COLUMBUS, OHIO — In a 9-1-1 call on Sunday, Bri’onte Dunn’s girlfriend told dispatchers that Ohio State’s senior running back choked her and hit her in the face, leaving her with a bleeding lip and a black eye.
Urban Meyer kicked him off the team the next day.
Dunn was his most experienced tailback, a former four-star recruit who waited behind Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott for a chance at the spotlight role on the team, but his actions had crossed a clear line, and Meyer didn’t wait for an arrest.
All the Ohio State coach had to do was point to the team’s core values, one of which reads, “Treat women with respect.” Players can’t walk through the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for practice without seeing those words written on the walls.
These values need to make it to some other walls throughout this country, because not enough of the main voices in college sports are holding them in nearly high enough of a regard. Not in the face of winning, at least, which has become a bottom line too many take far too liberally.
You have the growing list of allegations stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. You have Outside the Lines reports running through Baylor and Missouri and Stanford, where somebody somewhere didn’t do enough.
And now, you have the Jeffery Simmons situation at Mississippi State. The five-star recruit stood over a woman and repeatedly punched her. It was all caught on video for the nation to see. Not only was he able to still play on scholarship in the SEC on just a one-game suspension, but he was also granted the jersey number that was last worn by a player who died of cancer. Dan Mullen defended his character and actions at SEC Media Days, even insinuating that the victim had played a role in why she was beaten.
Mullen once coached under Meyer at Florida as his offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008, when Meyer didn’t always make the right moves. He took on high-risk recruits and saw them commit crime after crime, ranging from gun charges to domestic violence. He handed out some punishments but kept players like Aaron Hernandez on the team.
He did it all while winning at a rate the SEC hadn’t seen in decades, and it nearly crushed him.
Six years later, Meyer is running a different kind of ship at Ohio State. He’s still winning at an absurd level, with a 50-4 record and a national championship in four seasons. He’s running on plenty of the same rage that makes him the game’s best motivator and recruiter, but the win-at-all-costs mentality doesn’t stretch to the legal department any more.
When Hyde shoved a woman in a bar in 2013, Meyer suspended the star running back for the first three games even though the case closed with no charges filed. That same fall, he gave a one-game suspension to star cornerback Bradley Roby, even though his disorderly conduct charge was also later dropped.
For years at Florida, Meyer won in every way except the one that leaves the biggest impact on the outside world. He took a year off to find a new way to live for the pursuit of perfection while surviving the storm that comes with it, and what you’re seeing at Ohio State is what he came up with.
Maybe it’s easier for him now to pass on top recruits and kick talented players off the team. Maybe that’s part of being Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Playing in a division with Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio and James Franklin, however, might suggest otherwise.
None of that is really the point.
Winning only matters if the game you played is one you can look back on and enjoy. The one he’s playing at Ohio State is simply more rewarding than the one he had at Florida was because it’s something to be appreciated not just by the players and coaches in the bubble but also by everyone else who is looking in. It’s for the mothers and fathers who want to raise their sons and daughters in a state that breathes Buckeye football.
Coaching college athletics is a high-pressure job, but in the end, it follows some pretty basic rules of life: Be a good person. Do right, and take action when you see others who don’t.
If Urban Meyer can settle down to see the bigger picture — the headset-chucking, chest-pain-collapsing ball of fire Urban Meyer — then any coach can.
And it’s about time that more of them do.