Urban Meyer thinks highly of himself. He does. Heck, just listen to him. And he doesn't just think highly of himself as someone who can win college football games, which his two BCS titles and two other undefeated seasons in 11 years serve as undeniable proof.
No, it's more than that. He thinks of himself in that grand, if often illusionary, role as a teacher-coach, someone who mentors young men to be the best they can possibly be off the field while also occasionally teaching them how to play the game. Remember his self-congratulatory claim that he conducted "daily Bible study sessions" with Aaron Hernandez, which sounded like a bit of an exaggeration (Daily? Really?) and, in the end, obviously didn't produce the desired results.
Whatever. Much of the lure of the college sports – and certainly the longstanding trend of fans godding up their coaches – stems from this kind of stuff.
This is not just shtick with the Ohio State coach though. He believes he is someone who runs the model program and grows exasperated – if not combative – at those who challenge that assertion. Maybe its delusional, maybe it isn't. Only he knows how much he really cares. Publicly, he doesn't even cop to being Father Flanagan. He's above that, he's the coach who wouldn't touch Father Flanagan's guys.
"The top one percent of the one percent" is whom Meyer said he'd recruit when he was at Florida, a percentage that in the end didn't jibe with the police logs of Gainesville.
Now Meyer is dealing with four more incidents involving his Buckeye players. On Monday, Ohio State suspended star tailback Carlos Hyde after the player was considered a person of interest in an assault on a woman in a Columbus bar. The program also dismissed incoming recruit Tim Gardner for the season and suspended freshman tight end Marcus Baugh through the season opener for legal issues.
Additionally, the school announced that it is still looking into the arrest of starting cornerback Bradley Roby, who was picked up in Indiana for "battery resulting in bodily injury" after a bar incident over the weekend.
As always, it's worth noting that these things happen pretty much everywhere. Last month the United States Naval Academy charged three men, each either a current or former member of the football team, with the sexual assault of a female student. You could certainly argue that these Midshipmen were, up to that moment, actually the "top one percent of one percent." And they sure weren't attending a school that lacked discipline.
For Meyer though, much to his disbelief, the benefit of the doubt has expired outside of the most devoted fans of whatever team he is coaching at the moment.
Those guys will always find the silver lining for a winner and Ohio State is no exception. If he were still the Gators coach, opinions would likely be different, of course.
Whether this is fair or not hardly matters at this point. The tide of public opinion is what it is and it can swiftly swing to a place where credibility is difficult to recover. For all the supposed angels it's produced, college sports have a long line of perceived black hat coaches too. The truth is that everyone is a shade of grey.
This is where Meyer finds himself, at a crossroads (or perhaps, for many, past it) that he never saw coming. He wants, and believes he deserves, to be seen one way. Many see him as the opposite.
The dozens of arrests at UF have made him a punch line. The fact he coached Hernandez gives him an enduring black eye. Any trouble in Columbus, no matter if it's within some statistical norm for misbehaving young men, becomes huge news, bigger than if Jim Tressel was still the coach.
That's perception becoming reality.
Meyer will attend Big Ten media day Wednesday and he'll be asked to defend the honor of his programs, himself and his personal value system. Needless to say, he'd rather discuss the very real potential of the Buckeyes running the table once again.
This is everything he doesn't want and everything he believes he shouldn't have to deal with. Take this current double-barrel scandal. What more do you want? He suspended his best running back before he was even charged with a crime. Of course Hyde can be reinstated, but at this point we can only wait to see what sticks. Meyer says he has a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women and so far he followed up on it.
Very few will see it that way; four players getting into legal issues is a lot for one weekend. That's what he's fighting.
His reputation is haunted by a past that suggests leniency in matters of player conduct. It's unfair, based on current evidence, to hold Meyer responsible for the crimes Hernandez is currently accused of. But back in 2007, when the tight end was one of a four Gators questioned following a shooting, it's clear Meyer was still wishing problems away.
"One of my coaches came in and said, 'Hey, they're getting questioned for this,'" Meyer told the Columbus Dispatch recently about his knowledge of the case. "I said, 'Well, what do I need to do?' And he said, 'Nothing. They're not involved.' And that was it. They weren't questioned for [doing] the shooting. They were questioned as a witness."
You could argue he wasn't required to do anything, but since when did it become so common for college kids to witness an attempted murder that you wouldn't pause and say, I need to know more about this? Since when would you want your players around any guns?
Perhaps now he wouldn't be so hands-off. He certainly can't afford to be. He'll always be known as a winner. He'll always have a job. He'll always have fame and fortune. If Meyer wants to win back his reputation, though, he needs to somehow get the police reports to stop. Obviously, that may be impossible. It's also a challenge he can't avoid.
Perhaps that's what is behind the immediate dismissals and endless lectures. Maybe that is what is fueling what one Buckeye source called "intense anger" over these incidents and the team-wide meeting that was held early Monday. Maybe this an Urban Meyer who has learned from past mistakes.
Maybe Meyer knows that his reputation is past the point of being saved by Tim Tebow or claims of Bible sessions; that the only possible way to salvage it is for there to be prolonged silence in the Buckeye police blotter.
Zero tolerance can work in a lot of different ways.
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