Urban Meyer is fighting back. This is the least surprising development in the whole, sad Aaron Hernandez saga. Meyer always fights back.
I understand the instinct. Meyer's former player at Florida has been charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, and people are trying to tie Meyer to that murder, and ... whoa. That would rattle any of us.
"Relating or blaming these serious charges to the University of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible," Meyer texted the Columbus Dispatch.
Still, something about Meyer's response does not sit right with me. Meyer brought Hernandez to the University of Florida. Meyer coached Hernandez there, and kept him on the team after some seemingly minor legal troubles.
And now Hernandez stands accused of one murder, potentially implicated in two more last summer, and has been accused, in a civil lawsuit, of shooting an acquaintance in the face a few months ago. This doesn't read like a story of rage, with devastating consequences, followed by searing regret.
Aaron Hernandez looks like a sociopath. And that should rattle Meyer, too.
This has been well-documented, but a lot of Meyer's Florida players seemed to major in getting thrown in the back of a police car. So many Gators got arrested that the Orlando Sentinel started keeping a running count. The New York Times reported last week that from 2005 to 2010, Gators were arrested 31 times. More amazing: of the 121 players on the 2008 national champions, 41 have been arrested either in college or afterward.
Is this normal? Well, put it this way: If you had three kids, and one got arrested, would you figure that was normal?
Meyer, now the coach at Ohio State, wrote in a text to the Dispatch that Hernandez "was an athlete at Florida 4-7 yrs ago ... Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide him."
I'm sure that is true. But wait a second. Is that all we ask of college football coaches: mentoring and guiding? Can they bring in anybody they want, regardless of character, let them play for four years, send them on to the NFL, and if they turn out to murder a few people, then hey, the coach did everything he could?
Unfortunately, this is how too many college football coaches view their role. They say, "I won't turn my back on a kid" and "kids make mistakes" and "I'm trying to mentor and guide him" ... and it all sounds good, but so often, it's a dodge. They need players to win. Meyer wanted Hernandez for the same reason Bill Belichick wanted Hernandez. It had nothing to do with being a father figure.
Meyer was responsible for Hernandez enrolling at Florida. Hernandez got in some legal trouble at Florida -- he was questioned after a shooting -- but there is not a lot of evidence that Meyer should have kicked Hernandez off the team. Still, the idea that Hernandez was harmless at Florida is laughable. There is a reason so many NFL teams stayed away from him.
Hey, we all make mistakes. Meyer made a bunch at Florida. And no, I am not saying Meyer is responsible for the death of Odin Lloyd. But at some point, Meyer should realize that his mistakes were significant, they were embarrassing, and in the case of Hernandez, apparently horrifying.
I mean, if you were the guy who handed a scholarship to Aaron Hernandez, wouldn't you wonder where you went wrong?
As Patriots owner Bob Kraft told reporters last week: "You can be sure we'll be looking at our procedures and auditing how we do things."
Kraft also said he was apparently "duped" by Hernandez. He seems genuinely embarrassed by it, and he should be. It doesn't make him an accomplice to murder. It makes him a competitive guy who messed up. Just like Meyer.
Richest of all: Meyer repeatedly trashed the culture at Florida when he took over from Ron Zook, then brought in dozens of players who would get arrested. This fits a pattern for Meyer, who has a habit of thinking his way is better than everybody else's. His recruits are great kids because he recruits them; his decisions are right because he made them.
As he told the Dispatch: "Our program, in my opinion, does as good of a job as anybody in America in involving families, making it a family atmosphere, getting to know our players and trying to develop our players in all areas of their life -- social, spiritual, athletic, everything. Our coaches coach, but that's a small part of it. ... It's why we work so hard on life after football with these kids."
Do you know what that sounds like? A recruiting pitch. And that's basically what it is. If opposing coaches tell parents that Meyer is a guy who recruits thugs ... well, Urban Meyer fights back.
In two weeks, Meyer will go to Chicago for Big Ten football media days. He will have to sit at a table for two hours, answering questions. You can be sure that some of those questions will be about Aaron Hernandez. I hope Meyer's answers show a little more emotion, and a lot less spin.