Top 1 percent? Urban Meyer knows off-field issues not that simple
Ohio State's Urban Meyer was honest at Big Ten meetings about players' off-field conduct at Florida. He wants to do better with Buckeyes.
CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer thought he was making an encouraging comment about the way he’d recruit at Florida when addressing Gator Clubs early in his tenure. He had heard about the difficulty of getting into the University of Florida -- the "top one percent academics," he recalled Wednesday. So he paired that thought with another one, what he called the “top one percent of people,” and the result was this concoction for boosters -- "the top one percent of one percent.”
The phrasing was self-explanatory, that he’d recruit intelligent, high-character players.
It also became a punchline. It became an example of why Meyer entered Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday wearing the bull's-eye the size of a movie screen.
Meyer answered several questions about his players' off-field concerns at Florida and Ohio State at today’s Big Ten Media Days, ones he fielded with a dose of humility and perspective.
Meyer says he still tries to recruit the top one percent of one percent. But by admitting Wednesday he "errored" in those expectations and acknowledged the “slippery slope” coaches face when recruiting players, he showed enough self-awareness to acknowledge the other 99 percent.
After all, he must know the obvious. People scan the list of troubled stars during Meyer’s championship tenure -- none more glaring than Aaron Hernandez -- and scoff at his bold claim from eight years ago while pointing to an enabling culture from his time at UF.
Meyer aims to change that at Ohio State while being honest about an inexact system of recruiting and developing players.
"Sometimes I sit back and think, do we give too many second chances?" Meyer said.
Separate incidents from early this week involving marquee Ohio State players Carlos Hyde (named a person of interest in a Columbus police report) and cornerback Bradley Roby (misdemeanor battery arrest in Indiana) have amplified Meyer’s problem publicly. Meyer suspended Hyde, though Yahoo! Sports reports surveillance video shows Hyde did not strike the alleged victim. Roby’s status for the season opener is also uncertain. Four players were arrested in total, including two freshmen.
The New York Times recently reported that 41 of 121 players on the 2008 Florida roster were arrested either in college or after.
Meyer was clear Wednesday: "We've had too many” off-field issues at Ohio State and Florida. He wants to discipline “as hard or harder” than any team in the country and he’s changed since moving to Columbus.
"Even [for] a first-time offense. I want to make sure we're setting the tone," Meyer said.
Name the coaches who perfectly balance off-field issues and championships. The list is short. Player arrests are a problem for most head coaches at high-resource schools.
But Meyer takes heat in part because he publicly pushed for high-character guys and set a near impossible standard. Top one percent of top one percent might not even exist, but Meyer paraded it as an orange-and-blue campaign.
"We've had some errors in the past and we’ve addressed them," Meyer said.
Swiftly handling cases at Ohio State can help Meyer avoid the aftermath from his six-year tenure at Florida, where he created a Sharknado of highs and lows he can’t seem to shake despite leaving Gainesville nearly three years ago.
Meyer has coached “incredible kids” at both Florida and Ohio State, he says. This is probably true. But fair or not, that picture fades to black every time Hernandez in cuffs airs on CNN.
At least a faction of the Florida fan base has completely turned on Meyer. These are the same fans that skip the Sugar Bowl when the Gators fall just short of a national title. He had no chance.
But he’s got a chance to avoid similar problems in Columbus.
Though Meyer was hesitant to address the Hernandez case, he admitted to feeling “awful” and “sick” about his name being associated with it and offered prayers to the victim’s family.
“Every player situation, every recruit situation will always be in the back of my mind,” Meyer said. “That’s all I can say.”
Coaches can still give second chances when the timing’s right. Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen says he believes firmly in due process and often lets his team captains help him make decisions about the status of troubled players.
But coaches must draw a few hard lines. One is easy: Hit a woman, you’re gone.
Reports indicate Hyde did not hit a woman, but if it turns out he did, Meyer should act accordingly.
Meyer says he can’t control how people view him or the way he runs his programs, but he actually can if he takes his own advice.
“These guys have worked too hard to have a couple knuckleheads make decisions that reflect on the entire program,” Meyer said. “It's something we work very hard to avoid with our players. I'm extremely disappointed and it'll be dealt with in a very serious manner. I'm getting different conflicting stories so I'll get the facts and then react."
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