Gee also vigorously defended Uzelac. Gee is closely involved with football at Ohio State—as he was in his previous position as president of the University of Colorado—phoning recruits and traveling with the team. He was instrumental in the hiring of Uzelac this past spring.
Some Ohio State officials seemed less interested in investigating the validity of Smith's charges than in mounting a heavy-handed campaign of leaks to discredit him. Officials floated rumors—anonymously, of course—that Smith "had not been a stranger in the bars on High Street this summer" and that his class attendance had not been sterling.
"That's right, I've been boozing it up and chasing women all summer," says Smith sarcastically. "It's like they're trying to dig up everything they possibly can on me. It's like they never knew me."
Anyone who knows Smith knows of his dedication to his studies. Like many students who are among the first in their families to attend college, Smith is terribly serious about academics—"Too serious," says his academic adviser, Larry Romanoff. Still, university officials seemed unwilling to address Smith's most serious accusation: that Uzelac had told him to blow off class so that he could make practice. One school spokesman dismissed the matter as a misunderstanding. "Robert has no sense of humor," said the official. "I can easily see Elliot saying with a straight face, 'You take school too seriously,' and Robert taking the comment at face value."
Uzelac's track record—he has had two head coaching jobs, at Western Michigan (1975-81) and at Navy (1987-89)—suggests that there was no misunderstanding. A former midshipman who played for Uzelac at Navy recalls that Uzelac discouraged players from enrolling in summer-school courses that conflicted with workouts during two-a-days. Said the former Middie, "If a guy who'd been in class that morning screwed up in the afternoon, [Uzelac] would say, 'You're sitting in a classroom all morning when you could have been out here doing drill work!' "
Upon being told of Smith's complaints, the officer said, "Sounds like [Uzelac] hasn't changed much."
The Aug. 27 edition of USA Today reported that when Uzelac was at Western Michigan, a local businessman, Mike Vredevoogd, helped Bronco defensive back Adam Mial select his courses. Mial wanted to major in business, but the coaches were more interested in keeping Mial eligible and, according to Vredevoodg, changed his schedule card. "It was filled with remedial stuff and physical education courses," Vredevoogd told the paper. "I've never forgotten that."
Smith spent last week cramming for his chemistry final and meeting with Cooper, Ohio State administrators and boosters. Smith's differences with Cooper, however, were irreconcilable: Cooper refused to consider the possibility that Uzelac had told Smith to cut his classes, thereby implying that Smith had lied.
During the week, Smith considered transferring to John Carroll, a Division III university within commuting distance of his home in Euclid, Ohio. But since Cooper has not revoked his scholarship, Smith will remain at Ohio State, at least for now. A former schoolboy 100-meter state champion, he would like to run track for the Buckeyes this spring.
Though he has only one year of college ball under his belt, Smith has not ruined his chances of playing in the NFL. As a true freshman last season he led the Buckeyes in rushing, averaging 6.4 yards a carry and shattering Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin's 18-year-old freshman rushing record with 1,126 yards. However, should Smith decide to play pro ball, the stand he took last week could end up costing him money. NFL scouts might drool over his rushing ability, but obedience to authority is considered a desirable trait in a pro prospect.