What Was the Accusation?
On July 23, 2018, Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer unexpectedly fired assistant Zach Smith on account that his wife, Courtney Smith, had filed a temporary restraining order against him. Smith’s termination occurred a day before Meyer was to address the public at the annual Big Ten media day. When asked about firing Smith, Meyer tried to downplay the event by saying he was aware of a 2009 incident, but Meyer claimed he was not aware of another incident in 2015. In 2009 and 2015, Zach Smith was accused by his wife Courtney of domestic violence. Smith was arrested both times, but charges were eventually dropped. Meyer’s denial of any knowledge of 2015 was disputed and Ohio State launched an investigation. Ohio State found that Meyer had failed to inform the university about Smith’s past in 2012 and concluded that Meyer chose to have a coach familiar with his system more than following Ohio State’s reporting obligation policy. Meyer was suspended from coaching for several weeks, but faced heavy criticism for the way he responded to questions about domestic violence against women and specifically for how he treated Courtney Smith. In multiple attempts, Meyers seemed to make the situation worse for himself concerning his true feelings toward women and the seriousness of violence against them. From his initial Big Ten media day appearance, letter to “Buckeye Nation,” a hastily called news conference with university administration, a tweet, and finally to a lengthy one-one-one interview with ESPN, Meyer seemed unable or unwilling to apologize and clearly explain what he knew, did, and believes. Meyer was ultimately punished with a three-game suspension and loss of six weeks of pay.
Key Apologia Strategies:
Denial, Defeasibility, Bolstering, Mortification
ESPN Reporter Tom Rinaldi: “Did the report also says about 2009 you and your wife Shelly didn’t believe Courtney Smith was being quote “entirely truthful’ when she called 911 to have Zach arrested. This is what the report says Urban. What was she untruthful about in calling 911?
Ohio State University Football Coach Urban Meyer: I recall being told and believed that this was not domestic violence that she threw him out of the house and that there were no charges being told and believed that this was not domestic violence that she threw him out of the house and that there were no charges.
ESPN Reporter Tom Rinaldi: “Given the 2009 arrest urban you left Florida after you returned to coaching at Ohio State what reservations if any did you have about hiring Zach Smith again?”
Tom Rinaldi: “When I say the name Courtney Smith what comes to mind?”
Urban Meyer: “Extremely difficult situation, a very troubled marriage, a situation that I wish I had known more in wishing I didn’t work “
Tom Rinaldi: “why didn’t you know more?”
Urban Meyer : “well I knew what I knew I knew then 2009 that there was an incident and I was led to believe by both parties that it was not Domestic Violence 2009 “
Tom Rinaldi : “while you were at Florida, Zack Smith was arrested by the Gainesville Police Department after he quote allegedly picked up his wife and threw her against a wall this is in the investigations findings what did you do about the arrest”
Urban Meyer: “I believe was it the next day I found out about it and both parties came to see me I asked about it and I was told it was not domestic violence but she was very upset with him for drinking “
Tom Rinaldi : “who told you that”
Urban Meyer : “I believe both of them did”
Tom Rinaldi : “the report also says about 2009 you and your wife Shelly didn’t believe Courtney Smith was being quote entirely truthful when she called 911 arrested this is what the report says urban what was she untruthful about in calling 911″
Urban Meyer : “being told and believed that this was not domestic violence that she threw him out of the house and that there were no charges IRA was completely reliant on information from law enforcement there was no charges”
Tom Rinaldi : “given the 2009 arrest urban your left Florida after you returned to coaching at Ohio State what reservations if any did you have about hiring Zach Smith again”
Urban Meyer : “so I wanted to have someone with some familiar Terry to my offense and and Zach seemed like a guy that was doing very well and I checked on him did background checks with the coaches he worked with it came back very high very very high marks and so I made a decision to hire him at Ohio State “
Tom Rinaldi : “how do you view that decision now “
Urban Meyer : “no bad decision”
Tom Rinaldi : “what did you tell your boss athletic director Jean Smith about the 2009 arrest when you hired zach smith “
Urban Meyer : “yeah I’ll state I recall I didn’t tell him”
Tom Rinaldi : “but you knew about it why not tell him
Urban Meyer : “and hindsight I should have”
Tom Rinaldi : “why didn’t you”
Urban Meyer : “I can’t once again I can’t recall Wyatt no that was several years ago I just can’t tell you exactly what my mindset was at the time”
Tom Rinaldi : “you put your core values for the football program on the wall at the Woody Hayes Center printed in all caps for everybody to say what are the first two values”
Urban Meyer : “honesty is number one and respect woman number two”
Tom Rinaldi : “honesty and treat women with respect through the course of these events involving Zack and Courtney Smith how do you think you honored those values “
Urban Meyer : “I still hold those values so firm so strong and I apologize and for the perception that I don’t “
Tom Rinaldi : “You know why”
Urban Meyer : “yeah”
Tom Rinaldi : “you will you apologize for the perception what is the perception”
Urban Meyer : “that as a result of this investigation and the situation that I did not take that seriously for the perception “
Tom Rinaldi : “what apology if any for the actions bourbon also for the actions”
Urban Meyer : “you know it was a very tough time a tough situation that Courtney was in that Zach Smith who was in that we were led to believe was a very difficult divorce and a lot of things going on and and I aired Tom I aired and and I made a decision to do the best I can to help stabilize that situation and one of the things I look back now I probably should have fired him”
Tom Rinaldi : “again according to the investigation late fall 2015 late fall 2015 Courtney Smith shared her allegations of abuse with your wife Shelly including a number of photographs Shelly called the police department seeking more information and it’s reported she texted back saying in parts Serban I am praying for you i know the truth just want you to be safe do you have restraining order he scares me why do you shake your head”
Urban Meyer : “the first time I heard of those texts were just recently in the last month because Shelley not share those text messages with me”
Tom Rinaldi : “as a nurse an instructor in the College of Nursing at Ohio State what do you think her responsibility was in sharing the allegations if there was imminent fear “
Urban Meyer : “I’m sure imagine that her responsibility is to alert someone”
Tom Rinaldi : “What do you think she should have done”
Urban Meyer : “I can’t speak to that because once again I don’t know everything that she knew I don’t once again she shared with me her reasoning and I just I don’t want to speak on her behalf”
Tom Rinaldi : “you said earlier if she had imminent fear quote he scares me how much does that sound like imminent fear”
Urban Meyer : “I we talked about that and she wanted to be as compassionate as possible and once again as she has a reasoning for why she didn’t react and I’m not here to speak for Shelley but she had a reasoning and her reasoning was what it was that’s why she did not alert me or alert I guess go anywhere else with it”
Tom Rinaldi : “how did she protect Courtney Smith “
Urban Meyer : “to be compassionate to be open therefore to talk to her I don’t know in great detail what those conversations were like “
Tom Rinaldi : “the report concluded urban it is likely you and Shelley had some communication about the allegations in late 2015 why do you believe the report found it likely “
Urban Meyer : “I think they know how close we are I think they know how much Shelley cares about people and I care about people “
Tom Rinaldi : “when it comes to the program’s core value of treating women with respect who respected and protected Courtney Smith”
Urban Meyer : “oh that’s a that’s a tough question now that all the informations out now that I’ve learned more if I fire him at the time sever that relationship and I see these two young kids that’s you know and that’s why I’ve always thought how do you help stabilize something and at the time I thought I was doing the right thing”
Letter to Buckeye Nation:
Dear Buckeye Nation:
My heart is heavy today as I witness the toll that events of the past week have taken on the Buckeye Family and the university community that i love so dearly.
When I stand before the 105 young men in our football program and talk about core values and doing the right thing and respecting women, it is not lip-service. I genuinely believe that we have an obligation to help develop the young men in our charge into positive change agents and that responsibility rests with me.
Over the past several days, I have been portrayed as being indifferent to domestic violence and as someone who did not take appropriate action, when warranted. While over three decades of coaching I have learned to ignore how others define me, I do feel it necessary to share the truth with the Buckeye family.
Here is the truth: While at the University of Florida, and now at The Ohio State University, I have always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels. And, I did so regarding the Zach Smith incident in 2015. I take that responsibility very seriously and any suggestion to the contrary is simply false.
The power of what I say and how I say it, especially regarding sensitive and serious domestic issues, has never been more evident than now. My words, whether in a reply to a reporter’s question or in addressing a personnel issue, must be clear, compassionate and most of all, completely accurate. Unfortunately, at Big Ten Media Days on July 24th, I failed on many of these fronts. My intention was not to say anything inaccurate or misleading. However, I was not adequately prepared to discuss these sensitive personnel issues with the media, and I apologize for the way I handled those questions.
I understand that there are more questions to be answered and I look forward to doing just that with the independent investigators retained by the University and I will cooperate fully with them. At the appropriate time, I will also address the questions and speculation in a public forum. But for now, out of the respect for the ongoing inquiry, I will refrain at this time.
Please know that the truth is the ultimate power and I am confident that I took appropriate action. As I stated above, I deeply regret if I have failed in my words. As the son of an amazing woman and the husband to another and, as the father of two incredible young women, those who know me best know the admiration and respect I have for all women. Our core values are just that–values that do not ever waver.
I ask that you continue to support the incredible coaches and student-athletes in our program, and I look forward to rejoining them soon.
August 18th News Conference:
I know that the impact that the events the last three weeks have had on this institution that I love and how challenging this has been for our community our president a man who have great respect for and for that I am deeply sorry I’m fully aware that I’m ultimately responsible for the situation that has harmed the University as a whole and our department ethics and our football program I want to apologize the Buckeye Nation I followed my heart not my head I fell short pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zack Smith the benefit of the doubt as I reflect my loyalty to his grandfather Earl Bruce who was my mentor like a father to me likely impacted how
I treated Zack over the years I did not know everything about Zack Smith which was what Zack Smith was doing and I’m pleased that the report made this very clear however I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags I needed to show more care and concern for the entirety of this situation and the people involved I should have been more demanding of him in the same way I am of my players other staff members and myself I should have done more and I am sorry for that I did a poor job at media day it’s a big reason why over here today I was not being as complete as accurate as I should have been at media day and afterward but there was no intent to mislead my role is to set a good example in his instant I did not live up to the university’s standards the suspensions are tough but I fully accept them I wish I could go back and make those different decisions but I can’t these difficult lessons are a constant reminder the duties and obligations that I have as a member of this university and this community I take full responsibility I take this responsibility very seriously and I will do better I’ve been a buck on my entire life for the past six years I’ve worked diligently to build a program thank you the great state of Ohio you know how state can be very proud of and I appreciate the opportunity romanÃs take and I will work as hard as I ever have to make our strong program even stronger thank you very much
Myer’s August 24th Tweet:
“My words and demeanor on Wednesday did not show how seriously I take relationship violence. I sincerely apologize. I was taught at a very young age that if I ever hit a woman, I would be kicked out of the house and never welcomed back. I have the same rule in my house and in the Football Program at Ohio State. Over the years, we have worked hard to educate and remind our coaches and players of the seriousness of relationship violence.
I understand my lack of more action in this situation has raised concerns about this commitment. I once again apologize for this, and I extend my empathy to all women, men and families who are affected by relationship violence. This has been a real learning experience for me. I fully intend to use my voice more effectively to be part of the solution.
Let me say what I should have said on Wednesday: I sincerely apologize to Courtney Smith and her children for what they have gone through.