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Zach Smith's Misconduct Went Mostly Unpunished, Ohio State Review Finds

In this Sept. 17, 2016, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, right, and then-assistant coach Zach Smith, left, gesture from the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.
Sue Ogrocki
Associated Press

As part of its two-week probe into head coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State investigators uncovered numerous examples of what it calls “problematic or at least questionable behavior” from former receivers coach Zach Smith that went mostly unpunished. The findings, which were unveiled Wednesday, resulted in Meyer’s suspension for the first three weeks of the season.

Investigators found fault with Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith’s decision to follow the lead of law enforcement when it came to reporting or disciplining Zach Smith. Though a protective order filed by Courtney Smith, who said she was the victim of domestic violence, led to his firing from the team in July, investigators raised concerns about many other actions during Zach Smith's tenure.

“I should have demanded more from him, and recognized red flags,” Meyer said at a press conference Wednesday. "I needed to show more care and concern for the entirety of the situation and the people involved."

In 2014 on a recruiting trip, the independent working group found Smith spent $600 of his own money at a Florida strip club with another Ohio State coach and at least one of the high school coaches they were visiting. Smith’s actions weren’t illegal. But the report states when Coach Meyer became aware, “he reprimanded Zach Smith, warning him that if it happened again, he would be fired.” 

Following the incident, Meyer updated the "Coaches’ Manual" to include a morality clause advising staffers to avoid strip clubs or other places that would embarrass the program, and prohibiting pornography on school-issued devices.

Between 2014 and 2016, Zach Smith’s credit cards were declined three to five times, and he was delinquent in paying phone bills and expenses from bowl games. The issue became enough of a problem that a school travel manager brought it up with Gene Smith and others officials.

The report shows Zach Smith’s job performance dipped beginning in 2015 as he and Courtney Smith went through a divorce. He was regularly late to work, and “failed to appear at scheduled recruiting visits at various high schools, despite reporting internally that he had.”

At the same time, Zach Smith was also carrying on a relationship with a team staffer who didn’t report to him.

According to the report, Gene Smith suggesting firing Zach Smith as receivers coach, but Meyer refused.

Meyer admitted Wednesday that he treated Zach Smith more generously than he should have, due to their history together - they've known each other since Smith was a teenager. Zach Smith played for Meyer at Bowling Green, interned for him at the University of Florida, and then was among Meyer's first hires at Ohio State in 2012.

"I followed my heart and not my head," Meyer said. "I fell short in pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt. As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather Earle Bruce, who was my mentor and like a father to me, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years."

The review also says Meyer should have informed Ohio State of Zach Smith's previous domestic violence arrest when he was hired, but that Meyer did not violate policy, law or contractual obligation in not doing so. Meyer said he knew about the 2009 incident at the time.

In June of 2016, Zach Smith went into treatment at the urging of Meyer for an addiction to ADHD medication. Gene Smith was unaware of the drug abuse or Zach Smith’s admission to a treatment facility, the review found.

“Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith’s efforts to help Zach Smith overcome his personal issues went too far in allowing him to remain as an employee in the face of repeated misconduct,” the review concluded.

Ohio State suspended Meyer through September 16 without pay, meaning he’ll miss the first three games of the college football season. Gene Smith will serve a two-and-a-half week suspension beginning August 31.

You can read the full report below.

Ohio State Urban Meyer Investigation by WOSU on Scribd