It still hasn’t sunk in. I’m still in shock.
Q: The idea that what’s happened could put Urban Meyer’s job in jeopardy, how do you feel about that? (At this point, his attorney, Bradley Koffel, interjects and asks Smith to speak about the Big Ten media day question in which Meyer denied knowing anything about a 2015 incident.)
A: The fact his job is in jeopardy I think is outrageous. It’s from pressure put on by media reports and not on actual actions. Now that people know Urban knew about it, that higher-ups at OSU knew about it. … The way he handled it was the right way. Now people are trying to turn to this question at Big Ten media days.
I don’t know what he was thinking. I’m not here to speak for him. I haven’t spoken to him since I got fired. But my perception of it was – similar to my own perception when I read the initial reports going around the Internet from the people who quote-unquote “broke” this – was that I was arrested for felonious domestic abuse in 2015. My opinion of why he answered the way he did is that when it came up, he kind of freaked out, like, “When did Zach get a felony? I’ve never heard of that. No one ever told me this.” Then he called some people and said, “Dive into this. Get ahold of Powell police and find out if there were any felony charges or anything like that against Zach in 2015.” When they did that, (they saw) there were no felony charges in 2015 because ultimately it proved to be an accusation that was not real. Now he’s getting his honesty in question over something that was misreported. I don’t know that that’s the case, but that’s what I took from it.
Q: In Chicago, Meyer was not asked about a potential felony. Do you think it’s possible he read something on Monday that it was a felony and that’s what influenced his answer on Tuesday?
A: I believe that as he tried to rush and prepare for questions he didn’t expect when he flew to Chicago my own (perception) is he read what was being said, so that when he was being asked about it he would have somewhat of a prepared answer. What was being said on the Internet is that (I) was arrested for felony in 2015. I think that’s why he said that. That’s just my perception.
I only think he thought that because I thought that. I’ve never been arrested for anything at Ohio State, let alone a felony.
Q: How did Meyer fire you?
A: He and Gene called me on speaker phone from Chicago on that Monday. 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.
Q: What was your reaction?
A: I was devastated. I understood it. I was worried that it might happen because of everything going on.
Q: Did you ask for an explanation?
A: I took it like a man. There wasn’t anything they were going to say that was going to make me feel better about it. The decision was already made. I was going to be fired, so I’m good. I didn’t need anything else.
Q: Did you expect it?
A: Not at all. It was in the back of my mind with everything going on, but I didn’t see it coming at all. I knew it could be a possibility but I certainly didn’t see it coming.
Q: Was that in part because you and Urban Meyer go back a long time?
A: No, I don’t think so. I think just because I don’t believe I did anything that was worthy of being fired. I didn’t break any laws. I’d never been charged with anything other than 2009 which ended up getting dropped because it was just a bad situation but also nothing criminal. I did nothing to get fired. I understand why they had to do it. It was all because of the media backlash and all the negativity surrounding Ohio State. It needed to be done for the players and the university and the fans. So I got it (the rationale for his firing)] but I didn’t necessarily think it was right.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: What’s next for me is I have to get through the legal hearings to make sure this gets all put to bed and the truth is at least somewhere out there. Then from there, I don’ know where you go from this, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.
Q: Do you think you can get back into coaching?
A: It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 8 years old, but I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ll need to self-reflect and talk to people I care about and people I trust in the industry and see if that’s even possible. If not, I’ll have to move on. But if it is possible, it’s been my dream since I was a little kid.
Q: Do you expect to talk to Urban Meyer again?
A: I’m sure at some point I’ll talk to him. I don’t know the timeline of that.
Q: I know that you went to Bowling Green as a walk-on, turning down scholarship offers, to play for Meyer. Why?
A: My grandfather (Earle Bruce) told me if I wanted to be a coach you had to go play for this guy.
Q: The fact that your situation has now affected him and put his job in jeopardy, what do you think of that?
A: I have a lot of thoughts about it. I think I’ll bounce back and whether it’s in coaching or something else, I’ll be fine. But at least I played a part in this because it was my marriage and my relationship. The fact there’s even conversation about him losing his job is absolutely criminal and wrong. I know what he did, how he handled it. He did the proper things. I was there and he did. 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. 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.
Q: You’ve said that you were not a good husband. Beyond that, are you comfortable with the way you’ve conducted your life as an adult?
A: Yeah. I wish I didn’t have a failed marriage. But other than that, I feel I’m a great father, a great football coach, a great recruiter. I’m very happy with myself other than a failed marriage that I definitely played a big part in.
Q: Your ex-wife has been targeted for criticism on the Internet, too. What would you want to say about her? It was clearly a volatile marriage, but what would you want to say about the way she’s been treated?
A: I have chosen until today to remain quiet, take the high road and do this the right way for my children. I wish other people would have done the same. That being said, she’s a great mother. My kids adore her. She does a great job with them. She’s not a bad person. This is just a sad situation and I think it was mishandled by going a public route and that’s only going to hurt my children. That’s why I didn’t partake in it. I let people write articles, say things, and I remained silent. It is what it is now.
Q: Then why speak out now?
A: Because I didn’t think it would get this out of hand and this overblown. Now all of a sudden, it’s not just me and my kids. They’re already going to go through it. Now you’re talking about players I love going through major change in a year that should be a great year, and it’s unwarranted. I’m talking about good friends of mine employed at Ohio State that might possibly have their job jeopardized by this. At that point it was like, I can’t just sit here quietly and not say anything when all these people I care about are now being implicated.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: It’s unfortunate that all this stuff in the media, these text messages are being sent out without context or any understanding of what the conversation was. I’m choosing not to do the same because I’ve gone through my old phones and records and I have videos and pictures. But I’m choosing not to put it out there because I don’t ever want my children to see that. I don’t want them to see anything bad about their mother — or me. It’s just sad that it’s not the case with everyone.