Back on the Team
Robert Smith returns to play football at Ohio State
Robert Smith, the Ohio State tailback who quit the football team last August, is back in the fold. Smith, you'll recall, had become disillusioned with the Buckeyes after, he said, offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac encouraged him to skip a summer-school chemistry class because it was causing Smith, a premed student, to miss football practice (SI, Sept. 9, 1991). So Smith walked, supposedly to concentrate on his studies.
Smith said he would return to the team if Uzelac and head coach John Cooper were ousted. Instead, the university expressed support for Uzelac, who denied Smith's allegations. A former high school sprint champion, Smith sat out the football season but stayed on at Ohio State on a track scholarship. In late January he told Cooper he wanted to rejoin the Buckeyes, and on Feb. 12 Smith, Cooper and Uzelac met in Cooper's office at St. John Arena and agreed to let bygones be bygones. Then Uzelac asked to talk to Smith alone.
Cooper left the room, and Uzelac pulled out a tape recorder in hopes, Smith says, that he would recant some of the allegations he had publicly leveled against Uzelac. But after a few minutes Smith decided to end the conversation and walked out. Nine days later Uzelac resigned, but on Monday Cooper said, "The decision [to remove Uzelac] was made by me." Last week Smith rejoined the Buckeyes but denied that his return had anything to do with Uzelac's departure.
Cooper, Uzelac and Smith all come out of the affair a little mud-splattered. Despite recently signing a three-year contract extension, Cooper—who is 27-18-2 (and 0-4 against archrival Michigan) during his four years at Ohio State—has a very precarious hold on his job. With starting tailback Carlos Snow playing his final season in 1992, Cooper yearned to see Smith, who gained 1,126 yards as a freshman in 1990, back in the scarlet and gray. Cooper says he welcomed Smith back "for three reasons: one, because he can help us; two, we can help him; and three, he wants to come back." Although Smith says he intended to return to the team before his meeting with Uzelac, it appeared that Cooper was willing to sacrifice his offensive coordinator to placate his prodigal tailback.
Uzelac looks bad, not only because he taped a student during a supposed reconciliation, but also because Smith stands by his charge that Uzelac put football ahead of academics. And as for Smith, he has changed part of his story. Last August he told SI that Uzelac was the coach who had told him to turn out the lights one night while he was studying, but last week he said, and SI has confirmed, that it was another coach who did this.
Will Smith and the Buckeyes live happily ever after? Even Smith knows it's unlikely, saying, "If I rush for 2,000 yards this year, and we win the Big Ten, and I win the Heisman Trophy and go on and become a doctor and find a cure for cancer, I'd still be the prima donna who ran Coach Uzelac out of Ohio State."
Up from the Ashes
Raymond Floyd savors a win after a very big loss