What made Art Briles so successful in turning around the Baylor football program is ultimately what led to his demise.
Briles chased winning. If a risk could lead to the reward of victory, it was worth it. Briles took a devil-may-care approach to his football philosophy. As a coach he was more than happy to go for it on fourth-and-five in his own territory. He was willing to fling the ball deep from anywhere on the field. Baylor consistently ranked as one of the worst in the country in penalties under Briles, who greeted that designation with a shrug.
“It’s just part of playing, and you’ve got to hope that you’re able to overcome if you get those,” Briles said last fall, referencing Baylor’s propensity for flags. “Fortunately we have been.”
As an on-field strategy, that’s fine. Aggressive football is winning football. Indeed, Baylor’s eight-year stretch under Briles was the most successful run in school history.
But when chasing victory becomes more important than student safety, the program has failed. When keeping a talented player around is of greater concern than a sexual assault allegation against said player, the system is corrupt. It’s broken.
Winning should never matter that much.
Pepper Hamilton’s report found that the Baylor football staff “created a cultural perception that football was above the rules.” If true, then Briles betrayed Baylor. He betrayed the fans, the university, his calling, and — most importantly — the students whose health and safety were placed in jeopardy.
Based on Pepper Hamilton’s findings, Briles had to go. It was the only option.
It’s still not entirely clear how much of Briles’ coaching staff will remain, but I can’t imagine any conclusion but a complete housecleaning. How could any of the current coaches stay? Pepper Hamilton found that members of the football staff were conducting “their own untrained internal inquiries” into complaints made by alleged sexual assault victims. That reeks of a cover-up.
No way. You’ve got to ditch the entire staff — even if that means Baylor sitting out the upcoming season. (That seems unlikely, as Baylor will find some aspiring coach to take the job, at least on an interim basis.)
Briles didn’t just take risks in game-planning, but in recruiting. He was fond of reclamation projects. In truth, Baylor was a reclamation project in and of itself.
Briles contended that Baylor’s coaches intently researched a player’s past before offering a scholarship. “We’re always going to make sure a guy is worthy of that opportunity,” Briles said last year.
Pepper Hamilton’s investigators discovered otherwise. Baylor “did not consistently conduct due diligence” in accepting transfers, the report said.
Openly bringing in players with checkered pasts is bad enough. But hiding and condoning their transgressions? That’s unconscionable.
Briles’ legacy at Baylor will be a conflicted one. He remains beloved by many of his players, both currently on Baylor’s roster and among those who have moved on. Baylor fans greatly admired him, and some probably still will. Briles was affable, innovative and loyal. Clearly loyal, to a fault.
The future media almanacs will show that Briles won 65 games in eight years at Baylor, including two Big 12 championships. Four times in those eight years the Bears won 10 or more games.
Sixty-five victories. The man knew how to win.
But at what cost?