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Published: Tuesday, 5/8/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Coaches, schools can't control every moment

Photo not OSU's fault, player's dad says

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer waves to fans as he walks off the field after the Ohio State Buckeyes Scarlet vs Grey spring game. Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer waves to fans as he walks off the field after the Ohio State Buckeyes Scarlet vs Grey spring game.

Paul Heuerman was not thrilled as a picture of his son spread across the Internet last weekend.

After the Ohio State spring football game April 24, Mike Heuerman and two other high school prospects posed for a photo with a Buckeyes fan in a Columbus restaurant. They later learned the man was a sex offender, which led one of the recruits, linebacker Alex Anzalone, to withdraw his commitment to OSU.

But Paul Heuerman, who played college basketball at the University of Michigan, laughs at those who blamed OSU for the encounter, which occurred during an unofficial visit.

"My son is almost 18 years old, and he's out there in the world making decisions," said Paul, whose older son, Jeff, is an OSU tight end. "If my son were like 10, I think I'd be a lot more concerned. But my 10-year-old wouldn't be alone or by himself."

Though Mike Heuerman, a four-star tight end from Naples, Fla., committed to Notre Dame, he made his pledge before Ohio State learned the man in the photo pleaded guilty in 2008 to downloading child pornography.

"My goodness," Paul Heuerman said, "you might as well blame Urban Meyer for the budget deficit if you're going to blame him for someone taking a picture with a guy in a restaurant."

For Meyer and OSU athletic director Gene Smith, the bizarre saga marked the latest headache-inducing reminder of the scrutiny that accompanies life in charge of a major college athletics program.

Meyer's first five months in Columbus have largely been a public-relations hit at a school that needed a burst of good news after the tumult of 2011. But he has not been immune to criticism, from other Big Ten coaches questioning his recruiting tactics to a Sporting News story that excoriated his methods as the head coach at Florida.

Smith has found himself in the position of defending a coach he believes has done nothing wrong. He said Meyer has done a "marvelous job."

"He, I and others that are fortunate to be in these positions, we understand it comes with the territory," Smith said Monday. "We're blessed to have these leadership roles."

Smith said he was "disappointed" by the Sporting News story, but insisted of the criticism, "I don't let it frustrate me."

"I understand that it's just the world we live in," he said. "You just have to deal with it."

Smith also believes the case of Charles Eric Waugh, the 31-year-old sex offender who contacted dozens of OSU athletes and recruits via Facebook and Twitter, comes with the territory of a major athletics program. He could not comment on Waugh's interaction with Anzalone because it involves an unsigned recruit.

Waugh, of Ashland, Ky., was arrested in his hometown Monday for failing to comply with terms outlined by the Kentucky Sex Offender Registry. Those on the registry are not permitted to use social media Web sites to correspond with a person under 18.

"We have so many living alums and so many people who are passionate about Ohio State athletics and our institution," Smith said. "You always have to be concerned that there is someone out there that is trying to befriend your athletes for personal gain. You have to put up as many firewalls as you can. You have to educate and educate your fans and athletes."

Paul Heuerman, for one, is not losing sleep over the photograph.

"I wasn't happy about it," he said, "but it could happen tomorrow again. Imagine how many times Lebron James poses with people. Who knows what all their backgrounds are? He could have convicted murderers, rapists. All he knows is he's walking and somebody asks, 'Can I take a picture with you?' "

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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