Baylor University football head coach Art Briles held his first formal press conference Monday since defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of the sexual assault of another Baylor student-athlete, but his tight-lipped responses shed little light on the matter.
With about 50 media representatives present — about twice the normal number who attend Baylor’s regular Monday press conferences — Briles fielded nine questions at the 16-minute conference.
Two of the questions came from Baylor employees, and a third came from a former Baylor staff member. Briles was asked three questions about Ukwuachu, giving short, vague answers before turning his attention back to the SMU game.
The coach left the podium before many press members were given the opportunity to ask questions, although his Monday press conferences normally last 15 to 20 minutes.
Baylor President Ken Starr announced Friday night that Baylor will hire outside counsel to investigate the school’s handling of the Ukwuachu sexual assault accusations. He also said he is creating a new position within the athletics department to oversee athletes’ behavior.
Starr’s announcement came after he appointed Baylor law professor Jeremy Counseller to conduct an internal inquiry into how Baylor handled the sexual assault allegations against Ukwuachu, which Counseller concluded in less than a week.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said Monday the school would not release Counseller’s report before allowing the outside counsel to review it.
When asked if distractions surrounding Ukwuachu’s trial and the subsequent media coverage were affecting the football team, Briles said he has “not felt anything.”
“The thing about youth that keeps me going and keeps other people going that are around youth is that they’re so resilient, first and foremost — forgiving, nonjudgmental, and have good spirits and high hopes,” Briles said. “So that part of it has been extremely — I don’t want to say refreshing — but just encouraging.”
Briles said he supports Starr’s decision to hire outside counsel to investigate how the university handled the former Baylor soccer player’s sexual assault allegations against Ukwuachu in October 2013.
“I think it’s good,” Briles said. “I honestly haven’t read the report on anything along those lines. I know (Baylor Athletic Director) Ian (McCaw) is in the back, and he’s certainly a lot more involved in that than I am. I’m trying to beat SMU. That hasn’t honestly crossed my mind.”
Baylor’s 2013 investigation, headed by Associate Dean Bethany McCraw, concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to “move forward” against Ukwuachu and cleared him to play.
Likewise, Waco police did not arrest Ukwuachu after their investigation and sent the case to the district attorney’s office for review. Ukwuachu was indicted three months later, in June 2014.
The former Boise State freshman All-American, who transferred to Baylor in June 2013, was sentenced to 10 years of felony probation after his trial, and Judge Matt Johnson sent Ukwuachu to jail for 180 days as a term and condition of his probation.
The probated sentence and jail time were the maximum Johnson could hand down after the jury recommended a sentence of eight years of felony probation.
When asked if the criticism heaped on Baylor in the past month is warranted, Briles said, “As you get older, (you realize) everybody is entitled to an opinion. I’ve never tried to tell anybody what to think or how to think. I’ve tried to live in a fashion that makes them think a certain way. That’s kind of been with our program. So, to answer whether it’s warranted, I haven’t felt that or thought about it.”
After the press conference, McCaw was asked about Starr’s decision to appoint outside counsel to investigate the Ukwuachu matter.
“We’re fully supportive of President Starr’s announcement that he was going to bring in an external investigator,” McCaw said. “Baylor athletics will cooperate fully with the investigator as they go through this review process. A couple of things I want to mention: There was the announcement of the new position, and I’m looking forward to working with President Starr and the board of regents in terms of defining the specific responsibilities with that new staff member, who will oversee student-athlete conduct.”
McCaw said the athletics department, in conjunction with Baylor’s Title IX office, has conducted “violence prevention training” with all athletes in recent months.
“We’re very involved with the ‘It’s on Us’ BU campaign, which promotes the notion of preventing sexual assault on campus. Our student-athletes are very active in that as well,” McCaw said.
McCaw said at least two other schools — the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Ohio State University — have a position similar to the one Starr said the school will hire to keep tabs on athletes’ behavior.
“We’ve tried to learn from them. But it could certainly become something that is a trend around the country,” he said.
When asked if he thinks Baylor failed “one of its own,” McCaw said, “I would say that I’m supportive of President Starr calling for an external investigation.”
He repeated that answer to at least five other questions related to Baylor’s handling of the case.
Tribune-Herald sports editor Brice Cherry and staff writer John Werner contributed to this story.