Over and over during his first press conference in nearly a month on Monday, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer reiterated the same point.
Meyer, who was suspended for the first three games of the season after he “failed to take sufficient management action,” said he did not cover up former wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s alleged domestic violence of Courtney Smith, nor was he punished for doing so.
“Did I turn my back to domestic violence? Not one bit. I never would do that,” Meyer said. “That's been made perfectly clear after that very thorough investigation. And for people who know me know that's absolutely intolerable. I've always been a very strong advocate of anti-domestic violence.”
The costly mistake that led to the suspension, Meyer believes, was going overboard trying to help Smith. He said the report “clearly states” he did not undermine domestic violence.
“I erred in going to far to try to help a guy with work-related issues,” Meyer said. “As the investigation took place, these behaviors were showing up that I had no awareness of. So, once again, I can only do what I do. I apologize. But there was no intent to mislead, no intent to not be truthful with everybody, including this university, including [the media].”
Meyer said he saw work-related “red flags” in 2015, but they did not lead to the termination of Smith.
“I made a mistake not in domestic violence,” Meyer said. “Where I made my mistake is not asking enough questions, I believe, and complete reliance on law enforcement.”
Smith spent six seasons on Ohio State’s coaching staff and was the last member of Meyer’s original staff before he was fired.
When Meyer began evaluating potential assistant coaches after being hired by Ohio State in December 2011, Smith stood out. Meyer said he heard “glowing reviews” about Smith’s “family and recruiting” from the coaching staffs at Marshall and Temple, his two stops after working as a graduate assistant and special teams quality control coach during Meyer’s head coaching tenure at Florida.
He now believes he made a mistake in hiring the then-27-year-old coach.
“When I was hiring him, I believed I hired the right guy,” Meyer said. “In hindsight now, I look back at all these other issues that took place during that time period. I did not hire the right guy.”
Meyer said Smith was “fantastic” in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. He referenced the improvement in the receivers after no receiver had more than 14 catches in 2011.
Then, Meyer said, there was an “eight-month window” in 2015 during which Smith separated from his wife, Courtney Smith, the couple went through a divorce and Smith had “work-related issues.” As Meyer admitted has been a fault of his in the past, he opted to keep Smith on his staff after considering firing him.
“In hindsight, if I knew some of the things I knew after this investigation about his personal behavior, that's an obvious (firing).”– Urban Meyer
He said “law enforcement” told him in 2015 that “this is not domestic violence.” That seemingly pivotal moment kept Meyer, who reiterated his zero-tolerance domestic-violence policy, from firing Smith.
After being told the issue was not domestic violence, Meyer said, he tried to help the couple, which is something he has done with coaches in the past.
“The way my head works is, 'How do I help this situation?' Firing? Will that help it?' In hindsight, if I knew some of the things I knew after this investigation about his personal behavior, that's an obvious (firing),” Meyer said. “But at the time, that's not what was made aware. That's a fine line.”
That fine line led to Meyer not speaking with Courtney Smith after further allegations surfaced in 2015, which is something he had been criticized for not doing. Meyer said he was not allowed to talk to her during the ongoing investigation.
Despite not wanting to interfere, Meyer said he learned throughout this process that he needed to ask more questions.
“When you hear 'No charge, no arrest,' how far can you go? Gene and I have talked about that. Many colleagues have talked about that,” Meyer said. “What's the next step when you say there's no arrest or no charge? What do you do next? The one thing that's been made clear all along the journey is you can't go out and investigate.”