Urban In Trouble: Rapp-id Fire Reaction
So you know the story, but let’s set it up anyway.
Zach Smith has been fired as wide receivers coach at Ohio State because of damning allegations of domestic abuse of his ex-wife, Courtney Smith. The university announced that maneuver on Monday, July 23, leaving Urban Meyer to face reporters and address the subject at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on that day and the next.
The 34-year-old Smith was Meyer’s lone remaining staff member who trailed back to his first season at Ohio State – and the relationship extended well beyond that as Smith is the grandson of the late Earle Bruce, Meyer’s top mentor. In fact, Smith was once a walk-on player for Meyer and also was on his staff at the University of Florida.
That’s when the Smiths were a young married couple and all of this mess apparently really happened. Courtney told reporter Brett McMurphy about several incidents in which she claims she was terrorized by Smith and in many instances, according to her, groped, forcibly pinned against a wall and even struck.
There are now horrible photos online of injuries she allegedly suffered because of these encounters with her ex-husband. If these really occurred because of household flareups, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking Zach’s side or arguing that he should still be representing the OSU program as a molder of men.
But Meyer didn’t do anything until pressed and McMurphy had the info that no other journalist managed to find.
Then it really hit the fan.
Yesterday, another McMurphy report surfaced claiming Meyer’s wife, Shelley Meyer, was well aware of the Smiths’ combustible marriage and had been counseling her via text for months.
The backlash was swift and heavy, causing the university to release a bombshell statement for athletics director Gene Smith:
“The university is conducting an investigation into these allegations. During the inquiry, Urban Meyer will be on paid administrative leave. Ryan Day will serve as acting head football coach during the investigation. We are focused on supporting our players and on getting to the truth as expeditiously as possible.”
I’ve got several immediate reactions to this, which follow:
• What’s with Meyer’s answers at Big Ten Media Days regarding the timeline and severity of the allegations?
Meyer said he had no knowledge of two alleged domestic violence incidents in 2015 against Zach Smith and had he known, he would have fired him sooner.
“In 2009, Zach was an intern, a very young couple,” Meyer said in Chicago last Tuesday. “As I do many times, most coaches and people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs. We’re certainly not going to investigate.
“It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened. And Shelley and I actually both got involved because of our relationship with that family and advised for counseling and wanted to help as we moved forward.
“(In) 2015, I got a text late last night something happened in 2015. And there was nothing. Once again, there’s nothing – once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that. And then this recent one was you press pause, it’s something our team lives by, E + R = O, you press pause and get your mind right and step up, press pause and gather information, get your mind right, gather energy, and then step up to do the right thing. That’s the position I hold. That’s how we did that.”
This now sounds like heartless gobbled-gook that doesn’t really address the problem. “It came back to me” very likely means that he or someone else on the staff asked his assistant coach about it and Zach denied everything. Not much of a probe.
I had been hearing from people near the program that Courtney Smith was the problem, a wacko who likes to make baseless claims to keep Zach in line. Maybe there is some truth on both sides. Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t look good for Zach at the moment, and he’s about the only key figure who is not weighing in on all this, of course, leaving the talking on his side to his lawyer.
• Speaking of Smith’s lawyer, he, too, is playing the shameless blame-the-media game. That’s weak sauce.
On Wednesday afternoon, attorney Brad Koffel released a statement to ESPN’s Dan Murphy explaining his client’s decision to remain quiet for now. Here is the statement:
“Zach Smith wants to be as transparent and honest as possible but it is not going to be done today through the media. It will only be after he and his ex-wife are sworn in to testify. Once he gets his chance to tell his side of events, don’t be surprised when it is corroborated by every police who ever responded to Ms. Smith’s calls.”
Koffel also talked to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch, who reported the following: “Smith didn’t tell Meyer even about this May’s criminal trespass charge as a way of protecting Meyer, even though Koffel advised him to do so.”
Of that same May 12 incident, Koffel also told 610 WTVN Radio that the charge stemmed from Courtney not arriving at an agreed upon location to drop off the Smith’s son.
“Zach was returning his 13-year-old son to his ex-wife, which had previously been agreed upon,” Koffel said. “The exact location of the dropoff hadn’t been discussed. They were texting each other as to where to meet. She told them to meet at their apartment complex clubhouse. He drove there. She wasn’t there, and he dropped the son at her apartment. She was waiting for him with her cell phone out, and took a picture of him in her driveway. He left and she called the Powell police and said it was trespassing.
“She never presented the shared parenting plan to the police department. She never presented the shared parenting plan to the Delaware prosecutor’s office. A criminal complaint was filed against Zach. He was never arrested. He went to Powell PD and picked up the criminal trespass complaint. At no point did he ever violate the shared parenting plan. And we entered a not guilty (plea) on June 5.”
Koffel said that Courtney frequently tried to trap Zach and even told Rabinowitz that she “weaponized 9-1-1 many times over the years.”
Koffel also added that “he will deal with this in domestic court where it all should have stayed.”
Koffel has a point that domestic issues aren’t necessarily the public’s business, but he is forgetting that his client is a public figure and worked for the most recognizable public figure in Ohio and possibly college football.
• We don’t know for sure if Shelley Meyer had informed her husband about all of this, but …
… it’s hard to imagine that didn’t happen. Courtney Smith said in a sitdown interview with WatchStadium.com that she believes Shelley did all she could and was a great listener and supporter, but she doesn’t know for certain if it was ever relayed to Urban.
Basically, that is Meyer’s only defense at this point, the concept that he wasn’t aware of how deep this ran. And the university is investigating, which means his state-issued cellphone and other devices can be seized for evidence.
Meanwhile, McMurphy did acquire a text conversation between Courtney and Lindsey Voltolini, the wife of trusted OSU staff member Brian Voltolini. This is the exchange:
Courtney: “(Zach’s) trying to make me look crazy bc that’s what Shelley is saying (he’s doing)”
Lindsey: “He (Urban) just said he (Zach) denied everything”
Courtney: “I hope urban is smarter than that”
Lindsey: “He (Urban) doesn’t know what to think”
Courtney: “I don’t really care. Ya know”
Lindsey: “Yeah, don’t worry about urb”
• Urban needs to do more than just sit this out.
Remember, his responses to questions in Chicago and add in his official statement that was released with that of his boss, Gene Smith.
“Gene and I agree that being on leave during this inquiry will facilitate its completion,” Meyer said in the statement. “This allows the team to conduct training camp with minimal distraction. I eagerly look forward to the resolution of this matter.”
I get it: Urban Meyer is paid millions of dollars a year to run a program and prepare his team to win big games. Everything else is secondary. Only in this case, talking repeatedly about making this go away to do what’s best for the team just doesn’t cut it for me.
Meyer needs to go before the public and admit a lack of sensitivity and judgment, at the least. In my mind, he needs to stop talking about the upcoming season for a moment and instead address one of his capitalized core values, which is fair and safe treatment of women.
He has a chance to look like the super-intense coach who has learned a valuable life lesson and wants to pass that lesson on to his players and those who look up to him. Maybe that’s coming later, but it may be too late.
• The severity of this situation was felt immediately, and still ESPN’s Rece Davis summed it up in a way that is absolutely frightening for Buckeye fans.
Davis, the well-watched host of “College GameDay,” said, “I don’t have any inside information that would make this absolute fact, but my immediate reaction when I hear he’s been placed on administrative leave is that they’re negotiating the details of separation.”
That is gulpy for fans who like the fact that Meyer won the 2014 national championship at OSU and is a ridiculous 47-3 in Big Ten play, 73-8 overall, in six years as coach of the Buckeyes.
Meyer has endured other controversies but nothing like this. And every time another report comes out that he may have known about things like alleged incidents of abuse with children present or his assistant coach peering into windows and banging on doors at 1:30 a.m. – that’s creepy, by the way – it worsens for him.
• Meyer may have enabled the situation, but he had help.
Urban’s life coach and Bruce, who passed away earlier this year, reportedly were among those who begged Courtney Smith not to press charges against her then-husband (they finally divorced in September 2016), repeatedly reminding her that Zach would lose his job if she did.
One could argue they were trying to keep her from being rash or creating a worse environment for her kids or risking a comfortable lifestyle, but none of that flies.
We can be pretty sure what the motives were – to cover up the problem and throw dirt on a potential mess for Meyer to handle. And it’s also a good bet plenty of other people in the program knew it was a tumultuous situation.
• Urban needs to get off the team outlook aspect of this, not just because it may save his job, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Again, I understand his main job is to run the program, but right now he needs to better address the issue of women’s safety and admit some fault. The highest paid state official in Ohio needs to tell Ohioans, Buckeye fans and the rest of the country that he’s sorry he didn’t do more to address this issue.
Perhaps that statement is being crafted right now.
• No matter what you think of Brett McMurphy, this certainly appears to be a win for journalism.
Courtney Smith and McMurphy are Public Enemies 1 and 2 in the eyes of some hardcore fans, which is inherently wrong. She spoke out about a frightening situation that ended her marriage. McMurphy did the grunt work and got to truth that no one else bothered to find.
ESPN.com had nothing for hours on its website regarding Meyer’s leave, which leaves one to wonder if ESPN had egg on its face.
McMurphy was let go by the Mothership and currently is waiting for his contract to run out so he can resurface at a competing news organization later this year. In the meantime, he’s breaking national news from … Facebook.
Hard for a fellow journalist not to think that’s pretty awesome.
• I feel sorry for the Bruce family.
I will freely admit here that I know Zach’s mom, Lynn Bruce, and think very highly of the lady. She grew up with old-school parents and was always very supportive of them.
She has been instrumental in the foundation in her parents’ names that tackles Alzheimer’s and is the organizer of the Beat Michigan Tailgate that also raises money to combat the disease.
When her mother, Jean Bruce, died in late 2011, Meyer had just been named OSU head coach and he put some joy into the family by offering the WRs coach position to Zach at Jean’s wake. Now her son has lost that dream job and may take down her father’s protégé in the process. That’s a tough blow.
I’m sure Lynn raised Zach correctly and would never condone of him putting his hands on his spouse.
The whole situation is a mess.
It honestly left me to be grateful that Earle is not around to witness this, because it would have broken his heart.
But the university and Buckeye Nation are left to deal with it – and we may just be getting started.