Thinking Out Loud: When In Doubt, Blame Urban
By Brandon Castel
It has been three and a half years since Aaron Hernandez played his last game for Urban Meyer; more than 2,000 days since he hauled in nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown during Florida’s 51-24 thrashing of Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
A lot has happened in that time.
In New England, Hernandez became one of the more dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the National Football League. It also appears he became one of the more dangerous players in the league when he wasn’t on the football field.
What was supposed to be a triumphant story of hope and the human spirit, a kid who lost his father and overcame long odds to become a college football star and an NFL Pro Bowler, is rapidly heading down a tragic path of no return.
Just 23 years old, Hernandez is now facing first degree murder charges, along with who knows what else in Massachusetts and Florida. Authorities are rounding up a number of other suspects, but prosecutors say Hernandez is the one who "orchestrated" the killing of 27-year old Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player.
That would seem to be the end of it, for now, except people in today’s society are always looking for someone else to blame. Enter Urban Meyer, who has become an easy target for journalists looking to grab the national spotlight by accusing one of the most successful and well-known coaches in all of college football.
That’s not to say Meyer is a hero above reproach. As Clay Travis suggests in a recent accusatory article for his blog, Outkick The Coverage, Meyer's will to win does burn “with such competitive fire that he won't allow anyone to stand in his way.” The same could be said for Bill Belichick, who coached Hernandez in New England for the last three seasons.
Anyone who thinks guys like Meyer, Belichick, Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh don’t want to win at all costs is fooling themselves. It is what makes them great, and sometimes it is what brings them crashing to their own demise.
It’s naïve to believe Meyer’s quest to recruit the best football players in the country to Gainesville didn’t occasionally blur the lines between a kid with talent and a kid with baggage. It’s equally naïve to think that doesn’t happen at almost every major football program in the country, but suggesting Meyer created a culture at Florida that cultivated villains like Hernandez is the natural leap for people like Mike Bianchi.
When Meyer initially declined to comment publicly on the Hernandez situation – after all, one of his former players is being accused of some pretty heinous and life-altering crimes – Bianchi came storming out of his cave to shake his fist and rattle his sword.
“Meyer commented the other day about Tebow perhaps playing tight end for the Patriots, but he won’t comment on Hernandez being accused of murder while playing tight end for the Patriots. Maybe it’s because Hernandez — just as much as Tebow — is becoming the handcuffed, perp-walking symbol of what UF football represented during the Meyer era.”
The problem here is that nobody was criticizing Meyer for giving Hernandez a chance to play at Florida, or Belichick for taking him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, until Hernandez suddenly became the subject of a murder investigation.
Keep in mind, it has been four years since Meyer had a chance to work with Hernandez, a point he finally felt inclined to make from his offseason vacation.
“He was an athlete at Florida 4 -7 yrs ago and there are some comments being made that are not correct,” Meyer said in a text to The Columbus Dispatch on Saturday.
“Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide him.”
According to a Gainesville police report, Hernandez allegedly sucker punched the bouncer outside bar so hard it broke the man’s eardrum. Hernandez was only 17 at the time, having just enrolled at Florida one year after his father’s death.
He was angry, and according to a USA Today report, Hernandez became a different person after the death of his father in 2006, just months before he committed to play for Meyer and Steve Addazio at the University of Florida.
“It was a rough process, and I didn’t know what to do for him,” Hernandez’s mother, Terri, told USA Today in 2009.
“He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry. He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”
Hernandez had been committed to play for the University of Connecticut, where his brother D.J. was the starting quarterback in 2006, but he also held offers from Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame.
Were those schools also looking for future felons to add to their rosters? I guess we’ll never know, but it seems impossible to know how much of an impact the death of his father had on a 16-year old Hernandez who was about leave home for the first time to play football 1,100 miles away.
Hernandez was only 17 when the alleged incident occurred in Gainesville. Should Meyer have already transformed him into the next Tim Tebow? Should he have cut Hernandez loose, assuming he was a trouble-maker who would make it all the way to the NFL before he was discovered to be a sociopath? Let’s not forget he has yet to be convicted of any crimes, but most people have already made up their minds about Hernandez, many about Meyer. Bianchi certainly has, writing that Meyer “gave his players so much rope that you just knew they would eventually construct a noose and choke the life out of what he built at UF.”
Sounds about right coming from Bianchi, who also writes that Hernandez is a grown man and responsible for his own actions. Finally, something we can agree on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough for people these days.
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