Texts show Meyer's struggles with Smith

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at the Longaberger Alumni House. The press conference was to announce the punishments of Meyer and A.D. Smith in the handling of the Zach Smith situation. [Eric Albrecht/Dispatch]

First of all, the timing was, well, interesting.

Friday was the start of the Ohio State football team’s training camp. Unlike last year, it was not clouded by scandal.

The team practiced in the morning. Late in the afternoon, the university released more than 2,000 of pages of texts, emails and documents requested long ago by The Dispatch and other news outlets related to the Zach Smith/Urban Meyer saga.

Overall, there were no bombshells, though the texts, in particular, revealed some new details. Some of the other correspondences now drip with irony or what-ifs.

Before Smith was fired in July 2018 following allegations of domestic abuse, he had been criticized for other issues. On page 177 of the 225 pages of text messages released, Meyer asked assistant athletic director for player personnel Mark Pantoni in December 2017 to check in on Smith to “make sure he is working.”

Pantoni replied, “I ripped his ass yesterday so he knows I’m all over him. He texted me back right away at 6:45 a.m. this morning and Kerry (Coombs) is w him today.”

There were questions about Smith losing cellphones and his iPad or not having use of his credit cards.

A few months later, Pantoni texted Meyer that Smith had left a message “claiming he had a flight issue” and couldn’t get to Austin, Texas, for a recruiting visit and would fly from Phoenix back to Columbus instead.

Meyer replied, “Wtf.”

Faculty athletics representative John Davidson also expressed frustration when he had difficulty connecting with Smith regarding his players. Numerous attempts by Davidson to meet didn’t materialize. Eventually, they scheduled a meeting, which Smith missed.

“Disappointed that this seems to be so difficult to arrange,” Davidson wrote, adding he would find other avenues to address the matter.

Smith was eventually fired last July while Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith were in Chicago for Big Ten media days.

“He was fired for cumulative stuff,” Meyer texted his agent, Trace Armstrong. “I will not tell media (the reasons).”

But Meyer did go beyond what he had been advised to say in his comments to reporters. That led to him being placed on administrative leave and then on suspension for the 2018 season’s first three games.

In none of the texts did Meyer indicate having more knowledge than previously established about the nature of the alleged domestic incidents involving Zach and Courtney Smith. He repeatedly said that it was a “tough situation” and a “he said, she said” that unfortunately affected their children.

Among the more interesting revelations are exchanges between Meyer and OSU president Dr. Michael V. Drake.

In November 2017, Meyer answered a congratulatory note from Drake by saying, “U and my favorite Brenda r much appreciated.” Brenda is Drake’s wife.

Meyer’s relationship with Drake would later sour. Drake is believed to have wanted to give Meyer a harsher penalty last summer than the university’s board of trustees was willing to issue.

But in January 2018, Meyer again thanked Drake for his support while revealing the offers several Buckeyes coaches, including Smith and current head coach Ryan Day, had received.

Meyer informed Drake that Day had been offered a job at UCLA, the head coaching job at Mississippi State, and had been pursued by the NFL. Ex-Buckeyes player and coach Mike Vrabel tried to hire Day as his offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans.

Meyer added that assistants Coombs, Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch and Smith were all offered jobs by Alabama and in some cases, other teams. Meyer said all were jobs that paid significantly more than they earned at Ohio State but that all but Coombs stayed because of their love for Ohio State.

Smith wrestled with taking the Alabama offer, which was for wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator.

“After much thought, I want u to stay,” Meyer wrote to Smith. “I have personally invested far too much in u to get u in position to take next step. U need to step away from other situation and let’s go win it all … again.

“We got u thru the s--- – now go b a difference maker in the staff room.”

Smith replied that the Alabama job “just doesn’t feel right. I love this place, my players and am loyal to you for everything you’ve done. I just want to grow and keep my career on track but I’m confident that’s here. I’m ready to win it all again. I appreciate everything coach.”

The what-ifs are fascinating to contemplate. What if Day had taken one of those jobs? What if Smith had joined Alabama coach Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa? A few months later, Smith was cited for criminal trespassing in Powell, which triggered the events that led to his firing and Meyer’s suspension.

That cast a shadow over the 2018 season. Meyer would retire and Day, who served as acting coach during his suspension, is the full-fledged head coach now.

The Buckeyes will be back on the field on Saturday with none of the distractions they faced a year ago. If nothing else, the long-awaited release of texts and emails on Friday serves as a reminder of the tumult they endured — and never want to again.

Dispatch reporters Jenn Smola and Joey Kaufman contributed to this article.


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