We’ve cited it before and we’ll cite it again: according to the New York Times, 31 players were arrested under Urban Meyer at Florida. Some of the arrests were of your basic boys-will-be-boys variety, while others were far more disturbing.
But by adding them all up, Meyer’s developed a bad reputation — fair or not — as a lenient coach who cares more about winning than discipline.
Speaking at Big Ten Media Day, Meyer didn’t even attempt to defend himself against the narrative that unfairly went to a new level with the arrest of former New England Patriots and UF tight end Aaron Hernandez.
“I don’t worry about my reputation, I worry about my players,” Meyer said in response to one of several questions related to off-the-field headlines. In fact, there was only one question — one — about how the Buckeyes might perform as preseason national title contenders in 2013. The rest? They centered around Carlos Hyde, dealing with behavior problems, “turning in” Florida for a secondary recruiting violation, and the like.
Meyer had to know those questions were coming. He certainly conducted himself in a way that indicates he’d prepared for them. The second-year Buckeyes coach never got angry and he didn’t call out reporters. More importantly, he didn’t administer blame to anyone or play a victim. Perhaps the closest he came to that was admitting “It’s been a rough couple of days,” toward the beginning of his opening statement.
But that comment set Meyer’s tone for the entire Q&A. It was not one made out of martyrdom, but seemingly, openness. Meyer was reflective and anything but shy, with words like “evaluating” coming up more than a few times. There are plenty of qualities you can debate about Meyer, but he is unquestionably constantly looking for ways to improve.
Even, according to him, in the off-the-field department.
“I want to make sure our discipline is as hard or harder than anything out there,” Meyer said.
Critics can… and will… and already have… scoffed at that statement. But even if Meyer has evolved in his approach to player discipline — he says he has, and wondered aloud if he gave some players too many second chances — the narrative is so strong that few will likely change their opinion about him. That’s the reality that Meyer will deal with for the rest of his coaching days.
The only thing Meyer really can control is how he affects his players, something Nick Saban praised Bear Bryant for during SEC Media Days. The embattled Ohio State coach understands that as well as anyone.
“A head coach needs to set a standard, direct, push,” Meyer said. “But ultimately every person is responsible for the decisions they make.”
Including Aaron Hernandez.
Is Meyer guilty of giving some players one too many chances despite their poor decisions? Sure. Name a coach who isn’t (besides Nick Saban). As Meyer explains, it’s similar to dealing with his own children. Has his approach to off-the-field issues changed? We’ll find out soon enough. For all we know, Meyer may be yanking our collective chain. I would venture to guess that plenty of people think he is. And maybe they’re right.
But here’s something we do know Meyer is being truthful about:
“I’m a human.”