How Proper Vetting Could Have Prevented Ohio State’s Hiring of Zach Smith
August 2, 2018

How Proper Vetting Could Have Prevented Ohio State’s Hiring of Zach Smith

Ohio State’s football program finds itself embroiled in a national scandal after bombshell allegations of domestic violence against its former wide receivers coach, Zach Smith, surfaced on Wednesday.

In an interview with the online publication Stadium, Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith, revealed that she had been abused by her former husband on multiple occasions. Further, she had texted Shelley Meyer, wife of Ohio State’s current head football coach Urban Meyer, in 2015 about the domestic violence.

After these allegations surfaced, Ohio State placed Meyer, widely regarded as one of the most successful coaches in college football history, on paid administrative leave while it investigates claims that his wife knew about these allegations of domestic violence against an assistant coach years before the staff member was fired last week.

One thing is clear: Ohio State could have prevented this controversy – and the bad headlines – had they known about Smith’s past and decided not to hire him. A thorough scrub of publicly available documents and news accounts would have quickly uncovered these details.

That’s where Definers Public Affairs can help. With a staff that is trained from decades of campaign work to comb through arrest records, court filings, divorces, and tax records, we understand which information is likely to spawn negative headlines before an organization makes an investment in a new hire.

Definers also has years of experience looking through past social media posts, even deleted ones, and consistently monitor their targets’ social media feeds for anything that might cause controversy.

By combining this thorough vetting with traditional earned media and crisis communication capabilities, Definers can map the likely story arc, a vital step in preparing candidates to face reporters.

For example, following Courtney Smith’s interview with StadiumBrett McMurphy reported that Zach Smith had been “arrested for aggravated battery” in Gainesville, Florida in 2009.

McMurphy reported:

“In 2009, when he was a University of Florida assistant, he was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim, according to a Gainesville Police Department report. Courtney Smith was 8-10 weeks pregnant at the time.”

“That alleged assault occurred on June 21, 2009 – the Smith’s one-year wedding anniversary. Courtney Smith, however, ultimately decided not to press charges.”

Cleveland.com also published several police reports that “detail a tumultuous three years of domestic incidents between former Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith and his ex-wife, Courtney Smith.”

According to Cleveland.com:

“Nine reports obtained from Powell police involving Zach Smith and/or Courtney Smith between the dates of January 1, 2012 and July 26, 2018 involve domestic disputes between the Smiths, who divorced in 2016. That includes an alleged incident of domestic abuse on Oct. 25, 2015.”

Had Ohio State adequately vetted Smith before hiring him in 2012 to a $300,000 a year salary, they would have certainly known about the 2009 incident of domestic violence and possibly the January 1, 2012 incident.

This isn’t the first time that proper vetting of a coach could have prevented a university from making a controversial hire that resulted in a national backlash.

Last fall, the University of Tennessee was ready to announce Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as its new head coach. But fans rebelled. Court documents—documents that were available publicly—indicated Schiano was part of the Penn State sexual abuse cover-up. That allegation was especially problematic in Knoxville since, as ESPN explained, UT had just settled a $2.48 million sexual abuse lawsuit brought by female athletes.

But it’s not just coaches that need to be properly vetted by universities before they’re hired, it’s also prospective NFL players.

Quarterback Josh Allen was projected by many to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but 22 hours before the draft, reporters uncovered a series of offensive posts Allen had made on social media. Subsequently, Allen fell to the 7th pick in the draft, perhaps costing him millions.

Before Allen, there was Laremy Tunsil who was the top offensive lineman in the 2016 NFL draft and expected to go third in the draft. Instead, after a Twitter post picturing him smoking marijuana surfaced, he went 13th. USA Today estimated the post cost Tunsil about $10 million in lost salary. That doesn’t take into account sponsorship deals that also went south.

These crises illustrate the importance of fully vetting both potential draft picks and coaches, especially as more and more players come of age in the era of social media.

The problems and the threat are real. Fortunately, so too is the solution. Definers can help.