Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was more than happy to discuss Buckeyes personnel, Tim Tebow's move to tight end, the upcoming Buckeyes season and other topics after helping coach a youth football camp Monday in northeast Ohio near his hometown of Ashtabula.
But when asked about his former player Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriot and Florida Gator charged with murder in the death of a 27-year-old man in Massachusetts, Meyer clammed up.
"I'm not going to talk about that," the coach said.
Meyer's silence about Hernandez, whom he coached at Florida from 2007-09, made headlines Monday and won't make the issue disappear. Hernandez's problematic past in Gainesville continues to be under the microscope. Meyer reached out to Hernandez while at Florida, bringing the player to his home for bible study sessions and trying to help Hernandez deal with the sudden death of his father in 2006. He also vouched for Hernandez with Patriots coach Bill Belichick after many teams avoided Hernandez in the 2010 draft because of his conduct problems.
From The Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley:
It wasn’t that the Meyer family thought they had rehabbed Hernandez, but they thought he was pointed in the right direction. I have talked in the past to the Meyers about the situation and they felt like Hernandez was part of their family. They spent countless hours with him in their home with their children. Meyer played the role of the surrogate father.
Almost every coach has had players veer off track, but Meyer had a special connection with Hernandez, which undoubtedly makes the recent news even tougher to handle. One Florida columnist writes that Hernandez -- specifically Hernandez's police mug shot -- has supplanted Tebow as the face of the Meyer era at Florida. Some are labeling Meyer as an enabler for Hernandez. Some are going even further than that.
Meyer can't revise his past at Florida, and he wants the focus to remain on Ohio State, a promising 2013 season and the Buckeyes' future. But the Hernandez questions won't go away. Ohio State fans might not care, but this is too big of a story.
What should Meyer do? I've gone back and forth on it and consulted several colleagues for their thoughts. As a media member, of course I want to hear what Meyer has to say about Hernandez. Coaches take a degree of ownership for all of their players, not just those who have great success both on and off the football field.
On the flip side, Meyer's desire to keep the focus on his current players and his current job, especially with all the baggage that has followed him from Florida, is totally understandable. There's also the potential for Meyer to come off looking worse, depending on the words he chooses. If he reiterates his affection for a troubled former player, he could be viewed as vouching for a suspected murderer. If he rips Hernandez, he could be viewed as shirking accountability.
It's also worth noting that Hernandez has only been charged, not convicted. The legal process still must play out.
I understand Meyer's decision to say nothing at the moment, but I expect him to take more heat if he stays silent. The two numbers you've heard -- 25 (players arrested under Meyer's watch in Gainesville) and 31 (total arrests) -- will be rehashed.
It could benefit Meyer to issue a written statement acknowledging what has happened with Hernandez, his attempt to help his former player and his disappointment that he ultimately couldn't keep him on track. During negative situations, coaches often benefit from keeping the focus on themselves rather than their players, whether it's talking about an on-field loss or an off-field problem.
A news conference is neither necessary nor beneficial for Meyer. Issue a statement, acknowledge what has happened, express the attempt to help Hernandez, note that there will be no more comments while the case is pending and move forward.
Do you think Meyer should address the Hernandez situation? Send me your thoughts here.