A man of integrity

Alex Smith was sitting there in California watching TV the other day when he noticed a crawl across the bottom of the screen bearing the name of his old coach.

He caught a glimpse of something about Urban Meyer possibly having committed a recruiting violation. But it just didn’t look or sound or smell right to the former Utah quarterback and No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

In today’s tabloid TV mentality, it doesn’t take much to get your name on some network crawl across America’s TV sets. It turns out that there was an alleged minor, self-reported violation against Urban, which, if true, would likely turn out to be not all that big of a deal.

Frankly, Smith was a little surprised at this news, but placed not one whit of credibility in the report.

“I’ve been in the environment and know that coach Meyer is never going to do anything like that,” Smith said by phone from his West Coast home, where he is rehabbing from shoulder surgery of seven weeks ago. “If anything did happen like that, obviously it got resolved and got taken care of. This is a guy of the utmost integrity.”

Thus Smith becomes one more voice of reason in what has been uncustomary attention to minute detail as if it somebody has committed an act of treason.

As the countdown for “Super Wednesday” approaches — it just occurred to me we have “Super Sunday,” “Super Tuesday” and “Super Wednesday” all in a row — Florida continues to harvest the cream of the recruiting crop. And that means most likely some of the message board mania will arrive at a fever’s pitch.  By then, Tim Tebow may have become a serial killer.

In old coaching parlance, “the hay is in the barn” for Florida’s recruiting season and all 20-plus Gator commits are expected to sign on the dotted line. All coaches who have done their jobs well and reaped the bounty of hard work and running a clean program will be able to breathe a sign of relief then and we can all get back to the matters of what actually happens on the field.

Alex Smith, who has some first-hand experience in helping Meyer recruit, finds it almost laughable that people would accuse his old coach of recruiting shenanigans. If flies in the face of everything Meyer stands for.

“Integrity is such a good word to describe him,” Smith said.

“He really taught me a lot about integrity and doing the job right and doing it to the best of your ability — and you’d never have any regret. Living the right way. You were going to go to class. You were going to get good grades.  You were going to treat women with respect.

“Football wasn’t just off the field and it was our job to do the right things in all aspects of our life.”

What opened the eyes of Smith and other players at Utah and Bowling Green — and now at Florida — was the close-up look they get at the Meyer family on a regular basis. They saw it for themselves.

Players are treated like they are a part of the Meyer family, often hanging out at the pool or eating a meal with them. It is also part of Urban’s philosophy that players need to see good examples in order to learn about the importance of a solid family life.

“This is the guy who lived it and he was our role model for a lot of us,” said Smith. “So I don’t put any validity in that stuff. And a lot of it is not true. It’s the total antithesis of him. I’ve been recruiting with him.”

However that turns out — if there is some penalty involved for Meyer’s reported infraction for allowing Tebow to speak to a recruit on his cell phone at the Heisman Trophy presentation — it will never change Smith’s mind about Urban Meyer.’

“I’ve seen him talk to players and I talked to a lot of the guys out there in Utah. Everything he was about was that there was no individual that big. And that was the whole point.

“It was the same thing in recruiting. If you wanted be a part of this — be a part of winning games and a part of winning national championships, then you were going to come there and that was that. They were going to recruit you hard, but they believed in the bigger picture.

“It was the team that won games, it wasn’t the individual. He’s the guy that taught me that, so there’s no way I see him putting too much credit in one individual to put any of that stuff at stake. This is a guy who believes in hard work and hard work wins games.”

In short, you could drive bamboo spikes under the fingernails of Alex Smith and never get him to say Urban Meyer was a cheater.

Maybe that’s because he’s not.