Meyer admits mistakes ... sort of

BY foxsports • July 24, 2013

In the movie "The Fugitive," this is where federal marshal Tommy Lee Jones finally caught up with Harrison Ford, right here at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue.

It also is where Urban Meyer on Wednesday finally and inevitably stopped running from the messy trail he left at Florida, and now increasingly as Ohio State's coach. He used to always talk about standing for something, about character and recruiting people who are only the top 1 percent of 1 percent.

But now, with a summer of scandals, starting with a harsh discussion over whether he enabled Aaron Hernandez at Florida, he strangely decided to hide behind press releases and text messages to newspapers. It is not easy standing up for someone who won’t stand up for himself.

So now — finally! — Meyer spoke in person, with his lips moving and everything. He did it not so much to demand the chance to re-establish himself or explain what he really stands for. No, he did it because he had to, at the Big Ten Media Days at the Hilton.

“Definitely something I’ve erred . . . or mistakes have been made,’’ he said. “We’ve had some mistakes in the past, accept them, address them and move on.’’

Meyer spoke for 15 minutes in the Grand Ballroom, where — spoiler alert? — Ford’s character started his big confrontation with the guy who had his wife killed. In Meyer’s case, he is coming off an undefeated season with a team that is among the favorites to win the national championship.

And he took, I believe, one question about his team. He then moved into another room for 30 more minutes of interviews. And at exactly the 15-minute mark, in the middle of a question about off-field issues, Meyer frowned, looked down at his watch, and said, “I’m going to move on and talk about the Buckeyes.’’

The victory was that he did, in fact, talk about the stuff at all. He also dropped his typical defensiveness, though he didn’t fall on his sword, either. He talked, too, about a new toughness in discipline. He said he has to reconsider whether to keep giving so many second chances to players. And he also said — after two freshmen arrived on campus and immediately got into trouble — that he might need to make sure that at least some of his coaches stay on campus during what is usually their vacation time.

But he better do more than that. The trail he has left is just too messy. The New York Times reported that 41 players from his 2008 Florida team were arrested in college or after. Or both.

To be fair, it’s kind of a stretch to call him an enabler of Hernandez. And at least some of the other troubles are typical things football players do. And running back Carlos Hyde, who was a “person of interest’’ in an alleged assault on a woman in a bar, might be cleared. After several reports he had punched the woman in the face, Yahoo! Sports reports that a video of the incident shows Hyde didn’t touch her.

But it still sounds wrong when Meyer describes the issues at Ohio State as “a couple of knuckleheads’’ making decisions that reflect poorly on the program.

The few-bad-apples defense. But 41 bad apples on one team? Look at it this way: If a first-grader or two thinks that one plus one is five, then that might be a problem for the student. If half the class thinks that?

It’s on the math teacher.

After Joe Paterno’s fall, people are tired and suspicious of placing coaches too high as human beings. At least, other teams’ coaches. But we have a tendency to turn these guys into gods until they falter, and become devils.

There is such a thing as gray area. The problem is that Meyer always went along with it when people put him so high.

So when he issues a statement saying that it’s wrong to blame Florida, or him, for Hernandez, that doesn’t sound like the Meyer that Meyer has always claimed to be.

He might be right, but shouldn’t he have said something publicly that suggests he feels some desire to figure out what he could have done better?

Meyer has the charisma, and undefeated record, to pull this off. To sell himself to fans, and recruits’ mothers. It’s not going to hurt his team. I don’t even think it will hurt Ohio State in the long run, as long as players don’t keep getting into trouble.

Offensive lineman Jack Mewhort talked about the off-field troubles. He said that when he first heard about them, they took his breath away. But he said, several times, that players need to be the ones held accountable for their actions.

He was saying that these troubles reflect on the players. So I asked if he thinks they reflect on Meyer?

“I don’t think that would be fair,’’ he said.

He said that Meyer has a strict system in place explaining what’s expected of players. And when players make mistakes, they are the ones who are responsible. Mewhort pointed out that he had made his own mistake, being arrested last year for urinating in public. He said he paid the price, and then was able to move on.

He doesn’t blame Meyer.

Well sure, when you isolate incidents that way, it makes sense. But this trail seems awfully messy for that.