Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer spoke with the awaiting hordes at Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday afternoon, and as expected, the focus was on the recent run of off-the-field issues involving Buckeye players. In fact, every single question involved off-the-field issues, and almost no notice was given to the 2013 Buckeyes, who have a good shot at going undefeated for the second straight year and challenging for a national championship. Here's a full transcript of the questions and Meyer's answers, via ASAP Sports:
COACH MEYER: Thank you very much. It's been a great year. Tough couple of days. But I'm going to focus on the positives, positives created by tremendous momentum from last year's team to an excellent recruiting class, positive spring practice, and one of the best academic performances in recent history at Ohio State.
A strong APR and a good bunch of guys that are for the majority doing the right things, getting themselves ready for the 13th season. The leadership was probably the biggest -- I spoke about this quite often about last year's outfit -- it was something I didn't anticipate and I underestimated that throughout adversity that we experienced throughout the year, two overtime wins, two overtime games, some injuries where we had to move some position guys, and the leadership was incredible. One of the most refreshing years I've been around or groups I've been around.
This year's team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year, and it's very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we'll have a success -- I feel strongly about this group having a successful season. On offense, we return a bunch of experienced, including one of the best quarterbacks in America, Braxton Miller. Has really grown as a quarterback, has grown as a leader. Very humble young man that I have a lot of respect for.
It would be disappointing if our offensive line isn't one of the best in the Big Ten. I think there's some very good offensive lines in the Big Ten, and Ohio State should be right near the top with those other great lines.
Receiver is probably the one area we were weakest at last year, and I think this year, with the injection of some speed in the recruiting class and also development of the guys we have, that I'm really counting on them to become one of the strengths of our offense.
The two guys that really developed throughout the year last year, two very good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett, and we've not traditionally been known as a two tight end offense. However, with these two talented players, you're going to see some 12 personnel, which they're two guys we have to find a way to get them on the field at the same time.
We have depth at tailback, and offensively I feel very strong about where we could be if we have a solid training camp. Defense is where the issues are. We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well. Mike Vrabel (Defensive Line Coach) has done a very good job developing a little bit of an esprit de corps with our defensive line, our linebackers, excuse me, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are two guys that if they continue to develop will become Big Ten candidate players as they continue in their journey and their career.
Inside you have Mike Bennett and Joel Hale, our two guys that have talent and have really come on, and we'll try to get a little bit of rotation in there, which you need to have if you have a quality defensive line.
Linebacker Curtis Grant has taken over. Had an excellent spring. A little bit disappointing last year, but he's become a leader like you need your mike linebacker to be and has performed really well in spring practice. Ryan Shazier was very average as we started the season and became one of the best linebackers in the country a year ago as the season concluded. So very positive about that. We don't have much depth, and we'll have to count on some freshmen to provide some instant depth at that spot. Josh Perry is a sam linebacker, and then also a nickel, it's really the same position, will be Tyvis Powell. And those guys are inexperienced but very talented and right on target, and I think we'll have one of the better secondaries as well in the Big Ten. So anxious to get going. Training camp is close, and I think everybody in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State is anxious to see what the '13 Buckeyes have in order. I'll certainly answer any questions.
Q. Braxton Miller said earlier today that you guys got some good news concerning Carlos Hyde. How confident are you that he'll return to the team?
COACH MEYER: I didn't receive the good news. I guess I'm not a big social media guy. We just have to evaluate the facts. And once I evaluate the facts, then we'll make some decisions.
Q. Last year obviously with the sanctions, you knew you couldn't play for a championship. How different is it this year knowing that all opportunities are available for you guys?
COACH MEYER: Well, I think last year I had a whole -- I spent all summer worrying about how to approach that if that happened, where there were questions why no Bowl game, why no championship. If you have a good group of leaders, that never comes up. You're going to go try to play the game and try to win the game. So I'm hoping we're taking the same approach. There's been zero conversation about anything other than competing for a championship in November, which we were able to do last year. We were able to compete for the Leaders Division championship a year ago. That's the only conversation we have. We try to make training camp so focused and really difficult that the focus is on getting to the next day. If you do that, then that's really all you can worry about. We're certainly not worried about November, December anything past that.
Q. What was the process where Ohio State did end up either turning in Florida or alleging there was some illegal contact? Who was involved with that? How did it shake down?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, I found that out after the fact that our compliance office received or forwarded an article. From what I understand after the fact that the article was not the only one that was sent.
It was about some conversation with a bump or something like that. I'm not sure how that all became a major story. There was certainly no intent to go after Florida. So that's all I can tell you.
Q. Urban, like you said, the past couple of days have been kind of tough on you. I got a text message today from a player of yours that used to play with you at Florida, talked about the leadership and stuff you had for him and stuff. Obviously at Ohio State you have the sign on the wall talking about doing things the right way. You talk to these players about it all the time. Were the last couple of days extremely disappointing the way some of the things turned out? Just talk about how you worked to rectify that a little bit.
COACH MEYER: It was very tough. In the last 12 months we've had three legal issues, and it all happened in three days, I think, three or four days. And we had two freshmen that have been with us I think just over three weeks make two stupid decisions that were dealt with very firmly. One's been sent home. One lost his scholarship. And one of them was a 17-year-old using a fake ID. And it drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense. But that's part of the issue. We had an upperclassman that I'm still receiving information about. My concern is just I don't want to disrupt this team. And I talk to them all the time about it. We have an incredible amount of resources and time spent educating players how to do the right thing at the right time. And when a mistake happens or something happened, you have to react and get it done. So I'm disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call, because, like I said, for 12 months it's been really, really good. And I don't want a disruption for this team. The guys work too hard. To have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect the entire program, that's not -- I guess it's part of the deal. It's something that bothers me, bothers our staff, and we work very hard to avoid with our players.
Q. Two-part question for you. Can you talk about the conversation you had with Barry Alvarez when he called you to ask about Gary Andersen, and can you talk a little bit about the relationship that you and Gary have built over several years?
COACH MEYER: Gary Andersen -- first of all, I have great respect for Coach Alvarez, have for many, many years, and I was honored when he asked me for my opinion. And Gary Andersen as a head coach, I think it's now the 12th year -- made some very, very important hires in my career, and some guys have gone on to be very successful head coaches. I think we've had 11 guys that have been on our coaching staff since, what was it, 2001. But Gary I would put in one of the top two, three hires I've ever made, the recommendation of Utah's head coach, Kyle Whittingham. He made a direct impact on our program, and I couldn't be more proud of who he is as a person. And I think he's at the right place, a great school with a great athletic director, and really proud of Gary Andersen.
Q. Is there anything more that you or your coaching staff could have done to prevent the issues you have had recently with the team and ultimately how much responsibility do you think is fair to be placed on a head coach when players do run afoul of things?
COACH MEYER: I think you always can do more. I mean, that's something you wake up every day with. Obviously when you're dealing with two freshmen, they have had the opportunity to go through a lot of the education, a lot of the things that we expect, our coaches. The one difficult thing: When freshmen show up, coaches usually leave for vacation. And that's tough. And that's something I'm going to reevaluate, whether I keep some coaches back and try to break that up a little bit. I really thought about that, because that was really disappointing. Two young people that I really don't even know yet do stupid things like that and cause for me to be discussing those two freshmen right here, that's not right. For an upperclassman, very extremely disappointed in the third situation we're dealing with. And it will be dealt with in a very serious manner. But, once again, I'm getting all these different conflicting stories. I just have to wait to get the facts and react. But disruption is the biggest thing that bothers me. You asked the question about the responsibility of a head coach. I think the head coach needs a set of standard, needs to direct, guide, mentor, push and direct these guys. Ultimately, though, every young person -- every person, not young person, every person is ultimately held accountable for their decisions they make. So we just gotta continue to -- I'm continuing to evaluate all the things we do. That seems to be a big topic, and I'm looking -- I watch very closely when I -- I have a guy that watches if a certain situation takes place across the country. I want to make sure our punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that's out there. That's maybe where I've changed over the years. Even as a first-time offense from a freshman, I want to make sure we're setting the tone.
Q. Prior to being hired at Ohio State, did they discuss with you the off-the-field issues from your players in Florida?
COACH MEYER: We did. We discussed them and what was our plan, what's our style of discipline, what are we trying to get done, and had good conversation about it.
Q. You are not -- as you just mentioned, you're not the only coach dealing with players who get in trouble. You seem to take by far the most criticism, though, of any coach in the country involving disciplinary issues. Do you have any ideas as to why that is and does it bother you, the criticism from media, fans, over this issue?
COACH MEYER: I'm a human so it does. I don't read. I don't really get involved with following stuff, because I think people need to get facts before they start just making accusations and those type of things. I'm human and I think that is something that I'm constantly evaluating and making sure we are doing the right thing. But in the end you've got to feel in your heart we're doing the right thing; that we're in the people business and we have to do what's right by those people. There's never been one time that I thought that we did wrong by that person. Now, sometimes I sit back and evaluate that we give too many second chances. That seems to be a big key, and that's something I'm going to continue to evaluate. I treat those players like they're my own children. We have high expectations for them. If one of your children has an issue, that you try to educate, correct, discipline, and push them in the right direction as hard as you possibly can. When I see some of the situations where some of these players are from, for me to walk away from that player has always been very, very difficult to do. That's where we're at.
Q. It was reported that you sent a text message saying the criticism of you or your assistant coaches at Florida regarding Aaron Hernandez was wrong and irresponsible. If you could, for that particular situation regarding Hernandez, why do you think that criticism is wrong and irresponsible?
COACH MEYER: I'm going to let you guys figure out if it's wrong or right. I can't put what's in your heart or in your mind. The only reason I sent that text, I was getting ready to leave for vacation. There was inaccurate information being sent out throughout the -- some people sent me text messages about just inaccurate information. So that's the only reason I sent that out, and I sent it to a couple of people I know and said this is -- and I'm not sure I'm allowed to say what the actual truth was because there's investigations going on. But that was four years ago a player played for us. Our staff did, as they do with all players -- I've had incredible coaches, incredible players. And I think the focus a lot of times when it gets taken away from those great players who are great people and great coaches on my staff, it just bothers you a little bit. But you have to move on, and we certainly have.
Q. When it comes to off-the-field issues and player discipline, how do you view your own reputation?
COACH MEYER: How do I view my own reputation? I don't view my own reputation. I guess a reputation is what others think of you. I worry more about our team, about our players. I'm 49 years old. I've been doing this for a long time. So I'm really good -- it doesn't mean -- I ask our players to self-evaluate. We had a big study about it this year. When I started going through my mind starting to do some research on my own, every three recruits across the country that come down the aisle of your team meeting room, one gets maximized, one either usually disappears or doesn't make it, and then one's very average.
So I had our players self-evaluate, and our coaching staff is on a mission through things like job fairs and Real Life Wednesdays and other leadership workshops to make sure that with all the powerful and resource -- all the powerful people and resources at universities, that these kids should be getting as much education, as much direction as possible. So I know that's a long answer, but I'm not -- I can't control -- I think I tried to do that once; it didn't work out very well. So I'm not going to control what people think about myself or our program.
Q. You've talked repeatedly about the importance of the strong leadership that you have with last year's team. Who are some of the specific players that you're looking for to step up and fill some of those gaps from last year?
COACH MEYER: That's going to be the difference. The older I get and the better teams I've been around over this last decade of football. The one comment it wasn't the style of offense, it wasn't the style of defense, it wasn't the height, weight, size, how high you jump, how fast you run, it's the leadership within the program. The '06 team with a guy like Brandon Siler who is one of the best leaders I've been around, and you go right through the teams in the last years. And so I'm counting -- our quarterback has to become that great leader. I think he was pretty good. I think he was okay the last year by the time the season started winding down. But our offensive line is, without question, the heart and soul of our team. Jack Mewhort, (Andrew) Norwell, (Marcus) Hall and Corey Linsley and those guys are strong leaders, they're the voice, they're the face of our program, which is if you're going to start somewhere, it's gotta be a quarterback on your offensive line. Where it has to improve is on defense, where you lost (John) Simon and (Zach) Boren and Curtis Grant and Shazier. You have to have a strong -- we have to be strong down the middle. Our two safeties will be tremendous leaders for us, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. We spent a lot of time this last -- I think it's been about nine, ten weeks we've had leadership class for 19 players on our team, and we've had an outside group come in and work with us, our strength coach and myself. Has been one of the most profound experiences I've been around as far as teaching these guys a systematic approach to teaching leadership, which we've always tried to teach it. It's never been this systematic.
The whole thing was a bit of a spectacle, but that's to be expected. Meyer has become a lightning rod for criticism, and while some of it is deserved, it's gotten out of control. The buck stops with head coaches when it comes to players acting up off the field, but they're not baby sitters that control their players' every move. Meyer came away from the firing squad today looking good, but it's difficult to say that exercise was a good use of everyone's time.
And seriously, Ohio State is going to be really good this year. Like, really really good. Couldn't we talk about that? Hell, I'd even look past some questions that start with, "Talk about ..."