Meyer: No violations, no scandal
COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Wednesday afternoon, as he's been for much of the past three weeks, Urban Meyer was focused solely on his new team, spring practice and the future for Ohio State football.
That he had to take time to address the past — as well as allegations that Meyer said he doesn't "get" — comes with the territory in today's big-time college football landscape.
Not surprisingly, Meyer seemed both angry about and prepared for questions Wednesday surrounding an article published by the Sporting News earlier this week that more or less accused Meyer of leaving the Florida program in shambles when he departed at the end of the 2010 season. The article also quoted sources indicating that Ohio State might be facing NCAA sanctions for some of Meyer's recruiting tactics.
Meyer insists Ohio State is guilty of no NCAA violations when it comes to the recruitment of offensive lineman Kyle Dodson — or any other matter.
"There is no violation," Meyer said. "If you would bold that for me and underline it, there is not an NCAA violation. There was not one turned in. There’s a pretty good track record there as far as compliance with the NCAA. (It is) disappointing, and again, I’m not sure of the intent."
Dodson originally was committed to Wisconsin. His eleventh-hour switch to Ohio State angered Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, and the Sporting News article quoted unnamed sources as saying Ohio State coaches committed NCAA violations in pursuing Dodson.
It's been reported since Meyer took over that Bielema and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio were angry that Meyer violated a supposed "gentleman's agreement" among Big Ten coaches to back off recruits verbally committed to other schools. Meyer has said he's spoken to both and the matter has been handled.
Meyer said he's tried to stay focused on the task at hand, is confident he and his staff are operating within the rules, and understands the scrutiny that comes with coaching at Ohio State. He insinuated that he knew little of the Sporting News article and its allegations until it was brought to his attention Monday.
"This place is like Florida, like Texas, like USC — you're in a fishbowl," he said. "You better make sure all your T's are crossed and I's are dotted. We do a pretty good job, and we've always done a pretty good job.
"Was there some scandal going on? (No). I don't understand. I'm going to stay away from all that."
The widely read Sporting News article led Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith to issue a statement defending his new coach Wednesday.
"Since his arrival, Coach Meyer has demonstrated the values that are essential to his role as an educator and coach within our athletics program," Smith said. "He has fostered the strong compliance culture that we expect and I have been pleased with his commitment to academics and personal development of our student-athletes."
On the field Wednesday, Meyer said his new players delivered their "best practice of the spring and one of the best spring practices I've seen." In addressing the article directly, Meyer said he doesn't "get the intent" and that "they interviewed a guy who never played for us (at Florida)."
That player, Bryan Thomas, left Florida after receiving a medical hardship waiver. Thomas said in the article that Meyer is "a great coach. He gets players to do things you never thought you could do. But he’s a bad person."
The article also quoted unnamed sources who said Meyer gave preferential treatment to a "circle of trust," something Meyer denied any knowledge of having, saying he's never used the term. Meyer said he does give preferential treatment to players — but only to those who earn it.
"We did do that," he said. "We do that here. We did it at Bowling Green and Utah. If you go to class, (if) you’re a warrior and do it the right way on and off the field, (if) you’re completely committed to helping us win, you’re going to be treated really good. You’re going to get nice gear. You’re going to get to move off campus if you like.
"Guys that don’t go real hard and aren’t committed, yeah, it’s real difficult."
In both the Big Ten spring football coach's teleconference and a pre-planned, post-practice media session Wednesday, Meyer was eager to talk about his new team and quickly move beyond questions about the past or the article. He was clear, though, that he loves Florida and is bothered by the thought that his time there — which included two national championships — would be looked at in a negative light.
“My family and I love Florida,” he said. “We still do and always will. I’m not sure where a three-month investigation shows up. I’m extremely proud of what our players and coaches accomplished there.
“We were hired to graduate players. We did that. We were top three every year in the SEC in graduating and APR (Academic Progress Rating). We were hired to win games. We did that. We followed the rules. We did that. We recruited great classes. We finished in the top five every year.”