Urban Meyer snuck into view for a brief moment, and the room’s attention turned. It didn’t matter that Ohio State’s head coach was off to the side of the stage, still 15 minutes away from his allotted time in front of the gathered media at the Chicago Hilton’s Grand Ballroom.
The reaction given by the nearly 500 assembled reporters during the first session of Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Wednesday wasn’t a surprise.
This was always going to be Meyer’s show. The script was just different.
“It has been a rough few days,” said Meyer once he reached the stage, delivering an opening statement that lasted long enough to give the impression that he was fine delaying the arrival of a certain topic that most in attendance had waited all morning to address.
In Meyer’s perfect world, today would have been about Ohio State’s ultra-athletic team that returns a large portion of a roster that posted a perfect 12-0 record in the head coach’s first season a year ago.
It would have been about quarterback Braxton Miller and the expectation that the Buckeyes would be in the national title hunt after serving a one-year postseason ban that prevented them from potentially achieving one a year ago.
But, no – today was about running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby, two essential pieces to Ohio State’s squad that were caught up in off-the-field issues during the course of the past week.
It was about former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez – a former player for Meyer at Florida – and the murder charges Hernandez currently faces. And it was about Meyer defending himself for his connection to all of it.
“Disruption is the biggest thing that bothers me,” Meyer said. “I think the head coach needs to set a standard: direct, guide, mentor and push. Ultimately, though, every person is held accountable for their decisions. So we’ve just got to continue to evaluate all the things we do.”
Only two days before Media Days, Ohio State was busying holding players accountable. Hyde was suspended indefinitely, Roby was removed from his role as a player that would represent the Buckeyes in the Windy City, freshman tight end Marcus Baugh was suspended and freshman Tim Gardner was removed from the team.
Hyde has been suspended from all football team activities after reportedly becoming a person of interest in a Columbus police report regarding an assault of a woman that took place over the weekend in a bar.
Reports surfaced before Meyer took the podium that Hyde would be exonerated of charges after the release of the bar’s surveillance video, but Meyer would reveal no detail about Hyde’s future until he feels comfortable he has the full story.
“I didn't receive the good news,” said Meyer, who was “furious” when he first got the phone call regarding the Hyde accusations. “I guess I am not a big social media guy. We just have to evaluate all of the facts. And once I evaluate the facts, then we will make some decisions.”
Meyer said he spoke with Roby on the phone to get the cornerback’s side of the story, but it was clear that Roby’s situation was still in flux when he was excluded from the Chicago trip. Roby could face further discipline after being arrested on a Class-A misdemeanor charge of assault this weekend in Bloomington, Ind.
Though Meyer is taking the same wait-and-see approach with Roby, it was clear the coach was worried about the ramifications that could have on what he expected to be the clear defensive leader of this year’s team.
“I got his story, and now I have to sit back and gets the facts and wait and react,” Meyer said of Roby. “That’s the most disappointing of them all. … That’s an issue (leadership-wise). That’s why we have to get to camp and move forward. That was a crushing blow when I got that phone call.”
Baugh has been removed from team activities and will sit out the first game of Ohio State’s season Aug. 31 vs. Buffalo after being arrested last week for underage possession of alcohol and possessing fake identification. He also lost his summer aid.
After being charged Saturday night by Columbus police with obstruction of official business, Gardner was sent home and will not be a part of Ohio State’s 2013 team.
“It was very tough,” Meyer said of the past week. “In the last 12 months we’ve had three legal issues, and it all happened in three days, I think. And we had two freshmen that have been with us over three weeks make two stupid decisions that were dealt with very firmly. It drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense.
“I'm disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call, because, like I said, for 12 months it's been really, really good.
“And I don't want a disruption for this team. The guys work too hard. 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.”
Ohio State’s recent flurry of legal incidents comes on the heels of the biggest story to hit sports in recent memory – Hernandez’s indictment for murder.
Meyer, a known mentor and constant figure in Hernandez’s life during the tight end’s Florida career from 2007-09, has been a name consistently pops up as someone who may have enabled Hernandez.
“I felt awful – it is a sick feeling,” said Meyer, whose shoulders dropped when asked about his name being connected with Hernandez. “You’re thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victims and every player situation and every recruit situation, all of that will always be in the back of my mind. That’s all I can say.”
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