By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - In his first speaking engagement with his
Big Ten coaching peers, new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had to
defend what he did in his last coaching job.
Meyer said he was disappointed by a story this week in the
Sporting News which said he showed favoritism to star players
during his six-year tenure at Florida and that his Gators program
winked at disciplinary problems.
"When you start saying preferential treatment to players,
that's probably a correct statement. We did do that. We do that
here. We did it at Bowling Green and Utah," said Meyer, mentioning
his previous coaching stops while speaking Wednesday on the Big Ten
coaches spring teleconference. "If you go to class, you're a
warrior, you do things the right way off and on the field, and
you're completely committed to helping us win, you're going to get
treated really good."
Meyer bristled at the inference by former players, some
identified and some not, who said that there was a different set of
rules for star players such as wide receiver Percy Harvin.
"I'm extremely proud of what we did down there. And throwing
great players - not good players, great players - under the bus
like that, I don't get the intent," he said. "I'll fight for
those guys, man. Those guys did a lot of great things for the
University of Florida. And to sit there and call them out four or
five years later, I'm not sure of the intent, once again.
"But I'll always fight for those guys."
Meyer won two national championships at Florida but twice left
the program, each time citing health issues. He retired after the
2010 season, then later took a job as a college football analyst
with ESPN for a year. He was hired last November to pick up the
pieces of an Ohio State program which has suffered through player
suspensions and departures, NCAA sanctions and the forced
resignation of coach Jim Tressel due to a memorabilia-for-money
The Buckeyes, who were 6-7 a year ago and lost their last four
games including, ironically, the Gator Bowl to Florida, are on NCAA
probation and have been banned from playing in a bowl game after
the 2012 season.
Meyer said he had talked to several former Florida players and
coaches who were upset by the Sporting News story.
The story cited multiple sources who confirmed that during the
2008 season Harvin, now a member of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings,
physically attacked Florida wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales,
grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground. It said
that after Harvin was pulled off Gonzales by two assistant coaches,
he was never disciplined.
Gonzales, now an offensive coordinator at Illinois, issued a
statement earlier on Wednesday.
"In response to a recent story alleging an incident between
Percy Harvin and me and while at Florida, the story is
inaccurate," he said in the statement. "It didn't happen."
Meyer said he and his staff met or exceeded all standards in
terms of graduation rate, wins, abiding by NCAA rules and
recruiting quality players.
The story had said there was a "circle of trust" which enabled
and pandered to elite players. Meyer denied it on Wednesday.
Asked if he disagreed in particular with a certain contention in
the story, Meyer said, "Oh, more than one."
He seemed particularly upset by the inference that he and his
staff had flaunted NCAA bylaws.
"I want to say this real clear: There is no violation that we
had as far as that whole conversation," Meyer said. "I'm not sure
why that keeps coming up. So, if you would bold that for me,
underline it - there is not an NCAA violation."
Since taking the Ohio State job, Meyer has bumped heads with
several Big Ten coaches - principally Wisconsin's Bret Bielema -
over the recruiting of players who have already verbally committed
to other Division I programs. But Bielema has said that was a
misunderstanding which has been corrected.