Urban Meyer caught a lot of grief for the kind of program he ran during six seasons as the head football coach at the University of Florida, and much of it was deserved. Now that one of his former players, Aaron Hernandez, has been charged with murder, it has brought fresh scrutiny on Meyer's days in Gainesville. We're hearing about drug tests Hernandez failed at Florida and his brushes with the law. Since Meyer was in charge of the program, I guess it's low-hanging fruit to link Hernandez's present-day problems to his time at UF. I'm not buying it. I think it's piling on a coach who is basically a pariah to many Gators who used to idolize him. That's not to say I like the guy. I covered Meyer during his time at UF (he is at Ohio State now) and found him to be aloof, disingenuous and dismissive. He also won two national titles and two SEC championships, and that is what he was hired to do.
Meyer's wife, Shelley, posted a legitimate question on Twitter: "When do we start holding individuals accountable for their own decisions/actions and stop blaming any/everyone else?" It's not Urban Meyer's fault that Hernandez is in jail. But it is also a fact that there was a pattern of recklessness when Meyer was in charge. The Orlando Sentinel started keeping track of how many players were arrested during Meyer's six years in charge (25 players, totaling 31 arrests). That included a tight end of spectacular talent named Aaron Hernandez. As a 17-year-old freshman, he was arrested for getting into a fight with a bouncer at a bar and breaking the guy's eardrum. He was questioned in the shooting of two men following one game. The Sporting News reported that after one failed drug test, Hernandez wore a walking boot on the sidelines to give the illusion he was missing the game because of injury. Let me tell you a little secret about football coaches: Their primary mission isn't to mold your character. At a big-time program like Florida, they have to win. They make deals with guys like Hernandez because it gives them a better chance to do that. Jim Leavitt would still be the coach at the University of South Florida if he hadn't lied about slapping a player at halftime of a game. Why? Because he won. The great Bobby Bowden is one of the finest people I have ever known, but many of his Florida State players ran afoul of the law. I love watching college and pro football as much as the next guy, but there are too many Aqib Talibs and not enough Tim Tebows. In a lot of ways it's a fantasy trip, particularly at high-stakes college programs. It feels good as long as we don't ask too many questions. I mean, USA Today wrote a charming story in 2009 about a player who showed up at 7:30 every morning in his coach's office to read the Bible. The coach was Urban Meyer. The player was Aaron Hernandez.