Baylor University’s splashy, formal introduction of new head football coach Matt Rhule late Wednesday afternoon was a carefully scripted affair, played out amid a sea of pompoms, upbeat wind music and die-hard Bears fans. The former Temple University coach answered few questions with any hard specifics but delivered an inspirational address on winning and developing character. At one point, he apologized for the almost religious fervor of his rapid-fire talk: “My dad’s a preacher, my mom’s Italian.”
When asked if he had any firm rules for a football program fairly or unfairly cast in the national spotlight for the sexual offenses of a handful of players, Rhule offered none in the vein of former Texas coach Charlie Strong beyond treating women with respect and not bullying others. Then he diverted attention to the football team seated before him in Ferrell Center, stressing the importance of investing in them: “These are the guys that are doing it right.”
At another point, asked what he might change in the football program given certain failures in recent years, he pleaded for time and optimism: “Everything I’m going to do is moving forward.”
Fair enough. The new coach probably deserves a moment to catch his breath. If one theme dominated the rally-cum-press conference, it was the need to hit the ground running to seek out new recruits. The sexual-assault melodrama that has overshadowed so much else at Baylor the past year and a half has left it with a depleted football roster and just one verbal commitment in the 2017 class.
While a new coach is unlikely to (and shouldn’t) deter the alumni and donors of Bears for Leadership Reform from demanding a vigorous investigation of Baylor leadership’s handling of sexual-assault problems, Rhule’s arrival offers Baylor Nation a chance to begin laying a solid foundation for the future, both in perception and reality. Those standards should closely regard not only athletes but all students in how they treat one another.
That foundation now assumes a certain shine with the No. 3-ranked Lady Bears basketball team and No. 4-ranked men’s basketball team. This is an opportunity for Baylor to recast itself in its Christian mission and in the many ways in which Baylor seeks to ensure students are safe on and off campus. That means being far more forthright about the solutions Baylor is applying and demanding to a college problem that is national in scope.
In remarks after hiring former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw as Liberty University’s new AD, Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. noted that, whatever else, McCaw would be “more sensitized” than any other AD in the nation to sexual violence by virtue of what he experienced at Baylor in recent years. Strong point. Yet one shouldn’t have to actually live through such experiences to benefit from them. That’s a lesson all Baylor leadership must keep much in mind, both in victory and defeat.