by Staff report, USA TODAY Sports
As previously untold stories surface about Aaron Hernandez's troubles while he was playing at the University of Florida, Urban Meyer, the tight end's coach at the time, is defending himself against critics who say Meyer was a lax disciplinarian and enabler.
Until now, Meyer has deflected questions about Hernandez's arrest for the murder of 27-year-old semipro football player and friend Odin Lloyd. Instead, Meyer has allowed has allowed his wife and daughter to defend him on Twitter.
But as stories broke detailing how Hernandez sucker-punched a bar manager in 2007, along with more detail on a Gainesville, Fla., shooting during the same year - Hernandez's freshman season - Meyer broke his silence to defend himself in a text-message exchange with Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch.
Meyer, now coach at Ohio State, said neither he nor his Florida coaches should be blamed for Hernandez's behavior - then or now.
"Prayers and thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim," Meyer texted. "Relating or blaming these serious charges to the University of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible."
Meyer said stories about Hernandez's days with the Gators have contained inaccuracies.
"I just received an email from a friend where there is an accusation of multiple failed drug tests by Hernandez covered up by University of Florida or the coaching staff. This is absolutely not true," Meyer texted. "Hernandez was held to the same drug testing policy as every other player."
He added: "He was an athlete at Florida 4 -7 yrs 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."
Meyer characterized Hernandez's brushes with the law in Gainesville as "very minor stuff. He was questioned about being a witness (to a shooting), and he had an argument in a restaurant , and he was suspended one game (for a failed marijuana test, according to local reports). Other than that, he was three years a good player. That was it."
Although Meyer said he bristles at being labeled an enabler for Hernandez, in a police report on the alleged bar assault, the pub's manager, Michael Taphorn, who had his ear drum broken by Hernandez, told investigators in 2007 he was trying to work out a financial settlement to keep the incident out of court.
Police said Taphorn had been adamant about pressing charges when he first spoke to officers, but when police followed up with Taphorn, he told them "that he may request the charges be dropped," an investigator wrote in the supplemental report.
The investigator added: "Taphorn did state that he had been contacted by legal staff and coaches with UF and that they may be working on an agreement. However, nothing is finalized."
Police said Meyer was one of the first University of Florida staffers told about the punch, and Hernandez was never charged.
When asked to respond about the possibility that the school reached a settlement with Taphorn, UF spokesman Steve McClain released the following statement:
"No one from the university's general counsel's office was involved in this manner,'' he said.
May's interview didn't address a possible settlement orchestrated by, or connected to, Meyer.
In a Sunday follow-up story, Meyer told the newspaper: " ... 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."
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