Ohio State's Urban Meyer was forced to address a spate of recent off-the-field incidents at the Big Ten's media day.
CHICAGO — Furious. Awful. Sick. Nonsense. Stupid. Knuckleheads.
OSU coach Urban Meyer used all those words Wednesday in his much-anticipated appearance at the Big Ten’s annual media gathering.
Then, just as quickly, he would collect his thoughts.
“It’s been a great year,” he said.
As a day once expected to be a coronation of the league’s lopsided favorites became an interrogation, the juxtaposition of Meyer’s optimism and disappointment was striking.
Meyer forcefully expressed his anger that the Buckeyes program was rocked by turmoil last weekend. But he and his players insisted the wave of incidents represented just one bad weekend — not a symbol of a fracturing team.
“A tough couple of days,” Meyer told a ballroom filled with hundreds of reporters at the downtown Hilton. “But I'm going to focus on the positives, positives created by tremendous momentum from last year's team to an excellent recruiting class, a positive spring practice.”
Meyer would have been the headliner at these media days under any circumstances. Then, an otherwise quiet summer gave way to one off-the-field headline after another, and anticipation for the impending circus steadily built.
The mass of reporters and cameras that surrounded Meyer for a half-hour breakout interview session doubled those for any other coach — and few were there to ask if he will ever indeed lose a game at OSU. Meyer took questions on everything from his record on player discipline at Florida — including with former Gators star Aaron Hernandez — to the amount of responsibility a coach bears for the actions of his players to the Buckeyes' troubled past week.
In the last 10 days, star cornerback Bradley Roby (misdemeanor battery), freshman tight end Marcus Baugh (underage drinking, false ID), and freshman lineman Tim Gardner were arrested, while running back Carlos Hyde was named a person of interest in an assault of a woman at a downtown Columbus bar.
Roby is awaiting punishment, Baugh was taken off scholarship for the summer and suspended from team activities through the Buckeyes' opener against Buffalo, and Gardner was dismissed from the team. Hyde’s future remains unclear, with Meyer saying Monday he has heard conflicting reports on whether his top rusher will be exonerated. Yahoo Sports reported there is surveillance video from the bar where the assault allegedly occurred that clears Hyde, but Meyer said, “I didn’t receive the good news.”
“It was very tough,” Meyer said of the recent legal issues. “We had two freshmen that have been with us just over three weeks make two stupid decisions that were dealt with very firmly. One's been sent home. One lost his scholarship. It drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense. ... So I'm disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call [last weekend], because, for 12 months it's been really, really good.”
Meyer said he does everything he can to keep players out of trouble and is bothered by a national perception — fueled by 31 player arrests during his six years at Florida — that he is lax on discipline.
“I'm a human, so it does,” he said. “That is something that I'm constantly evaluating and making sure we’re doing the right thing. But in the end you've got to feel in your heart we're doing the right thing. We're in the people business and we have to do what's right by those people. There's never been one time that I thought that we did wrong by that [player]. Now, sometimes I sit back and evaluate that we give too many second chances.”
For now, Meyer’s biggest concern is the arrests will distract from an otherwise encouraging offseason, though senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said that is not an issue.
“That’s something as team leaders, we’re responsible for handling,” he said. “We’re making sure we focus on all the good things that are going on and not let a little speed bump slow us down.”
For now, though, media days are the definition of a distraction. Among the other topics Meyer addressed included Hernandez and a recent recruiting flap with Florida.
After hearing Hernandez was charged with murder last month, Meyer said, “I felt awful.”
“It’s a sick feeling,” he said. “Your thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victims."
As for a recent report OSU turned in Florida for two minor recruiting violations. Meyer said he did not learn the Buckeyes had reported his former school to the NCAA until after the fact. Florida coach Will Muschamp jabbed Meyer at SEC media days last week, saying, “We appreciate our friends from Ohio making sure we follow NCAA rules. They certainly know something about NCAA rules.”
“I'm not sure how that all became a major story,” Meyer said. “There was certainly no intent to go after Florida.”
In any case, it’s easy to see why Meyer is ready for the season to start.
“I’m anxious to get going,” he said. “Training camp is close, and I think everybody in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State is anxious to see what the 2013 Buckeyes have in order.”