Meyer faces the music

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer addresses media members at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Monday, as he returns to full coaching duties this week after serving a three-game suspension in the wake of domestic abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

For nearly an hour on Monday, Urban Meyer answered questions that had lingered for weeks.

The Ohio State football coach was contrite about many things. He was firm in denying fault about others. He said he understands the damage that was done to his reputation and to Ohio State’s because of the Zach Smith ordeal and Meyer's role in it.

After a three-game suspension that was handed down Aug. 22, Meyer will return to the sideline on Saturday when Ohio State hosts Tulane. Not one question was asked about the upcoming game.

After admittedly fumbling news conferences in Chicago at the Big Ten football gathering on July 24 and in Columbus the night the suspension was issued, Meyer sought to set the record straight Monday.

He said his suspension did not result from his handling of the domestic-abuse allegations about Smith, the former Ohio State receivers coach, but in giving him too long a leash despite numerous red flags in his job performance.

“I erred in going too far to try to help a guy with work-related issues,” Meyer said.

Video: Meyer answers tough questions

Meyer said he had to decide whether to cut ties with Smith, whose grandfather is Meyer’s mentor, Earle Bruce, or help him with his marital issues, which at times affected his job performance.

“I made a decision — I talked to (athletic director) Gene (Smith) about it — let's get him very intense counseling,” Meyer said. “Let’s monitor it closely and try to stabilize this guy so he can be a good father and support the family the way he should. And that’s what we did.”

He said he made it clear to Zach Smith that if he did commit domestic abuse, he would be fired. Meyer said he decided to terminate Smith after the coach didn’t inform him of a criminal-trespass charge and a domestic-violence protection order filed against him.

As for the domestic-abuse allegations, Meyer said that he relied on law enforcement and that no charges were filed stemming from Courtney Smith’s accusations in 2015.

“Where I made my mistake is not asking enough questions, I believe, and complete reliance on law enforcement,” Meyer said. “When you hear, ‘no charge,’ ‘no arrest,’ how far can you go? And Gene and I talked about that. Many colleagues and I have talked about that. What's the next step when you say there’s no arrest or no charge? What do you do next?”

Meyer said that he misspoke in Chicago, but that was related to confusion about what the allegations were. An erroneous report the day before described it as a felony charge. That’s what Meyer said he was referring to when he denied knowing about the allegations.

“I want to be really clear that there (was) zero intent to mislead,” Meyer said. “The (OSU investigatory) report found that. I did not answer questions with the accuracy that I should have.”

His statements that day and the perception that he was not as sensitive as he should be regarding domestic violence have damaged his reputation.

“It's tough to take,” he said. “I've spent 30-plus years in coaching. Never been perfect. Tried extremely hard. My love of players, my love of development of players, my love of team, my love of the university has never been challenged.”

Meyer said he was devastated by the suspension but that he has a “great relationship” with OSU President Michael V. Drake and Gene Smith. For those who wonder whether the ordeal might hasten his departure from Ohio State, he said that it wouldn’t.

“My love is unwavering for Ohio State, even more so now,” he said.

As for Meyer’s opinion of the truth of Courtney Smith’s allegations, he said it was a “very delicate” topic.

He apologized for his answer the night he was suspended when asked what he would say to Courtney Smith. He said he was exhausted from that day and crushed because of the suspension.

“I walk into a press conference and the cameras are going, and I start getting rapid-fire questions at me,” Meyer said. “And I did not do well, again, at that scenario. I came out there a couple days later and said (on Twitter). ‘I’m very sorry.’ And I'm saying this again right now, I’m very sorry.

“No two children and a wife — a family — should go through this. Especially when this started becoming a media storm about these just these activities that were going on, and families chiming in and accusing families of things against each other. No family should ever have to go through that.”


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: