There’s no doubt that Art Briles can coach as he turned around the fortunes of both the Houston Cougars and Baylor Bears during his respective tenures as the head football coach of both schools, but at what cost? In eight years at Baylor, Briles was 65-37 which included leading the Bears to their first Big 12 Conference Title in 2013. Briles also sent players such as quarterback Robert Griffin and wide receiver Corey Coleman to the National Football League. And when Griffin won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player in 2011, it helped Briles to get a foot hold on recruiting the top high school football players in the talent rich state of Texas. But in the race to win games, Briles took chances on players with character issues which would ultimately be his undoing at Baylor.
Last spring Baylor decided to fire Briles amid the sexual assault scandal that had engulfed their football team. Several reports of Baylor players being involved in rape and other acts of sexual misconduct came to light. And in the reports it was noted that school officials knew of the issues and attempted to cover it up.
Since Baylor fired Briles, he has maintained his innocence. Briles went on to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Baylor which led to a settlement between both parties. Briles is looking to get back into coaching as some boosters at Baylor wanted him back. Baylor would ultimately settle on hiring former Temple Owls head football coach matt Rhule to lead their program. But for the 61-year old Briles, it will be very difficult for an athletic director at another school to open the doors at his/her campus for him.
Sexual assault and domestic violence are two crimes that have been put on the back burner in our society for too long. In many instances the victims of these crimes have been made to feel as if they were wrong for reporting it when they are simply seeking help. And after Briles failed to create an environment where this behavior would not be tolerated, it’s tough to get him another chance.
On April 30, 2012, Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliot was arrested on multiple chargers of illegal sexual conduct with a female on the campus. And in January 2014, Elliot was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he was convicted on two counts of sexual assault. In 2014, Briles opened the doors at Baylor for former Boise State Broncos defensive end Sam Ukwuachu. Ukwuachu would player one season for Baylor before he was indicted for sexually assaulting a female soccer player at the school. Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault in August 2015 and would serve six months in a non-prison detention facility while also receiving 10 years probation.
After Ukwuachu’s conviction, it became public knowledge that he had a history of violence towards women during his time at Boise State. After this there would be a back and forth between Briles and former Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen. Petersen initially claimed to not know of any issues with Ukwuachu during his time at Boise State, but he would later change his story, while also claiming to have informed Briles. But either way Baylor ended up with a player in Ukwuachu that brought baggage with him to Waco, and left a huge stain on the football program’s reputation upon leaving.
After defensive end Shawn Oakman was dismissed from the Penn State Nittany Lions football program in 2011, he would find refuge at Baylor. Former Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien would dismiss Oakman after an incident at a campus store with a female employee who was attempting to prevent him from stealing a sandwich. The female employee would attempt to confiscate Oakman’s student card, but she was grabbed by the wrist by Oakman. Oakman would then leave the store without taking anything, but the incident was enough for O’Brien to show him the door.
In 2013 while at Baylor, Oakman was arrested for allegedly physically assaulting a woman. But this incident would fly under Briles’ radar and in 2014, Oakman would have 11 sacks as he was named a Third-team All-American. Some scouts projected Oakman as a first-round pick heading into the 2016 National Football League Draft. But things changed drastically for Oakman on April 13, 2016 when he was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman at his off-campus apartment. Oakman would later be indicted for the most recent incident and in the process, the NFL bypassed him with the quickness.
Prior the Oakman indictment, Baylor would hire the law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate sexual improprieties within their football program. And as the law firm went to work, it became public that some of the top administrators within Baylor such as school president Ken Starr and Briles knew of the issues, but they failed to act properly on it. And as Briles was let go by the school, Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw were among several administrators, or coaches who would either resign or get fired.
The fallout has continued with reports of gang rapes along with numerous other incidents of sexual incidents. The NCAA has yet to drop the hammer on Baylor for this lack of institutional control, but at some point they must levy sanctions towards the Texas school in the mode that they did against Penn State in 2012 in response to the scandal that involved their former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
And with that schools also need to stay away from Briles as hiring him even as an assistant coach would be a public relations nightmare. As a head coach of a college football team, you cannot be around your players for every moment of the day. But you do have the opportunity to govern accordingly when your players get out of line. Briles and Baylor chose to take the road where they swept things under the rug as long as they were winning games on Saturdays, while also filling up the seats at McLane Stadium. The NCAA has dropped the hammer on people and institutions for much less than what Briles and Baylor have done, and he should not be allowed to put on a headset on a college sideline anytime soon.