The Ohio State football team has seen nothing but success on the field under coach Urban Meyer, winning all 19 games since Meyer became head coach before the start of the 2012 season. Whether or not Meyer has run a similarly flawless program off the field at OSU, however, is open to interpretation.
Before OSU returned to playing and winning football games this season, Meyer’s team made headlines this summer when it announced discipline for five players, including senior running back Carlos Hyde and redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby, for various violations of team rules, prompting reactions from Big Ten coaches and sports analysts nationwide.
Hyde was suspended for the first three games of the season for his involvement in an altercation with a woman at a Columbus bar in July. The incident was reported as an assault and Hyde was tagged as a “person of interest” in the case. Although charges were not filed against him at the alleged victim’s request, he was still disciplined by OSU for his involvement.
Roby was suspended for OSU’s season opener against Buffalo for his involvement in an incident at a bar in Bloomington, Ind., in July. Initially charged with misdemeanor battery, his charge was downgraded to disorderly conduct and then dismissed in August, but Meyer said Roby was suspended for one game “just because there (was) an issue.”
Only two of the five players disciplined, freshmen tight end Marcus Baugh and defensive lineman Timothy Gardner, were actually charged with crimes. Baugh was suspended one game following a July arrest for underage possession of alcohol and displaying fake identification, while Gardner was removed from the team after a July arrest for obstruction of official business.
Redshirt-junior running back Rod Smith was also suspended one game for an unspecified violation of team rules.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith said he believes Meyer has “created an environment of accountability” through the disciplinary actions taken this summer.
“His strategy to create that culture is one of the best I have seen,” Gene Smith said in an email to The Lantern. “He continues to improve upon it.”
The stance Meyer took in disciplining players prior to the 2013 season might be contrasted with his discipline against linebacker Storm Klein, tight end/wide receiver Jake Stoneburner and left tackle Jack Mewhort prior to the 2012 season.
Then-senior Klein was initially dismissed from the football team in July 2012 when he was charged with domestic violence, but was reinstated in August 2012 with a two-game suspension after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge and the domestic violence charge was dropped. Then-redshirt senior Stoneburner and then-redshirt junior Mewhort were both suspended by OSU in June 2012 after being arrested for obstructing official business, but both players were reinstated in August without missing any games after charges were dropped.
The reputation of Meyer-led football programs having off-field issues came from his coaching tenure at Florida. According to a July report from The New York Times, there were at least 31 arrests of Florida players while Meyer coached the Gators from 2005-10.
Gregg Doyel, national columnist for CBS Sports, said he believes Meyer has handled discipline more effectively at OSU than he did at Florida.
“At Florida, Urban showed coaches how not to handle naughty players. At Ohio State, he’s done the exact opposite,” Doyel said in an interview with The Lantern. “He is creating the template for other schools to follow.”
OSU President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee said he has been impressed by the quickness of Meyer’s responses to off-field issues.
“I thought the way he immediately responded, there was no ‘oh, let’s figure out what this is about,’ he immediately responds,” Gee said in a Monday interview with The Lantern.
While Doyel said he has been “as hard on Urban Meyer as anybody in the country in the media,” he said he thinks OSU handled player discipline “near perfectly” this summer.
“Urban acted very quickly and decisively and didn’t brew it back down and decided (to suspend Hyde) even though there was clearly room for Carlos Hyde to not be suspended,” Doyel said. “The only argument I can make about that punishment is that it was too harsh.”
Sporting News senior writer Matt Hayes, however, said Meyer should have been tougher on Hyde.
“There’s no place in intercollegiate sports for guys who act like that,” Hayes said of Hyde in an email to The Lantern. Hayes compared the situation with Hyde to an incident involving Louisiana State University redshirt-sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who was suspended for one game and an additional quarter after being charged in July with misdemeanor battery following an altercation in the parking lot of a bar in Baton Rouge, La. Hill leads LSU with 779 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 114 carries this season.
Neither Hyde nor Roby were in the starting lineup for their first games back from suspension, but both players have been mainstays on the field for OSU since. Hyde leads the Buckeyes with 443 rushing yards in just four games, including 317 rushing yards and five touchdowns in his past two games. Roby, a 2012 second-team AP All-American, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions this season and had a touchdown on a blocked punt Oct. 5 against Northwestern.
Even so, players such as Hyde and Roby who have had off-field trouble have less room for error, Meyer said, because he treats them as his own.
“It’s no different than having a child,” Meyer said Oct. 16. “Once there’s an error, they’re on a short leash.”
From Hayes’ perspective, “no must mean no” for that approach to work.
“Not another chance, not moving the line back another 10 feet to make it all warm and fuzzy again,” Hayes said. “It’s just like your child: the more no doesn’t mean no, the more he or she will push the envelope.”
In the Big Ten, coaches have different perspectives on how a football team should handle off-field issues with players, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
“All coaches have different ideas of how they go about their business, and that’s their business,” Hoke said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference.
Numerous Big Ten coaches, including Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, said avoiding off-field issues begins with recruiting the right players.
“You’ve got to, in my humble opinion, recruit the right young men that fit your program. They fit your university, they fit your community and they’re going to come into your culture and into your locker room and embrace what your program stands for,” Fitzgerald said on the teleconference. “We see guys all the time in high school that we like that, as we do our character evaluation, that have just one or two too many mistakes from a standpoint of choices off the field.”
Of the five players disciplined by OSU this summer, two of them (Baugh and Gardner) were recruited by Meyer and his coaching staff, while the other three were all recruited to OSU by the staff of Jim Tressel, whose own coaching tenure ended with the Tattoo-gate scandal in which six Buckeye players were suspended for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits.
Another Meyer recruit, former OSU linebacker, and current Illinois State sophomore David Perkins, was confirmed to no longer be part of the OSU football team in May after he was arrested on charges of criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, criminal damaging and underage drinking, but an OSU athletics spokesman said Perkins had already left the program before the arrest.
Gene Smith said the goal is for OSU to have “no issues.”
“I do not benchmark against other (universities) on this topic,” Gene Smith said. “Does not matter, what matters is what we do.”
From the outside looking in, Interim President Joseph Alutto said he thought the disciplinary actions taken by Meyer were “measured responses” to the players’ off-field incidents.
“Certainly not at either extreme; they were thoughtful, they were tailored to the specific situation,” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23. “And there’s a whole issue which we don’t know, which is what else was going on at the time? And that only coach Meyer knows.”
In Doyel’s opinion, however, university presidents like Alutto should not be on the outside looking in because coaches can be compelled to emphasize “winning over character.”
“The only way to fix this is to take these decisions out of the hands of the coach, and to give it to people above the coach, which means the president,” Doyel said. “He’s the one that has to say, can my school be represented on Saturday afternoon by Jeremy Hill or Carlos Hyde?”
OSU has not announced any suspensions or disciplinary actions against players since the beginning of the season. The Buckeyes are set to play their eighth game of the season Saturday against Penn State at Ohio Stadium at 8 p.m.