Urban Meyer Returns To Work, And To Explaining Himself

Urban Meyer addresses reporters at his first press conference following the end of his suspension on Monday, Sept. 17.
Urban Meyer addresses reporters at his first press conference following the end of his suspension on Monday, Sept. 17 [Nick Evans / WOSU]
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By Nick Evans, WOSU

In a small auditorium Monday, Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer strode to a podium and fielded questions about credibility, domestic violence and former receivers coach Zach Smith.

In the six weeks since Meyer was suspended by the university, the coach has apologized, re-apologized and clarified statements after each of his additions raised new concerns among critics.  

Meyer gave more mea culpas, but he also went to great lengths to try to explain why he didn't act sooner. He said after hearing about police investigating Smith in 2015, he and athletic director Gene Smith monitored developments of the investigation. 

"As I was receiving updates, as it became close to the conclusion what I was hearing back from law enforcement is that this was not domestic violence, that this was a very nasty divorce, child custody issues involved but it was not domestic violence," said Meyer.

Meyer reiterated this point over and over again. But a report completed by an independent working group formed by OSU's board of trustees found fault with Meyer and Smith's decision—saying they relied too heavily on law enforcement.

Instead, the report says, they should have alerted more university authorities so an internal investigation could commence. Lead investigator Mary Jo White made that point specifically while announcing Meyer and Smith's suspensions last month.

"In the domestic violence context especially, there are many cases in which abuse takes place but there is no arrest or criminal prosecution, and so simply relying on law enforcement to take action in the face of such allegations is not in our view an adequate response," said White. 

Throughout his suspension, Meyer has insisted he did not turn a blind eye to domestic violence, and he still resists that characterization.

Following a reporter's question whether Meyer believed Smith's ex-wife, Courtney, was a victim of domestic violence, Meyer demurred.

"I can only rely on what information I receive from the experts," he replied.

On Twitter shortly before Monday's press conference, Meyer wrote "I will always be sorry for what Courtney Smith and her family have gone through."

 

 

Meyer heard about a similar incident between Zach and Courtney Smith in 2009 while he was coaching in Florida. The independent report shows Meyer and his wife Shelley doubted Courtney Smith's account of what happened. But the website Eleven Warriors recently published photos from the Gainesville police which show Courtney Smith with an apparent black eye from the episode.

"Character is very important," Meyer said of Zach Smith during his news conference. "When I was hiring him I believed I hired the right guy, in hindsight now I look back with all these other issues that took place during that time period, I did not hire the right guy."

Those other issues involving assistant coach Smith included a trip to a strip club while recruiting, drug abuse, and having a sexual relationship with a secretary on the football staff.

Running through a timeline leading to Smith's firing, Meyer seemed more upset that he first learned of events from the police rather than Smith. And when Meyer described where he went wrong, he emphasized his tendency to give second chances, completely setting aside the matter of domestic violence.

"I saw a guy with work related issues, that had two children and an ex-wife that he needed to support the way a man's supposed to support them," Meyer said. "And I went...you know I was suspended for the fact that I went too far in trying to help a guy with these work-related issues."

Central to the domestic violence claims are text messages. Courtney Smith shared photos of her abuse with Shelley Meyer, and the working group report cast doubt on Urban and Shelley Meyer's claims they never spoke it. 

There's also the question of Urban's text messages. When he turned his phone over to university authorities, there were no messages older than a year. Meyer insisted he did not delete messages or set his phone to automatically discard them. He said someone in OSU's IT department changed those settings for him. But the working group report noted he spoke with administrators about how to alter his phone settings to discard messages a year old or older.

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