When Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired in the wake of a May criminal trespass charge and a following domestic violence civil order filed against him by his ex-wife Courtney, his lawyer said Smith wasn’t going to talk outside of court. Well, a lot’s happened since then, with Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer initially denying he knew of the 2015 domestic violence accusations against Smith, Brett McMurphy’s story (supported by texts, photos and comments from Courtney Smith) casting doubt on that, Meyer being placed on paid leave while Ohio State investigated, and Meyer coming out with a statement Friday saying that he did know of the 2015 accusations and “followed the proper reporting protocols,” taking those accusations to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.
On Friday, Zach Smith began a media tour of his own, appearing on 105.7 The Zone in Columbus and on ESPN and claiming that he never abused his wife. He did admit that he was responsible for her injuries, but said that came out of self-defense or trying to get away from her. Here’s his The Zone interview, which aired first:
Here are some quotes from that interview:
Some of these Zach Smith quotes: "I've made mistakes … I was still in love with her … I don't believe I ever threatened her … No one did anything illegal, this should have stayed behind closed doors because now my kids have to deal with it." Why did Urban trust this guy?
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) August 3, 2018
Zach Smith on 105.7 in Columbus right now. Says he's never committed domestic abuse. "I never hit her, I never got arrested, I never got charged. I never did anything to physically harm her."
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) August 3, 2018
Zach Smith on 105.7 in Columbus: “I’ve never committed domestic abuse against her.” Says he had to “defensively restrain her” at times.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 3, 2018
Zach Smith appearing on @1057TheZone, asked if he had an explanation for photos, allegations: “All I can really say is we had a volatile relationship. It was toxic and at the end, it needed to end. I've never committed domestic abuse against her.”
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 3, 2018
“I believe and still believe it was behind closed doors between a husband and a wife. It was not illegal. I never saw a police officer in any of these situations.”
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 3, 2018
After that, McMurphy released a further text exchange that casts some doubt on Smith’s claim he never abused Courtney:
Zach Smith told @1057TheZone he never abused Courtney. Here is text message b/w Zach & Courtney when he admits & apologizes for strangling his wife on Punta Cana trip in March 2015 & again in April pic.twitter.com/GjcjWh6mFT
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 3, 2018
And Smith did at least see a police officer in some of those situations, as he was arrested in 2009 and the initial 2015 police report said he was arrested (a later-released one said he was not). And in his ESPN interview, he talked about meeting with the police to discuss the 2016 allegations. So his remarks are at least worthy of some skepticism. As are the ones he made in that ESPN interview with Dan Murphy that aired on Friday’s 6 p.m. Eastern edition of SportsCenter. Here’s a clip from that, where Smith talks about a call from athletic director Gene Smith in October 2015 pulling him away from a road game, going and meeting with the local police along with his divorce attorney to discuss the allegations, “And it seemed like these are just a bunch of allegations that aren’t going to go anywhere because I didn’t do anything illegal”:
The key part in there from Smith: “I went to practice, Urban pulled me off the practice field and said ‘What the hell is going on? What is this? What is this?’ And I told him, I laid it all out, ‘Apparently my ex-wife is trying to get me charged with domestic abuse from incidents that happened throughout our marriage, years ago, but I went down and met with the Powell police, I explained both sides of the story, I volunteered to do that, and I didn’t ever hit her.’ And he looked at me and said ‘Zach, if you hit her, you’re fired immediately.’ And I said ‘Coach, if I hit her, I wouldn’t come in here. I know how you feel about that. If I hit her, I wouldn’t even come to work. I would know, it’s over.” Murphy then asks “You never hit her?” and Smith says “Never hit her.”
Here’s another clip, where Smith says this should have stayed between him and his wife, and Meyer shouldn’t have looked into it further:
Smith says “I’m not out here in the public trying to put my personal life out there to people at work or anything. I believed that personal matters, marital matters, needed to remain personal and between a husband and wife. I told [Meyer] what he needed to know and nothing more.” Murphy asks if Meyer should have looked further and Smith said “No, he’s not an investigator, he’s not a cop, he’s not a detective.”
Smith continued with a take that Meyer didn’t need to talk to his wife:
“I think he found out the facts he needed to find out as the head coach of Ohio State and as my direct boss. He needed to make decisions based on those facts, I don’t think it was his job to investigate, to ask questions, to talk to her; he only had to talk to me, because he already got the other side of the story from the incident report. He wanted to know what really happened from me and then he let the police do their job. You can’t have a head coach doing investigating when there’s investigators doing investigating.”
Later in the show, there was also this part of Smith describing his physical conflicts with his then-wife:
“We had a toxic relationship, we had a volatile relationship. There was aggression in the relationship, but anything I ever did was a defensive action, and was simply to restrain her or to remove myself from the situation, which I did probably eight times in our marriage, where I would try and calm it down, try to get it to not be an aggressive situation, where I would go to my car and drive to work and sleep at work just to get out of the situation.”
He later went into more detail when Murphy asked him about Courtney’s bruises:
Murphy asked “How would just kind of putting your hands up create those kinds of bruises?” Smith says “I guess you’d have to be there. If someone’s being aggressive with you and you’re trying to defend your actions with that person and you try to grab their arm to stop the aggression and get them out of the way for you to get through a doorway and get out of the situation, it’s very possible. I don’t know what else to tell you. All I know is I never hit my wife, I never beat her, nothing.”
Murphy then specifically asked about a photo where Courtney’s hand was bleeding, and Smith described that as self-defense:
“In a fit about I don’t know what, she grabbed a can of tobacco that I had and went to pour it on me, and when I went to stop her pouring it on me, I closed the can and it sliced her hand. And anybody who has ever seen a can of tobacco, those metal cans are sharp. It was nothing, I was actually asleep when she came to do this, and I woke up and tried to grab the can of dip to not have it happen, and here we are.”
Smith later said “I freaked out” when he saw his wife bleeding, and said “Oh my god, are you okay?” and helped her clean up, and said “Oh my God, I didn’t mean to do that.” Murphy then asked Smith if he thinks he did anything wrong:
“In those incidents where bruises showed up on her body and she was bleeding, did you do something wrong in those cases?” Smith said “Absolutely, I did something wrong every time. I pushed her buttons a lot, I knew how to get her going. It was a toxic relationship, both of us did several wrong things. …There was never any illegal act, or violence, I’m sorry, domestic violence, on my behalf.”
Some takeaways out of all this:
- While denying he hit his wife, Smith makes it clear he was responsible for her injuries. He claims that was either to get away from her or in self-defense.
- Smith makes it clear that both Urban Meyer and Gene Smith were informed of the allegations against him in 2015 and of the police involvement.
- Smith also told ESPN that this should have stayed between him and his wife, and his bosses shouldn’t have investigated further.
- Smith told ESPN it would be “a crime” if Meyer lost his job over this.
- Both ESPN and The Zone are taking criticism for giving Smith this kind of platform.
There’s undoubtedly going to be much, much more fallout in the days and weeks ahead, and we’ll see what this winds up meaning for everyone involved.