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After longtime assistant fired, Buckeyes’ Urban Meyer has more explaining to do

In July 2013, coming off his debut season at Ohio State, coach Urban Meyer had tension swirling all around him as he arrived at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

A New York Times report was out that focused on Meyer’s 2008 national-title team at Florida, finding that 41 players on that team had been arrested during or since their time at the school. One of those players, star tight end Aaron Hernandez, had recently been arrested and charged with murder. Also, there’d been, in the days before he met the media to talk about the 2013 season, a flash flood of Buckeyes player arrests.

It all looked very bad.

“I want to make sure out punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that’s out there,” Meyer said then. “That’s maybe where I’ve changed over the years.”

Urban Meyer at Big Ten Media Days. (AP/Annie Rice)

Does Meyer ever change?

He stepped to the podium Tuesday at the downtown Marriott for his latest Media Days press conference, the morning after Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith was fired amid reports of multiple domestic-violence allegations against him. Smith — the grandson of former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce — played for Meyer at Bowling Green and coached under him at Florida and OSU for a total of 11 seasons.

College football reporter Brett McMurphy broke an avalanche of news beginning last week about Smith, who was arrested in 2009, when he was at Florida, for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim. Smith was arrested in 2015, when he was at OSU, in an alleged domestic-violence incident involving the same woman, his then-wife. That case remains open, according to reports.

Last week, Smith was charged with criminal trespassing and a domestic violence civil protection order was filed by his ex-wife.

Meyer claimed Tuesday that the details in the 2009 police report are inaccurate and that there was “nothing” to the 2015 incident.

“Who creates a story like that?” he said.

Moments later, he admitted that Smith’s history becoming public played into his dismissal.

“To say that doesn’t have something to do with it, it does a little bit,” he said.

If “nothing” happened, why was Smith fired? Just an example of Meyer’s “harder” discipline — nine years after he learned of Smith’s first domestic-violence arrest?

The mixed messages from Meyer are baffling. The inaction is inexcusable.

On to the rest of this “Big 10” (where 10 actually means 10) of things that left an impression on the second and final day of the annual gathering of league coaches, players and media:

2. So close, who cares?

Wisconsin was 12-0 last season entering the Big Ten title game and came within a touchdown of beating Ohio State and getting into the playoff. And guess what? The general consensus around college football this season is that this year’s Badgers will be even better.

The team’s offseason motto: “Nobody cares. Work harder.”

“It’s the truth,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “No matter what the talk is about us this year, it’s not a big deal. We’ve just got to keep our heads down and work.”

Does that sentiment not ooze Wisconsin football?

3. Dude’s OK

Take a bow, Mike Dudek.

The Illinois wide receiver missed the 2016 and 2017 seasons with separate ACL tears, then missed five more games last season due to multiple injuries.

But here he is, ready for one final ride with the Illini.

“And I feel great,” he said.

There’s no one easier to root for in 2018.

4. Got seats, need fannies

Illinois was last in the conference in football attendance, measured by capacity, in 2017, at 65 percent. Coach Lovie Smith is appealing to fans.

“Sometimes, when you really find out what kind of fans you have is when you’re going through tough times,” he said. “We need their support.”

5. Hoosier QB?

Indiana coach Tom Allen hasn’t named his starting quarterback, but insiders are convinced it’ll be Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins. Be advised: Dawkins will be as dangerous a runner as there is at the position in the conference.

6. ‘Forgiveness is power’

Nearly a year and a half after using the N-word in an angry text that led to his departure from the Michigan State team, linebacker Jon Reshke is back on the Spartans roster. It was a team-wide decision, according to coach Mark Dantonio.

“I was initially shocked,” said safety Khari Willis, who is black. “But I reached out to him and just told him that I forgave him.”

As Dantonio put it: “Forgiveness is power.”

7. Dressed for success

Not for nothing: Willis was by far the best-dressed player in Chicago this week. As in, he wore a tux. Some of us didn’t even own a tie at that age.

8. Never forget

Maryland has created a player committee to make sure the memory of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died last month, endures as an important piece of the Terrapins season and program. It’s a nice idea.

9. Bearing witness

Longtime Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz made his bones teaching offensive-line play. Over his four decades of coaching, he has not seen a center more talented than Bears rookie James Daniels, who starred for the Hawkeyes last season.

“When you get a player that has those kinds of abilities, it’s really rare,” Ferentz said. “The good news for James is his best football is ahead of him. He’s 20 years old right now.”

10. Parting shot

From Wisconsin safety Dakota Dixon, on why his team is worthy of a No. 1 vote in national preseason polls:

“Because I feel like we’ll be no different than we were last year — except we’ll finish.”

Illini coach Lovie Smith expects results this season