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Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer 49d

Meyer texts urged Smith to stay, spurn Alabama

College Football, Ohio State Buckeyes

Former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer encouraged troubled staff member Zach Smith to stay with the Buckeyes in January 2018 when Smith was offered a coaching position at Alabama, according to a text message exchange released by OSU on Friday afternoon.

Meyer fired Smith roughly six months later after reports about Smith's volatile and allegedly abusive relationship with his ex-wife became the final straw in a career marked by behavioral issues. Ohio State investigated Meyer shortly after Smith's firing and suspended him for mishandling previous issues with Smith and for misleading the media when he was asked about Smith's conduct. Meyer retired after the 2018 season.

On Friday, more than 11 months after the university concluded its investigation, Ohio State released to the public more than 2,000 pages of documents that were reviewed by investigators as part of the inquiry into Meyer. Among the text messages and emails was one conversation during which Meyer told Smith in January 2018 that they "got u thru the s---" and that he wanted Smith to stay on staff in Columbus, Ohio. Smith, according to the text messages, was offered a position as passing coordinator on the Alabama staff.

"I have personally invested far too much in u to get u in position to take next step," Meyer wrote. "U need to step away from other situation and let's go win it all... again."

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday that while the Crimson Tide did interview Smith, he was never offered a position.

"I really never did ever offer this guy a job," Saban said. "We did interview him. ... When we did a background check we decided it was better to hire someone else."

Saban said it's common when people get interest from other programs to "use that as leverage" against their current employer.

Meyer hired Smith on his staffs at Florida and Ohio State. Smith is the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, whom Meyer considered a father figure and mentor. Meyer said his connection with Bruce clouded his judgment when it came to dealing with Smith's behavior.

Police in Florida investigated domestic violence claims made by Smith's then-wife in 2009, when Smith worked for Meyer's Florida team. Police also investigated claims of domestic abuse against Smith made in Columbus in 2015. He was not charged with a crime in either instance. Smith was charged with criminal trespassing after another dispute with the woman in May 2018. He pleaded to a misdemeanor in that case last fall.

Meyer told reporters last summer that he wasn't aware of the 2015 incident. He told coworkers around the same time that he knew about "2009 and last week" but knew "nothing" about a reported felony arrest of Smith in 2015. Emails and human-resource records show Smith was encouraged to enroll in an employee assistance program in October 2015, and Meyer asked a fellow staffer to make sure Smith followed through with the program. Smith said Meyer was aware of the 2015 incident, and Meyer later apologized for misleading reporters with how he answered questions about that incident.

On July 23, 2018, as reports of Smith's most recent encounter with police became public, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith suggested to Meyer via text that they should take a more "institutionally formal" approach in trying to work with Zach Smith through the employee assistance program. Meyer announced his decision to fire Smith later that day. Gene Smith was also suspended by the university for how he handled the situation.

Meyer texted both his agent and a close adviser the day after he fired Zach Smith to tell them that Smith was being fired for "cumulative" reasons. He told both men that he did not intend to share that with the media.

Shortly after speaking with reporters about Smith's ouster, Meyer told Tim Kight -- an author and adviser -- that the situation was "a mess" and he "will not address the situation again." He told Kight that he "never heard of anything" regarding an arrest in 2015.

"I understand that [Smith's ex-wife]'s lawyer is releasing stuff," Meyer said. "Scary."

Ohio State's investigation revealed that while an employee with the football program, Smith was known to have exhibited "promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations of criminal domestic violence and cybercrimes."

Several text message exchanges released Friday show Meyer's trust in Smith had eroded in December 2017. He told one staff member to "keep [an] eye on Zach" on Dec. 24 that year. A staff member told Meyer a few weeks earlier of Smith that he "ripped his ass yesterday morning so he knows I'm all over him."

One month later, Meyer told Smith he wanted him to stay at Ohio State rather than accept a new position elsewhere.

Information from ESPN's Alex Scarborough was used in this report.

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