Photo: Tony Gutierrez, STF
Art Briles was hired as Baylor’s football coach on November 28, 2007. He led the Bears to national prominence as the head coach. He also was in charge of the team during one of the most egregious sex scandals on a college campus. Briles was let go on May 26, 2015.
Last week, Baylor met TCU on the football field for an in-confrence game. The game was scheduled to be a “green-out” for the fans, but the Baylor team would be wearing all black. WR Chris Platt tweeted “This black out means more than just the uniform to us. #truthdontlie”. The hashtag, along with #CAB, are both pro-Briles hashtags and Platt quickly made his account private and posted a response, claiming the tweet was not in support of Briles. Fast forward to tailgate time, where a group of fans were selling black t-shirts outside the stadium with the aforementioned #CAB on the front. Again, the game was intended as a green-out for fans.
So how did we get here? Why is a man, who at best covered up sexual assault by his players, still revered by so many Baylor faithful? Because, football.
When Briles was hired, he was taking over a program in shambles. Guy Morriss was the most recent coach, but from 1996-2007, 4 different coaches led Baylor to an overall record of 35-101, 11-85 in conference play. The program was a wreck, and Briles had experience reviving the previously dormant Houston program. Baylor was in big boy football though, and in the most high pressure state for the sport at that. Competing against the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, an up-and-coming TCU team, and even other outside threats such as the SEC West division for recruits would be a very tall task for a team that had never had a reputation for strong football.
Briles was up to the task though. After two 4-8 seasons, Briles led the Bears to a 7-6 season with sophomore Robert Griffin III at quarterback. Briles never had another season below 8-5. All of this success came at a cost however. A moral cost. Because of Baylor’s position in the pecking order for Texas football, Briles had to take chances on players with questionable backgrounds to fill his roster with talent. It was the decision that ultimately cost him his job and possibly his career.
On June 25, 2015, Baylor DE Sam Ukwuachu was indicted on two counts of sexual assault. The problem is no one outside the Baylor program knew until August 17th, when it was reported. Ukwuachu was released from the Boise State football program in 2013 for a similar incident, of which Briles was aware. On August 21st, Ukwuachu was found guilty on the charges. In September, an external investigation was started by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton into the program. In January, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported multiple instances in which Baylor “either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual assault”. On April 13, 2016, former DE Shawn Oakman was arrested on charges of sexual assault, but the victim declined to press charges and Oakman was not disciplined by the university. The Baylor Board of Regents received their full report from Pepper Hamilton on May 13th, and on May 26th, Baylor suspended Briles with the plan to terminate him.
All of this is to say that Briles knew what was going on, actively attempted to cover it up with help from the Waco Police Department and is all around kind of a disgusting human being.
So why do the fans, including thousands of women, still support him and want him back with the program? Football. In Texas, football is king. It is the biggest moneymaker at almost every college in the country, and for a fanbase starving for quality football, they want more. Briles gave them a piece of the good life. Baylor had started to out-recruit Texas and TCU on some players in Texas, and Briles system was one that catered to an entertaining style of football to watch. He brought prominence to a small town in Texas and national attention (as well as a Heisman trophy) to an area that had never dreamed they would be there just 8 years ago.
I’m not excusing the defense of Briles by any means. I’m explaining it. The demigod culture in sports, particularly in college sports, turns coaches into something beyond the university, beyond the team and sometimes beyond the rules. If Briles had disciplined these players, I think he loses maybe a few more games over the 8 years, but he is still the coach of Baylor and still revered in Waco. Coaches would do well to take note of what Briles did to his career when choosing to take these kinds of players on their teams.