CHICAGO – Wednesday was supposed to be the day Urban Meyer and Ohio State trumpeted the start of football season and the chance to turn last year’s 12-0 finish into a national championship, now that the Buckeyes are bowl eligible again.
But Meyer’s 15-minute opening news conference at Big Ten media days was about something else entirely. Almost every question pertained to off-field issues for Meyer’s players, both at Ohio State and Florida.
Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Shazier? No one asked about him.
Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller? He barely got mentioned, either.
The unfailingly confident Meyer didn’t crawl into a shell. His answers were fairly insightful and showed traces of humility.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve had three legal issues [at Ohio State], and it all happened in three or four days,” he said.
Ohio State suspended Carlos Hyde, the team’s leading returning rusher, after he was named as a person of interest in an assault case against a woman in a Columbus bar. Meyer said he would collect all the facts before making a decision on Hyde’s future.
The Buckeyes prevented standout cornerback Bradley Roby from attending the Big Ten gathering after he was arrested after a disturbance with a bouncer in Indianapolis. Two Buckeyes freshmen got into trouble over the weekend, too.
“It drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense,” Meyer said. “My concern is, I just don’t want to disrupt this team. … I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call.”
Then there’s the whole Aaron Hernandez saga. Hernandez, the now-former New England Patriots tight end, was part of Meyer’s 2008 national championship team at Florida, along with Tim Tebow. Now, Hernandez has been charged with murder.
That case has led to questions about Hernandez’s time with the Gators, especially because Hernandez’s draft stock fell after he failed multiple drug tests coming out of college. The New York Times reported that 41 of the 121 players on Florida’s 2008 team have had brushes with the law.
Asked if he believes he has faced undue criticism for how he handled Hernandez, Meyer said, “I’m going to let you guys figure out if it’s wrong or right.”
Speaking generally, Meyer acknowledged that, “Sometimes, I sit back and evaluate that we give too many second chances. That seems to be a big key.”
He added, “When I see some of the situations where some of these players are from, for me to walk away from that player has always been very, very difficult to do.”
Meyer also acknowledged that he and his staff could have done more to prevent this past weekend’s incidents.
“The head coach needs a set of standards, needs to direct, guide, mentor, push and direct these guys,” Meyer said. “Ultimately, though, every person is held responsible for the decisions they make.
“I’m continuing to evaluate all the things we do. That seems to be a big topic. I have a guy that watches if a certain situation takes place around the country. I want to make sure our punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that’s out there.”
Meyer knows he won’t avoid the constant scrutiny. Not with a 116-23 career coaching record. Not with two national titles under his belt and an Ohio State team that looks capable of giving him a third.