David J. Neal: Urban Meyer not to blame for Gators’ transgressions

07/12/2013 12:01 AM

07/12/2013 12:09 AM

Publicly through the years, current Ohio State and — as he has been most often referred to over the past month — former University of Florida coach Urban Meyer has managed to embody: arrogant, arid and disingenuous if not downright dishonest. One former Florida beat writer summed up his perception of Meyer’s self-perception by referring to him as “The Myth.”

That said, as former player Aaron Hernandez faces murder charges and Meyer faces further questions about his handling of Hernandez’s knucklehead days at Florida, I can only think:

Leave Meyer alone.

Unless, to paraphrase Otter from Animal House, you want to blame the whole big-time college sports system, which sometimes seems on the verge of shoving our educational institutions toward some higher ed version of Rollerball.

There’s no question Meyer could have done more to discipline Hernandez and the entire herd of Florida football players as familiar with the booking room as books for class. Taking fewer risks in recruiting kids with longer yellow sheets than transcripts. Maybe, once in Gainesville, a punitive approach closer to Zero Tolerance. Maybe assign each member in Meyer’s SEC-sized army of assistants a few players to check on nightly.

Meyer did none of those things. He didn’t do anything more than he did because nobody demanded he do so while winning two national titles. He knew what people who controlled his employment cared about.

Somehow, I’m not envisioning the Gator boosters paying the bulk of Meyer’s total pay telling him, “Urban, get your arms around this now.” Do you think the school administration did with any bass in their voice?

And most of you happy to point fingers at the enablers in Gainesville need to plant your butt in front of a mirror and look for the logs in your own eyes. You know who you are.

You’re the University of Miami fans who look at The U documentary wistfully as players from those great national championship teams talk about stealing stuff from other students because they had mouths to feed (as if their teenage inability to use a condom justified taking somebody else’s possibly hard-earned stuff).

You’re the Florida State fans who gave an excused absence to Bobby Bowden whenever academic, financial or criminal issues surfaced around the Seminoles program. Because, dadgum it, Bowden was likeable and he won. Big.

You’re the Nebraska fans still longing for the days when domestic violence veteran Christian Peter helped clear the way for fellow woman beater Lawrence Phillips on the Cornhuskers’ 1990s national championship teams. You probably even cheered when Peter got inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame despite managing to exceed his years starting (three) with his number of convictions (four) .

We can go up and down the conferences and across sports and do the same thing. My school, Indiana, tolerated men’s basketball coach Bob Knight acting like a spoiled brat bully for far too long. The school dumped Knight eight years after his last Final Four, but 15 after not punishing him for the infamous chair throw. Knight had said he couldn’t handle punishment from the school. You can tell your employer that only if you know you’re giving them what they need.

The message has remained consistent for decades. Coaches get fired over too many losses far more often than too many arrests or too few degrees.

Most schools would love to be Stanford — the elite academic institution with the elite overall athletic program and very good football team once again making top-10 appearances. Everything works better. Life’s easier. When a school president’s biggest football or basketball worry concerns what the band might do for a halftime show, that’s gliding above the college sports morass.

But if it’s a choice between being Harvard or the University of Chicago and being Alabama or Ohio State, your garden variety alumni, boosters and fans of the 126 FBS schools take the latter. Which might explain why Harvard guys head two branches of our government while Alabama and Ohio State alums gripe about the government and work for the companies founded by University of Chicago graduates.

Coaches try to do what their bosses ask of them, like most employees. In fact, very much like their own unpaid employees, players. Urban Meyer took care of what his bosses cared about the most.

Bet he got good performance reviews, too.

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