A day after three Baylor University regents entered a legal filing alleging documented efforts by top athletics officials to keep football players out of criminal and university judicial systems, Art Briles’ attorney fired back.
“I don’t give it much credence because all it is is just allegations of the lawyers and the public relations firm,” said Ernest Cannon, who represents the former head football coach who was fired in May.
Meanwhile, a group of prominent donors that has regularly criticized regents demanded more transparency and expressed shock that regents reportedly paid Briles millions of dollars in severance while knowing the coach tried to conceal reports of players’ involvement with guns, drugs and physical and sexual violence.
On Briles’ behalf, Cannon dropped a libel lawsuit Wednesday against board Chairman Ron Murff, regents J. Cary Gray and David Harper, and Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Reagan Ramsower.
On Friday, Cannon said he was indirectly told earlier this week, before he dropped the suit, that the regents would file something “nasty” in Briles’ case.
“Art had no problem with that, except they’re starting to get Kendal involved and the other coaches to whom he feels responsible,” Cannon said. “(Briles) said, ‘I don’t care what they do or say to me anymore but I can’t have them assassinate my family and my friends. So just let it go.’ ”
Kendal Briles, Art Briles’ son, served as his offensive coordinator at Baylor and holds the same role at Florida Atlantic University.
Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin represented Murff, Gray and Harper in Briles’ case and in the lawsuit filed by Colin Shillinglaw in 116th State District Court in Dallas County that makes similar allegations. Shillinglaw was fired as assistant athletics director for football operations in May, and Thursday’s filing came in response to his suit.
Hardin did not respond to a voicemail Friday.
Cannon said the text messages regents allege came from Briles were “cherry-picked” and that there was “nothing in there where Art was concealing or encouraging or abetting or allowing a rape or sexual assault.”
But according to the filing, a student-athlete told her coach she was gang raped by five football players and named the players. Regents say the coach showed the names to former Athletics Director Ian McCaw and to Briles, and the incident was never reported to anyone outside the athletics department. Briles reportedly asked why the alleged victim was around the five players.
The text messages in the filing appear to show Briles discussing how to shield football players from scrutiny by law enforcement, the public and Baylor officials outside the athletics department.
When asked if Briles would refile his previously dropped lawsuit, Cannon only offered a metaphor.
“I just remember what old folks told me, and that’s ‘don’t get in a contest with a skunk,’ ” Cannon said. “And we’ve been in a contest with a skunk.”
Briles reached a contract settlement with Baylor in June with unknown details.
John Eddie Williams, a Houston lawyer and namesake for Baylor’s football field and law school library, said in a statement Friday afternoon that Baylor’s settlement with Briles is “deeply troubling.”
“This is part of a much bigger ‘institutional failure’ — as cited in the university’s original Finding of Facts — that goes well beyond the football program to the administration and all the way up to the board itself,” Williams wrote. “The university has said that roughly 90 percent of Title IX-reported incidents from 2011-15 did not involve the football program, and Pepper Hamilton found ‘that Baylor’s efforts to implement Title IX were slow, ad hoc and hindered by a lack of institutional support and engagement by senior leaders.’
‘Full transparency’ called for
“Full transparency, not an ongoing dribble of select information, is what the Baylor family wants and deserves from its leadership in response to this crisis so it can have confidence that all have been held accountable and that the right changes are being made to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”
Board Chairman Murff did not return a voicemail Friday afternoon, and a Baylor spokesman said the university has no further comment on Thursday’s filing.
In the Thursday filing, regents say five board members met with four major donors in June.
The donors wanted detailed evidence leading to Briles’ ouster, and regents declined to offer it, citing confidentiality laws, the answer states.
In November, Williams told the Tribune-Herald that he was one of four major donors who met with the board.
“Collectively in that group there was probably $100 million in commitments and giving, most of it Drayton’s” Williams said at the time, referring to Drayton McLane, namesake for the football stadium. “But you would know any of these four. And we asked, ‘What’s going on?’ And all we were told is, ‘Well, you don’t know what we know. Trust us.’ And the answer from our side was, ‘Well why should we trust you?’ ”
In the filing, Murff, Gray and Harper say one of the donors in the June meeting stated, “If you mention Baylor’s mission one more time, I’m going to throw up. . . . I was promised a national championship.”
The donors also demanded that Briles be rehired, or at the least, suspended for one year, regents say.
Another central character to Baylor’s sexual assault scandal is Patty Crawford, the former Title IX coordinator who waged a public feud with the university after resigning in October. Her lawyer, Rogge Dunn, said in a statement that he finds it sad that it took Shillinglaw’s lawsuit for Baylor to release Briles’ incriminating texts.
“Baylor is releasing information only when it’s in Baylor’s strategic advantage to do so,” Dunn said. “Baylor will never have credibility until it is transparent for transparency’s sake. Baylor should not withhold documents and information and release some only as weapons in lawsuits.”
Dunn also represents Gabrielle Lyons, a former Title IX staffer who alleged discrimination during her seven-month stint in the office in 2015.
Baylor officials have disputed claims of both Crawford and Lyons, saying the Title IX office received full institutional support and a growing annual budget, which now sits at $1.18 million.