Urban Meyer arrived in Chicago for Big Ten Football Media Days needing to find a new wide receivers coach.
He also had to face questions about why he fired longtime assistant Zach Smith and what he knew about Smith’s alleged history of domestic incidents with his now-former wife.
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Smith was let go Monday night after reports surfaced that he had been accused of physical abuse in 2015 and 2009.
He was already facing a criminal trespassing charge in Delaware County after a dispute over where he would drop off their son at Courtney Smith’s apartment complex.
Meyer, who was the head coach at Florida and employed Zach Smith as a graduate assistant at the time, explained Tuesday morning what he knew and when he knew it.
“In 2009, Zach was an intern (and they were) a very young couple,” Meyer said. "As I do many times — most coaches and people in leadership positions do — you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs.”
According to a Gainesville, Fla., police report obtained by national college football writer Brett McMurphy, Zach Smith was accused of throwing his pregnant wife against a bedroom wall.
Meyer said, “It came back to me that what was reported wasn't actually what happened,” and added that he and his wife, Shelley, offered counseling to the Smiths at the time.
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McMurphy reported Zach Smith was arrested in Central Ohio in 2015 and charged with felonious assault and domestic violence.
Meyer said he had not heard of that until Monday night but was told, “There was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing. Once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
He declined to go into further detail about why he ultimately fired Smith, but acknowledged the most recent incident last week making headlines was a factor.
“The decision was made. I think the details that I'm obligated to give, I gave,” Meyer said. “You're talking about people's lives, etc., so the decision was made. It's time to move forward. And we are in a public world. I try not to operate — especially when you're talking about (personal lives) and people, making things because it became public — but to say that doesn't have something to do with it, it does a little bit.
“I'm one of those ones I really don't care about that. I try to stay focused on what's the most important thing — that's our players and our team — but I do understand the value. The Ohio State University is bigger than all of us. So you have to do what's right by them. And the timing. It wasn't just my decision. It was a group effort on several people that I rely on.”
Smith is the grandson of the late Earle Bruce, a College Football Hall of Fame coach who served as one of Meyer’s most important members until his death earlier this year.
Meyer gave Smith, a Dublin native who walked onto the Bowling Green football team when Meyer was the coach of the Falcons, his first coaching job as quality control assistant at Florida in 2005.
He joined Meyer’s first Ohio State staff in 2012 and was something of a lightning rod, being credited for some important recruiting victories but questions persisted about his coaching ability as the receivers were frequently seen as a weak link for the Buckeyes over the past six seasons.
“Zach was first hired because of his skill set,” Meyer said. “I knew about it because he was with me at Florida — played for me at actually Bowling Green — but Coach Bruce now is the strongest relationship I've ever had other than my father. I've made that clear many, many times.
“So the big picture that was very important in this particular situation, I think that's one of the hard jobs of a leader. You have to make decisions that are for the best of the program, and I did.”
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Replacing an assistant coach shortly before the start of preseason camp could be difficult, but promoting former Ohio State receiver Brian Hartline from his position as an intern might be the most logical move.
“That decision will be made later in the week,” Meyer said. “Any speculation up to that point is certainly that… It happened rather quickly.
“I get back tonight. Tomorrow we'll have conversations. I'll probably release something by the end of the week is what our plans are.”