Urban Meyer knew the question was coming, and he was ready to answer it.
Two days after Sporting News published the results of a three-month investigation into the way Meyer’s tenure at Florida ended, the first-year Ohio State coach was asked about the story on the Big Ten’s spring conference call.
As expected, Meyer defended his program from the allegations, which included “drug use among players, a philosophy of preferential treatment for certain players, a sense of entitlement among all players and roster management by scholarship manipulation.”
“My family and I love Florida, we still do, we always will,” Meyer began. “I’m not sure where a three-month investigation shows up. I’m extremely proud of what our players and coaches accomplished. We were hired to graduate players and we did that – we were top three every year in the SEC in graduation rate and APR. We were hired to win games, and we did that, and follow the rules, and we did that. And recruit great class – we finished in the top five every year.”
Meyer went 65-15 at Florida from 2005-10, capturing national championships after the 2006 and ’08 seasons. However, his last season included just an 8-5 record and 4-4 SEC mark, and the Gators’ ensuing 7-6 record last season left some to postulate the health issues that drove him from the job were joined by the fact he had lost control of the program.
That was alleged in the Hayes story, with a smattering of former players – just one, Bryan Thomas, on the record – saying that entitlement issues and preferential treatment of star players drove a wedge in the team. One allegation was that Meyer covered up failed drug tests by pretending players were injured for a game they did not take part in.
While other former players have responded by supporting Meyer in avenues like Twitter, the coach himself did not address that specific allegation but did say in general his staff rewards those on the team who deserve it. It is already well known that he has a “Champions Club” at each school in which those who do their jobs are given better gear and positions of leadership.
“You start saying preferential treatment of players, that’s probably a correct statement,” Meyer said. “We did do that. We do that here. We did it at Bowling Green and Utah. If you go to class, you’re a warrior, you do things the right way on and off the field and you’re completely committed to helping us win, you’re going to great treated really good.
“You’re going to get nice gear, you’re going to get to move off campus. You’re going to get treated really good. Guys that don’t go that hard and aren’t committed, it’s real difficult. You can’t please everyone.”
The story also included an allegation that former Florida star Percy Harvin was disruptive enough to force a change in the team’s workout regimen and once shoved position coach Billy Gonzales to the ground and was never disciplined.
Gonzales, now the offensive coordinator at Illinois, denied that incident on Tuesday.
“I’m extremely proud of what we did down there,” Meyer said. “Throwing great players – not good players, great players – under the bus like that, I don’t get the intent. I’ll fight for those guys. Those guys did a lot of great things for the University of Florida, and to sit here and call them out four or five years later, I’m not sure of the intent, but I’ll always fight for those guys.”
Hayes’ story also accused Meyer of committing an NCAA violation in the recruitment of offensive tackle Kyle Dodson, who switched his commitment from Wisconsin to Ohio State on national signing day.
At the time, UW head coach Bret Bielema mentioned at a press conference that Meyer had broken a rule but the situation had been dealt with between the two coaches. Hayes’ story indicated Bielema was referring to OSU’s alleged practice of having former players call recruits and of having coaches bump into players during recruiting dead periods, both of which are violations.
Meyer reiterated he did nothing wrong in either case.
“There is no violation,” he said. “I want to say this real clear – there is no violation that we had as far as that whole conversation. I’m not sure why that keeps coming up. If you would bold that for me, underline it, there is no NCAA violation. There was not one turned in. There’s a pretty good track record there, too, with compliance with the NCAA, so those are just disappointing.”
In football matters, Meyer reiterated the team continues to search for playmakers on offense but praised the spring work done by running back Jordan Hall, fullback Zach Boren, tight end Jake Stoneburner, offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, defensive linemen Johnny Simon and Johnathan Hankins, cornerback Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett.
As for quarterback Braxton Miller, Meyer said he’s impressed with his off-field demeanor and the quarterback’s competitiveness, while also noting Miller is starting to pick up the OSU offense at the halfway point of the spring.
“We had a very good day Monday in the perimeter run game, which is going to be a big part of what we do,” Meyer said. “That was the first time I saw it this spring. It was very good. The area we’re significantly behind is the actual throwing game. I know they were as well last year. That’s not just the quarterback, that’s the protection, the guys around him. Our emphasis the next couple of practices is going to be getting Braxton very comfortable in our passing game.”
The Buckeyes practice Wednesday afternoon, and it is open to the media. A full report will be posted later on BuckeyeSports.com.