Another July, Another Headache For Ohio State's Meyer
By Matt Natali
July is typically reserved for family vacations, cookouts, and fireworks. But for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, the mid-summer month has been more about bar fights, drugs, arrests and player suspensions.
As first reported by ElevenWarriors.com on July 5, defensive linemen Tracy Sprinkle was arrested last Friday for an altercation at a bar in Northeast Ohio. The redshirt freshman was charged with drug possession (cocaine), drug paraphernalia, rioting and failure to disperse. According to Eleven Warriors, Ohio State confirmed that Sprinkle was suspended on Sunday and he pleaded not guilty in court on Monday, July 7.
Sprinkle's arrest is just the latest incident added to the growing list of players getting in legal trouble in the summer months - namely July - under head coach Urban Meyer. But Meyer has shown little tolerance for this behavior in his short time at Ohio State.
Last July, then-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh was arrested for underage drinking and possession of false identification. On the same weekend, then-freshman offensive lineman Tim Gardner was cited with obstruction of official business.
But the trouble-bug didn’t just single out just freshmen and reserve players last July. Then-senior and starting running back Carlos Hyde was a “person of interest” in a Columbus-area bar altercation with a female and All-American junior cornerback Bradley Roby was arrested for misdemeanor battery in Bloomington, Ind., also stemming from a squabble at a bar.
In one fell swoop on July 22, 2013, Meyer removed Baugh from all team activities and suspended him from the season-opener while Gardener was dismissed from the team and sent home.
“I have a clear set of core values in place that members of this football program are constantly reminded of and are expected to honor," Meyer said in a release from the Ohio State Athletics Department. “There are also expectations with regard to behavior. I expect our players to conduct themselves responsibly and appropriately and they will be held accountable for their actions.”
After investigation, Hyde was never charged and Roby’s charges were reduced and subsequently dropped, but their extra-curricular activities cost them. Hyde was benched for the first three games of the 2013 season and Roby was left at home for the annual Big Ten Football Media Days and sat out for the season opener.
Before Meyer even stepped on the field to coach a game for the Buckeyes, then-freshman running back Bri’onte Dunn was cited in July 2012 for marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia. The details of the incident were murky at best and Dunn’s charges were reduced. Earlier in the month, Meyer dismissed then-senior linebacker Storm Klein from the team stemming from domestic violence and assault charges.
“The charges filed against Storm Klein violate the core values of the Ohio State Football Program,” Meyer said in another release from the university following Klein’s arrest and charges. “As a result, Storm has been removed from the team. It has been made very clear that this type of charge will result in dismissal. If there are any changes in the charges, we will re-evaluate his status.”
However, Klein’s charges were later reduced; he re-joined the team, served a two-game suspension, and barely saw the field as a senior.
And all this followed an incident where then-senior tight end Jake Stoneburner and then-junior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort were arrested and charged with obstructing official business for a public urination incident in June 2012. Stoneburner and Mewhort were initially suspended indefinitely, but the punishment was reduced to loss of scholarships for the summer leading up to the season.
Needless to say, the summertime has not been kind to Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And the summertime trouble these players find – more specifically in July – makes sense considering training camps begin at the end of July and early August. So, these players are getting in their last bit of partying before the grind of the season starts.
In addition to the nine players described, this doesn’t even include those players falling through the program cracks for the catch-all “unspecified violation of team rules” excuse (see running back Rod Smith, defensive end Jamal Marcus, defensive end Noah Spence, et al).
And Meyer is no stranger to troublesome players on his rosters. The legal issues his players faced while coaching Florida from 2005-2010 are well-documented as 31 players were arrested or cited under his watch. Incidents ranged from minor misdemeanors to felony charges and included such notable players as Cam Newton, Aaron Hernandez, Chris Rainey, Janoris Jenkins, Riley Cooper, and Carlos Dunlap.
Following Hernandez’s arrest and first degree murder charge last summer, Meyer was even accused in a scathing Rolling Stone article of covering up bad behavior while at Florida (including whitewashing drug tests for Hernandez). Though, the article does credit Meyer with trying to reform Hernandez through counseling early in his college career with scripture and assigning other players to “baby-sit” him.
By 2010, the Florida program was out of control and had the rap sheet to prove it. Coupled with the taxing nature of coaching a major college football program, it is not surprising that Meyer resigned from his position at Florida in December 2010. He cited family reasons for his decision after nearly resigning a year earlier due to health concerns.
Fast forward to November 2011 after a year hiatus from coaching, Meyer was named head coach of the Ohio State program.
“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to return to Ohio State,” said Meyer in a release from the university. “This University and the State of Ohio have enormous meaning to me. My duty is to ensure that Ohio State's football program reflects and enhances the academic mission of the institution. I am part of it, I believe in it, and I will live it.”
While Meyer hasn’t been immune to disorderly players at Ohio State, it seems that he is approaching his “duty” differently than he did at Florida with his “clear set of core values” expected from players at Ohio State. Meyer has been quick to discipline players and letting the legal process take its course. In most cases, Meyer has reduced punishments after players were cleared (or had charges reduced) and he has cut bait with players in the other cases.
Moreover, there certainly haven’t been any accusations of covering up unsavory off-the-field activities like he was accused of at Florida.
Every college football program is faced with off-the-field issues and every program handles it differently. However, in Meyer’s case, it seems that he has learned from his past at Florida and takes a different approach with Ohio State.
Even though some of his players are still finding trouble, he is less tolerable of those misgivings and is quick to take action to avoid repeating history.
"Swift, effective and fair discipline is the standard for our entire athletics program," Director of Athletics Gene Smith added in the release after last summer’s suspensions. "I applaud Coach Meyer for his immediate actions."
With a new philosophy for handling discipline well-in-place, all Meyer has to do now is get through the remaining days in July.