Some members of Baylor’s highly touted 2016 signing class have been waiting for years for Monday to arrive when they report to campus to kick off their college careers.
But instead of a time of joy, it will be marked by confusion, bewilderment and questions. Lots of questions.
It won’t be the same Baylor football program they signed up for in February.
Head coach Art Briles is gone after Baylor fired him Thursday when the Pepper Hamilton report found he and other school leaders failed to take action after numerous complaints of sexual assault by football players.
Though speculation has centered around defensive coordinator Phil Bennett taking over as interim coach, Baylor hasn’t yet made an announcement. Bennett had no comment when reached Saturday.
Two of the major recruits in the incoming class – Port Arthur Memorial running back Kameron Martin and Silsbee offensive lineman Patrick Hudson – aren’t expected to report Monday. Reports have indicated they’ll explore their options instead of enrolling for the first summer session beginning this week.
They could still stick with Baylor and begin classes in July or August, but they could also be gone to another school by then. How big this exodus of Baylor signees becomes remains to be seen.
Within two days of Briles’ firing, Baylor’s 2017 recruiting class shrunk from six to two after decommitments by La Vega tight end Kedrick James, Stafford wide receiver Hezekiah Jones and two Houston Bellaire players, lineman Jayden Peevy and safety Donovan Stiner.
Who can really blame them for bailing out? The future of what had been one of the most powerful programs in the Big 12 is now shrouded by uncertainty.
Bennett seems the most likely choice as interim coach because he has head coaching experience from 2002-07 when he went 18-51 in six seasons at a rebuilding SMU program.
He would have a much better chance of winning at Baylor, a powerhouse that has gone 50-15 with two Big 12 championships in the last five years under Briles. Since the Bears return 11 starters from last year’s 10-3 team and have a lot of talent coming up in the ranks, there’s no reason they couldn’t put another strong team on the field this season if most of the players stay.
But Bennett would have to quickly assemble a staff, which could be difficult. It’s hard to imagine offensive coordinator Kendal Briles sticking around after his father was fired. We don’t know how many members of Briles’ staff will even be allowed to stay at Baylor after the findings of the Pepper Hamilton report.
It’s a very shaky situation all the way around. Even if Bennett were hired as interim coach, there’s no guarantee Baylor would stick with him after the 2016 season.
Baylor could try to lure a successful coach from another school like Houston’s Tom Herman or North Carolina’s Larry Fedora. Fedora has a Baylor connection where he was an assistant coach in the early 1990s.
They could try to bring back Philip Montgomery who was an assistant under Briles at Baylor, the University of Houston and Stephenville High School. Montgomery went 6-7 in his first season as Tulsa’s head coach after serving as Baylor’s offensive coordinator.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes, the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, and SMU coach Chad Morris have also been mentioned as possible candidates.
Baylor has enough talent on board to put solid teams on the field for the next couple of seasons. But any way you look at it, keeping a great 2016 class intact will be hard. Putting together a decent 2017 recruiting class is going to be next to impossible, especially after the way recruits have jumped ship the last couple of days.
The football program still has some things working in its favor like beautiful McLane Stadium. But any coach who takes over the program will be under a microscope after the sexual assault issues of the last few years.
The new boss will need to run a squeaky clean program. Off-field discipline will need to be just as important as wins in any new regime.