Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer instructs his team against Army during an NCAA college football game on Sept. 16 in Columbus.(
There are at least two ways to skin any cat and yesterday’s weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference was a perfect example.
James Franklin and Urban Meyer were back-to-back on the call with league reporters and each was asked a similar question about how they choose to handle or offer guidance to any one or more players displaying some social protest.
The Penn State coach dove right in. I thought Franklin’s answer to my question, specifically about freshman cornerback Lamont Wade’s video on the American flag and black shooting victims, but also generally about how he guides his players in making such a statement, was exemplary.
The true freshman cornerback from Clairton took a stand on Donald Trump’s comments on NFL protests and the issue of young black men dying unjustly by posting a 5-minute video yesterday on social media. His opinions were delivered with dignity, calm and thought. The subsequent comments of many Penn State fans? Not so much.
Clearly, Franklin wanted to talk about this issue and he was expansive in the public realm. Of course, he’s never shy about talking on any topic. But this answer had a lot of meat to it. He’d clearly thought about it so much that he could be extemporaneous and expansive, and he was.
Franklin also said he doesn’t mind if one of his players publicly takes some social stand as long as it’s well considered and done with deliberation:
"I want my players to have discussions on college campuses. I want them to have discussion in the locker room. I want our players to be able to express themselves on social media.
"But what I want them to do is take their time, I want them to be thoughtful. I don’t want them to be emotional and I want them to be able to articulate themselves. When you’re discussing something, looking at it from both perspectives. That’s one of the problems: Most people only want to look at it from their perspective."
In these times of stonewalling any sensitive issue for fear of offending one faction or another, it was impressive.
Could Penn State’s shaky effort at Iowa topple it from the top spot? It’s a close call but is anyone else in the Big Ten impressive enough to justify leapfrogging the Lions? Here’s all 14, back to front.
Eight minutes later, someone asked the Ohio State coach roughly the same question. But Meyer is never the spontaneous type. It’s not that he can’t talk about matters other than football. But he’ll always do so on his terms and with proper prep.
Meyer has team meetings in which the OSU players discuss all sorts of social issues and civil rights history. He brings in guest speakers to talk about key points in American history or important issues such as domestic violence.
But he’s going to avoid addressing anyone else’s narrative. Urban Meyer always will control the narrative. And nobody is disrupting his team’s drive during the season. So, his answer was typically brief and muted and essentially non-substantive:
"I think that goes back to developing a culture of team, a culture of respect and a culture of focus. I was unaware that anything was going on [the NFL demonstrations] until yesterday.
"I’ll talk to some players and we’ll do what we normally do and have some good conversation. I’ll let people have their opinions and never cross the R word, which is respect."
Neither method was more right or wrong than the other. Both Franklin and Meyer commanded the moment in their own ways. It just showed there is more than one right way to do it.
DAVID JONES: firstname.lastname@example.org