SportsPulse: As he returns to the sideline and concludes his apology tour one thing is clear: Urban Meyer still doesn't understand what domestic violence is. USA TODAY
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State coach Urban Meyer admitted that his school’s reputation has been hurt by the events that led to the three-game suspension he received for his handling of fired assistant coach Zach Smith.
“To say there is no damage … there was,” Meyer said Monday in his first news conference since his three-game suspension ended.
Meyer said he sent letters and reached out to families of players and recruits to reassure them after allegations of domestic abuse by Smith went public.
Answering questions for more than 50 minutes, he continued to put forth the message that he was not suspended for ignoring domestic violence, but rather for going too far to help a troubled employee.
He said he based his conclusion that no domestic violence occurred during a 2015 incident between Smith and his wife Courtney on law enforcement’s finding. He offered multiple apologies for his actions and expressed regret about not firing Smith.
“Once domestic violence was taken out of the equation, my mindset was how can we help stabilize this situation, the man has an obligation to raise those kids, to support that family. How can I help?,” Meyer said. “We made a decision and for many people out there it was the wrong decision. I look back now with all of the information we gathered, it was the wrong decision. But with what we knew at the time, I thought it was the right decision.”
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Meyer said he told Zach Smith that he would be fired if law enforcement determined he had abused his wife.
Asked whether he believed Courtney Smith, was the victim of domestic violence, he said he can only go on what he was told by law enforcement. He said he was told it was a “messy divorce with child custody issues” and not a case of physical abuse.
“I made a mistake by not asking the right questions,” Meyer said. “And complete reliance on law enforcement.”
When Smith was fired on July 26, it was for not being forthcoming about a trespassing citation, and a protective order being issued.
Meyer said he saw Courtney Smith many times and the couple’s children many times after the 2015 allegations, and his thought was only about trying to help them.
Meyer, who will be back on the sideline Saturday when No. 4 Ohio State plays Tulane, did contradict a key finding in his university’s investigation of him by saying he didn’t discuss how to delete text messages on his phone with a staff member in early August.
“I have never deleted a text message,” Meyer said. “I have never changed a setting on my phone.”
Meyer said when investigators asked him about his phone being set to keep text messages only one years, he wasn’t sure what it meant.
He determined the school’s tech department had adjusted his setting because he had complained by his cell phone freezing. It was determined, Meyer said, that his problem was being caused by too many recruiting videos, text messages involving recruiting and grandson videos. The setting change was done to alleviate his problem.
But Meyer said the change was done “months earlier.”
Meyer apologized to the media his statements at Big Ten Media Day when he was asked about Smith. At the time, he denied knowing about whether the assistant had been accused of domestic violence in 2015.
"I didn’t answer the questions with the accuracy I should have,” Meyer said. “I didn’t listen closely to the questions.”
He explained that he was caught off guard by a media request.
“I was shocked because I had no recollections of a felony, assault arrest,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he had his staff make sure Smith had not been arrested, he was reacting to that request, instead of addressing what was being asked.
Meyer also detailed why he hired Zach Smith knowing he had issues with him at Florida in 2009.
“He had worked for two other universities and I was getting high recommendations,” Meyer said.
Meyer said in 2012, 2013 and 2014, “(Smith) did a very good job. He was one of the best recruiters on our staff. He developed an excellent group of a receivers.”
It was 2015 when athletic director Gene Smith informed him of the domestic abuse allegations.
“He told us, he would never hurt Courtney and he had never done it,” Meyer said.
Meyer said Smith told him to “let the investigation take place.” And that’s what they did.”