Art Briles was the most revered Baylor football coach since Grant Teaff.
Taking over a program with 12 straight losing seasons, Briles lifted the Bears to almost unimaginable heights.
In the last five years, the Bears were one of the winningest teams in the country with a 50-15 record. Along with that success came two Big 12 championships, 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, and brand new $266 million McLane Stadium.
On Thursday, Briles left Baylor in disgrace.
The Baylor board of regents fired Briles after the Pepper Hamilton report concluded that he and other school leaders failed to take action after numerous complaints of sexual assault by football players. Baylor President Ken Starr was reassigned to chancellor of the university while athletic director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and put on probation.
No one felt Thursday’s events more deeply than Teaff, who coached the Bears from 1972-92 and later served as athletic director. But Teaff believes the university and athletic program can recover.
“I’m broken hearted,” said Teaff. “But I have great faith in the board of regents. They obviously put a lot of study into the decision they made. It’s still a great university with great people. The football team has a great stadium and they’ve got great players. It just needs to be restored.”
When Briles arrived at Baylor in November 2007, he was coming off a successful five-year tenure at the University of Houston that included three bowl trips. He had previously coached in Texas high schools for 21 years, winning four state championships at Stephenville in the 1990s.
With his deep Texas recruiting roots, Briles immediately began using his contacts to find players. One of his first recruits was Griffin, a Copperas Cove star quarterback who had originally committed to Houston.
The Bears finished 4-8 in each of Briles’ first two seasons but there was promise. With Griffin and wide receiver Kendall Wright leading the way, the Bears broke through with a 7-6 record in 2010 and made their first bowl game since 1994. Though Illinois hammered the Bears, 38-14, in the Texas Bowl, there were signs of good things to come.
The 2011 season proved to be a watershed for Briles and the Bears as they finished 10-3, their best record since the 1980 Baylor team finished 10-2 under Teaff.
Griffin became the first Baylor player to win the Heisman Trophy, becoming the king of New York City for a night. Pulling up his pants leg to reveal a Superman sock, Griffin called his Heisman moment “unbelievably believable.”
“You know the great coach Art Briles always says great things only come with great effort, and we’ve certainly worked for this,” Griffin said. “That’s right, everybody associated with Baylor University has a reason to celebrate tonight.”
Even though Griffin left for the NFL after that season, the Baylor football team had reasons to keep celebrating.
The Bears won back-to-back conference championships for the first time in school history in 2013 and 2014. It couldn’t have been a more perfect scenario as the Bears won their first Big 12 title with a 30-10 win over arch rival Texas in the last game at Floyd Casey Stadium. They won their second Big 12 title at their gleaming new home on the Brazos at McLane Stadium.
The Bears became popular with recruits for Briles’ innovative offensive style and flashy uniforms. This longtime bottom feeder became one of the hippest programs in college football.
Though Baylor couldn’t pull off a three-peat last season, Briles once again showed his creativity. Despite a barrage of injuries, Briles dusted off the single wing and ran North Carolina into the ground in a 49-38 win at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
But all along there were some deep problems underneath all the success on the field. Former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott was convicted of sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014.
Briles gained a reputation for giving second chances to players with questionable backgrounds, but two came back to haunt him. Former Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault in 2015 for a 2013 incident involving a Baylor soccer player.
Defensive end Shawn Oakman was once viewed as a success story when he made third-team All-American in 2014 after he was dismissed at Penn State. After playing his final season at Baylor last fall, Oakman was arrested in April for a sexual assault charge.
Baylor board of regents chairman Richard Willis said in a statement that he was “horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus” and pledged action.
It’s unclear where Baylor will go from here to find a coach to lead the program. A Baylor source told the Tribune-Herald that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett hasn’t been named interim coach despite some media reports.
An ESPN report indicated that Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, the Bears’ former offensive coordinator, would interview at Baylor this weekend. But a source said the report was not true.
Teaff believes Baylor should name one of the current assistant coaches as interim head coach for the 2016 season and then possibly open up a search after the year. He believes it would help keep the current players and incoming recruits on board.
“Staff members who aren’t under the scrutiny by the board of regents need to work together to maintain the smooth transition of the program,” Teaff said. “Trying to bring in someone from the outside isn’t the way to go. A coach worth his salt isn’t going to leave his own program this late anyway.”