By Tom Hardesty | Assistant sports editor
The torch-bearing mobs are again descending on Columbus.
In this case, that would be the national media, which again has found a reason to pile on the Ohio State football program.
And they’re doing it because of the alleged murderous actions of an individual, Aaron Hernandez, who never played a down at Ohio State.
Good work, gang. Real shoe-leather stuff here. I guess the national media is ready and rested after sitting out the scandals at Auburn, Oregon and Miami.
This time, the Buckeye object of the media bloodhounds isn’t Jim Tressel. They already took care of him, trumping up a tattoos-for-memorabilia “scandal” that ultimately led to Tressel’s ouster in May of 2011.
The national media — which has been openly hostile to the Ohio State football program for more than a decade — beat the Tressel drum until their hands bled while virtually ignoring far more egregious scandals at other schools around the country. (Did I mention Auburn, Oregon and Miami?)
But with their whipping boy in Columbus gone, and Ohio State limping to the finish line in 2011 with a 6-7 record under interim coach Luke Fickell — and with a two-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions keeping the Buckeyes safely away from any championship hunt — the media could rest easy. The OSU football program seemed destined for several seasons of mediocrity before it would even begin to resemble its former powerful self.
But then something happened on the way to paradise. Former University of Florida coach and Ohio native Urban Meyer was hired to replace Fickell in November of 2011, and all Meyer did was guide the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record in his first season as head coach in 2012, then follow that up with the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class this past February.
Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida and is widely regarded as the most creative offensive mind in college football, has the Buckeyes on the verge of becoming a juggernaut for the foreseeable future — no doubt causing widespread panic in editorial and production rooms everywhere.
Until Aaron Hernandez rode in to save the day.
What does Hernandez have to do with the Ohio State football program?
On Earth, nothing.
In the media’s warped universe, everything.
Hernandez, a former tight end with the New England Patriots, has been charged with first-degree murder and five firearms-related charges in connection with the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez. The Patriots subsequently released Hernandez, one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
Still no Ohio State connection. Hmmm.
Then the national media got to thinking, which is surprising all by itself. Didn’t Hernandez play college football at the University of Florida?
Wasn’t his coach with the Gators back then Urban Meyer?
And where does Meyer coach now? Ohio State?
In more degrees of separation than a Kevin Bacon movie, the national media is now actively connecting Meyer to — and blaming him for — the alleged actions of Hernandez. They’re not blaming Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the Hernandez family or even Hernandez himself.
They are blaming Urban Meyer.
The media’s reasoning (using that word very loosely): None of this would have happened if Meyer had simply doled out more discipline at Florida. Hernandez was a known troublemaker with the Gators, they say, and Meyer looked the other way when instead Hernandez should have been shown the door.
Wild-eyed pontification by media members aside, Meyer didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t tell anyone to kill anyone, and he didn’t then, doesn’t now and never will condone his players killing other human beings.
So for the media to blame Meyer for the death of Lloyd or anyone else Hernandez may have murdered (he is also being investigated for multiple murders in Florida and Massachusetts) isn’t just misguided and absurd, it borders on libel and slander.
If Meyer had indeed booted Hernandez at Florida, that wouldn’t have suddenly turned Hernandez into a saint. There are bad apples in every sport at every school, and by all accounts Hernandez was one of them at Florida. It’s up to the coach and the school as to how much discretion is shown in each case.
When taking the job at Ohio State in November of 2011, Meyer stated that one of the things he grew weary of while coaching at Florida — and which ultimately forced him out of coaching for a year — was the constant vigilance of player behavior. It took a steep toll on Meyer’s physical health and state of mind.
No doubt, Meyer was surely referring in part to the antics of Hernandez. While at Florida from 2007-2009, Hernandez was suspended one game for failing a marijuana test, was involved in a bar fight where no charges were filed and was questioned as a witness in a shooting. He was never arrested during his time at Florida.
Nothing to be proud of, but not Jack the Ripper stuff, either. And certainly no reason for Meyer to think he had a potential murderer on his hands.
No, Meyer’s “crime” in this saga isn’t this pretense by the media that he was too lenient with Hernandez and other players at Florida. His crime is that he is now the head football coach at Ohio State, and it looks for all the world like Meyer has the Buckeyes poised for a lengthy period of dominance not just in the Big Ten, but nationally.
And that, as we have learned since January of 2001 when Tressel was hired at Ohio State, is completely unacceptable in the eyes of the media.
So now, we are to believe that Urban Meyer is to Hernandez what Dr. Frankenstein was to his monster, that Meyer is solely responsible for creating a soulless being, then knowingly and callously foisting this creature onto an unsuspecting public.
And now it is Meyer who is facing the angry torch-bearing mobs of the media, demanding justice for alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by someone else.
This is all so predictable: The media is going to see who got away with what under Meyer at Florida, then see who is getting away with what under Meyer at Ohio State.
Not that the media actually cares about finding criminals on campuses — they could do this at every school in the country — they just don’t like the marriage of Urban Meyer and Ohio State. That’s a monster that needs to be eradicated from the face of college football.
Therefore, the media is grabbing their torches, donning their halos and marching their sanctimonious selves to central Ohio.
So lock your doors, Urban. The mob is descending upon you.
And it’s not going away anytime soon.
Facebook: Tom Hardesty, Record-Courier