Updated on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Five days after refusing to speak about tight end Aaron Hernandez, former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer sent a series of text messages to The Columbus Dispatch (and other media outlets) in an effort to tell his side of the story.
According to Meyer, reports about Hernandez’s time at Florida have been exaggerated. He claims that Hernandez did not fail multiple drug tests – as was initially reported shortly after the New England Patriots selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft – and that his family and everyone involved with the Gators did whatever they could to help put him on the right path.
“I just received an e-mail from a friend where there is an accusation of multiple failed drug tests by Hernandez covered up by [the University] of Florida or the coaching staff. This is absolutely not true. Hernandez was held to the same drug testing policy as every other player.
“He was an athlete at Florida 4-7 years ago and there are some comments being made that are not correct. Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide him.
”Prayers and thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. Relating or blaming these serious charges to [the University] of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible.”
Now the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Meyer has taken plenty of heat over the last two weeks for Hernandez after he was charged with first degree murder following a shooting in North Attleboro, MA.
As the days have progressed, more has been revealed about Hernandez’s background and the trouble he got himself into as a 17-year-old while in Gainesville, FL, in 2007, such as why he was not considered a suspect following a shooting in which he was first described and later named in the police report by one of the victims.
Meyer explained to The Gainesville Sun that he knew Hernandez and other Gators were questioned but did not have any further involvement at that time. “I didn’t think about it again until a couple of days ago,” he told the paper.
As Meyer noted in his text messages, much of the criticism levied his way has been irresponsible, but his refusal to address Hernandez and subsequently praise Tim Tebow in the same media availability a week ago only gave his critics more fuel.
Then again, his last text message denial to the media – sent this week after he was accused of turning in Florida for a secondary recruiting violation – was refuted by ESPN mere minutes after he hit send on his phone.
Though Meyer may believe this series of text messages will end the media’s quest to seek out more information from him regarding Hernandez, with the college football season just two months away, he is likely to receive plenty of more questions about Hernandez sooner than later.
UPDATE – Sunday at 1 p.m.: Meyer followed up his text messages by granting the Dispatch a short question-and-answer session with him on the topic of Hernandez. Below are some of the standout quotes in Meyer’s Q&A, which can be read in full here.
On the Florida coaching staff trying to help Hernandez: “When one of our [Florida assistant] coaches started recruiting him up in Connecticut, it was right after his father had died suddenly. There was a lot of emotional trauma with that. [...] You do the best you can. But at the end of the day, there is free will. You can’t change people. You can set the table and try to help them, make sure there is a spiritual component in their life, make sure there is a family atmosphere. And that’s what we try to do – it’s what we’ve tried to do everywhere.”
On Hernandez’s legal issues while playing for the Gators: “Relatively speaking, he had very minor stuff. He was questioned about being a witness [to a shooting], and he had an argument in a restaurant [The Swamp, where he threw a punch as a juvenile], and he was suspended one game [for failing a drug test]. Other than that, he was three years a good player. That was it.”
On the 2007 shooting incident in Gainesville, FL: “I don’t remember his name in [the report]. I remember it was about a one-hour discussion. One of my coaches came in and said, ‘Hey, they’re getting questioned for this.’ I said, ‘Well, what do I need to do?’ And he said, ‘Nothing. They’re not involved.’ And that was it. They weren’t questioned for [doing] the shooting. They were questioned as witnesses.”
On being concerned when Hernandez returned to Connecticut: “His people back home said, ‘Keep him [in Florida], don’t let him come back home.’ That was a big part of it, now that I remember it. And I didn’t understand the seriousness of it. People warned me and the coaches warned me, saying, ‘He can’t go back home again.’ Again, though, I had no idea we’d be talking about what we are now.”
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