July 24, 2013

Meyer faces the fire at media day

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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Earlier this summer, Urban Meyer said that his top concern with his team was avoiding unnecessary distractions as it heads into a 2013 season carrying sky high expectations.

So much for that.

On a day that was scheduled to preview Meyer's second team at Ohio State -- and one that is coming off of an undefeated 2012 campaign -- the Buckeyes head coach spent his 15-minute session at the Big Ten's media day answering questions about a string of recent OSU player arrests, his attitude towards player discipline, and his relationship with the University of Florida. Meyer didn't shy away any topics on Wednesday, and came off as candid while discussing non-football concerns.

"It drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense. But that's part of the issue," the 49-year-old head coach said. "My concern is just I don't want to disrupt this team. And I talk to them all the time about it. We have an incredible amount of resources and time spent educating players how to do the right thing at the right time. And when a mistake happens or something happened, you have to react and get it done."

Monday was hardly a banner day for the Buckeyes football program, with Meyer announcing punishments for four OSU players involved in four separate legal issues. Meyer admitted that the past few days have taken a toll on him, with the start of fall camp still more than a week away.

"I'm disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call," he said. "To have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect the entire program, that's not ‑‑ I guess it's part of the deal. It's something that bothers me, bothers our staff, and we work very hard to avoid with our players."

One of the current legal entanglements that Meyer is dealing with involves running back Carlos Hyde, who has been named a person of interest in an alleged assault that occurred in Columbus this past weekend. Hyde was suspended indefinitely as the legal process plays out, but despite a Yahoo! Sports report that evidence exists clearing the senior running back of wrongdoing, Meyer said that a decision has not been made one way or another regarding Hyde's future.

"I didn't receive the good news. I guess I'm not a big social media guy," Meyer said. "We just have to evaluate the facts. And once I evaluate the facts, then we'll make some decisions."

While Meyer is clearly frustrated by Hyde's situation -- as well as junior cornerback Bradley Roby's, who was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery in Bloomington, Ind. on Sunday -- legal woes involving a pair of OSU underclassmen have only added to his disappointment. Offensive lineman Timothy Gardner was released from the Buckeyes' program on Monday following an arrest and charge of obstruction of official business in Columbus last weekend, while tight end Marcus Baugh has been removed from team activities with his scholarship revoked, and is suspended for Ohio State's Aug. 31 opener with Buffalo after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol and fake identification.

Although Meyer expressed frustration with having to punish players he's barely developed relationships with, he stood by the stances that he took with both Gardner and Baugh.

"We had two freshmen that have been with us I think just over three weeks make two stupid decisions that were dealt with very firmly. One's been sent home. One lost his scholarship," he said. "Two young people that I really don't even know yet do stupid things like that and cause for me to be discussing those two freshmen right here, that's not right."

It wasn't just Meyer's present predicament that was questioned on Wednesday, but his past.

With former Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez currently sitting in prison and awaiting trial for first-degree murder, the way that Meyer ran his Gators program in terms of discipline from 2005-2010 has been thoroughly examined by the media over the past two months. Recently, the two-time national champion head coach has gone from declining comment on the issue to stating that any blame placed on him and his staff for Hernandez's actions is "irresponsible," but on Wednesday he provided a more personal reaction.

"I felt awful," Meyer said. "It's a sick feeling. Your thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victims and every player situation, every recruit situation, they'll always be in the back of my mind."

While it's been three years since Meyer last coached in Gainesville, Florida will be a program that he'll be eternally linked to. That, perhaps, is why some eyebrows were raised when news broke that Meyer's current employer -- Ohio State -- had turned in the Gators for a pair of alleged recruiting violations.

On Wednesday, Meyer denied being aware that OSU had turned in Florida for allegations that ultimately proved untrue.

"I found that out after the fact that our compliance office received or forwarded an article. From what I understand after the fact that the article was not the only one that was sent," Meyer said. "It was about some conversation with a bump or something like that. I'm not sure how that all became a major story. There was certainly no intent to go after Florida."

Despite the open approach and candidness that he displayed on Wednesday, controversy always seems to follow Meyer, and the 11-year head coaching veteran knows that. The Ashtabula, Ohio native insisted that he's grown from his time in Gainesville, which is something that he said is reflective in the way that he now deals with discipline.

"I have a guy that watches if a certain situation takes place across the country," he said. "I want to make sure our punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that's out there. That's maybe where I've changed over the years."

Meyer, however, said that he's unconcerned with what his reputation is. Because as he tries to maintain control of his program, he knows that the one thing that he cannot dictate is how he's viewed by others.

"I think I tried to do that once; it didn't work out very well," Meyer said. "I'm not going to control what people think about myself or our program."

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