CHICAGO — The tug of war Wednesday between Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and the 500 media attending Big Ten football days essentially ended in a draw.
Meyer pulled hard from his opening statement in the Hilton Chicago ballroom, trying to move the conversation to what is good about Buckeye football instead of about a weekend with three players in legal difficulty.
“It’s been a great year and a tough couple of days,” he said. “But I’m going to focus on the positives.
“Positives created by the tremendous momentum of last year’s team to an excellent recruiting class, a positive spring practice and one of the best academic performances in recent history at Ohio State.”
Then Meyer used an old trick: He filibustered some of his 15 minutes away by going position by position and player by player down his depth chart.
But when the floor finally opened to questions, the media dug in their heels to get Meyer to address the criticism of him and his program.
In a word, Meyer is “furious” about his players’ indiscretions.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve had three legal issues, and it all happened in three or four days,” he said. “It drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense.”
The three issues last weekend:
Ľ No. 1 running back Carlos Hyde: named as a person of interest in a bar fight involving a woman being struck. Hyde has been suspended until he is formally charged or cleared.
Ľ All-America cornerback Bradley Roby: arrested for misdemeanor battery in a bar scuffle with bouncers. The junior, who turned down the NFL last spring, is awaiting punishment.
“That,” Meyer said, “is the most disappointing of them all.”
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Ľ Incoming freshman lineman Tim Gardner: cited for obstruction of police business. He has been kicked off the team.
Also, about two weeks ago, incoming freshman tight end Marcus Baugh was charged with underage drinking and using a false ID. He lost his scholarship for the summer and was suspended for the first game.
“My concern is I don’t want to disrupt this team,” Meyer said. “To have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect on the entire program ... I guess it’s part of the deal.
“But it’s something that bothers me and bothers our staff, and we work very hard to avoid.”
Player discipline is a hot-button topic for Meyer in light of having 31 players arrested in his six seasons at Florida.
“The head coach needs to set a standard, needs to guide, mentor, push and direct guys,” he said. “Ultimately, though, every person is held accountable for their decisions.”
Meyer said he has a staff member monitor player indiscretions from across the country.
“I want to make sure our punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that’s out there,” he said. “That’s maybe where I’ve changed over the years. Even on a first-time offense from a freshman, I want to make sure we’re setting the tone.”
After Meyer’s 17 minutes in the main ballroom, he sat for another 25 minutes in a smaller group setting, calmly answering questions without a water break.
He mostly deflected questions about his ties to former Florida star Aaron Hernandez, formerly with the New England Patriots and a central figure in a murder investigation. Meyer had an “awful, sick feeling” when he heard of the charges.
“But I want to move on,” he said. “I want to talk about the Buckeyes.”
And what about his team, which is coming off a 12-0 season and is a near-unanimous pick to win the Big Ten?
Team speed has improved, as has the overall talent level. Depth on the offensive line is a concern. So is inexperience in the defensive front seven.
But the players interviewed Wednesday said they see an “edge” to this team now that NCAA sanctions are expired and the national championship is achievable.
“I know there’s a lot of chatter about it,” Meyer said. “It’s something we’re going to have a conversation about when two-a-days start. Every team ranked in the Top 20 dreams of that situation, but you can’t focus on it.
“We need to keep our eye on the target, which is the next game. But I will say this: We can be a championship-level team by November.”
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