ESPN has gotten away from what made them great.
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.
Since 2008, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been the premier team in college football as they’ve claimed four national championships while steamrolling over the competition in the process. After the Tide went 6-6 in their first year under head football coach Nick Saban in 2007, they’ve managed to go 112-13 since then while only producing one three-loss campaign. Saban has built a dynasty at Alabama which is not easy to do in this day with parity, but they are the team that college football fans love to hate.
And what has set Alabama apart from the other football programs is that they shine the best in the big games which included going 4-0 in national championship games heading into the 2016 college football season. The Tide won the national championship last year and after entering this past season ranked as the top team in the land, they were looking to become the first squad since the USC Trojans to go wire-to-wire in order to repeat as national champions.
Alabama was able to accept the challenge as they mowed down the competition in the Southeastern Conference and when the regular season was over, they were the only undefeated team in the nation. The Tide would easily defeat the Florida Gators 54-16 in the SEC Championship Game which sent them to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year. And after the Crimson Tide made short work of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl, it was back to the title game for them.
The team that had the indubious pleasure of watching Alabama claim the championship trophy last January were the Clemson Tigers. In nine years under head football coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has become a national power which has seen them win three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships and defeat national recognized teams such as the Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers. During the 2015 college football season Clemson was the feel good story as they were the underdog for the majority of their games. And even in defeat to Alabama, they held their own as they lost 45-40.
But whereas the close loss to Alabama might have broken the spirits of some teams, Clemson used it as fuel to their fire as led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson and senior linebacker Ben Boulware, they took all of the body blows that they could absorb during the regular season which included getting by the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference 19-13 on the road to start the campaign. And when Atlantic Coast Conference play began, Clemson was pushed to the limit by teams such as the Louisville Cardinals, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and Florida State Seminoles. Clemson did slip up once during the season as they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers 43-42 on November 12. But after the loss to Pittsburgh, Clemson would rebound to win their remaining games which included defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies in the ACC Championship Game which sent them back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive year.
And just like the previous season, the Tigers would head to the College Football Playoff as heavy underdogs. Clemson would meet the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl who were looking to win their second national title in the last three years. But for the second time in the last four seasons, Clemson got the best of Ohio State in a bowl game. However this time was in dominating fashion as the Buckeyes were taken behind the woodshed 31-0 which paved the way for Clemson to have a rematch with the Tide after they easily dispatched of the Washington Huskies in the Peach Bowl 24-7.
The scene was changing from last year’s battle between these two teams which took place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. And having the game in Tampa provided more of a buzz for both of these schools which are located in the Southeast; especially for Clemson who had more fans in attendance for Monday night’s championship tilt.
As always there was plenty of anticipation and excitement leading up to the kickoff as one thing was for sure was that the Tigers would not be afraid of intimidated of Alabama when they met them. But when Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after a pair of pulverizing touchdown runs from sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough, it appeared to be a familiar tune as the Crimson Tide were ready beat the brakes off of another opponent.
But we forgot to measure the heart of Clemson as they clawed back into the game. And even after the Tigers were trailing 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, they had Alabama right where they wanted them.
Swinney never wavered from his offensive game plan which called for the Tigers to go uptempo. Clemson wasn’t making substitutions which meant that neither could Alabama as the top-ranked defense in the land was beginning to run out of gas.
Clemson ran 99 plays on offense as they possessed the football for nearly 35 minutes of game time. And when the fourth quarter rolled around, Watson channeled his inner Vince Young as he baffled the Alabama defense, while seeing his stock rise for the 2017 National Football League Draft in the process.
The Tide didn’t have an answer for Watson who led Clemson on three, fourth quarter touchdown drives, and when Scarbrough suffered a broken leg in the second half, he took the Alabama offense to the sideline with him as well.
With just six seconds left in regulation and Clemson traling 31-28 with the football at the Alabama two-yard line, Swinney had a choice as he could get conservative by going for the game-tying field goal, or throwing caution to the wind and becoming a legend in the Palmetto State. Swinney opted to win the game as a field goal would have killed all of Clemson’s momentum heading into overtime. And with just one second left, Watson found sophomore wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in the end zone to give the Tigers their first national championship since 1981. But as much as Clemson’s victory over Alabama will be celebrated throughout the State of South Carolina from now until the cows come home, their victory was huge for the overall landscape of college football.
The Tide have been the team over the last decade and although that they have suffered losses against other marquee programs such as Oklahoma and Ohio State, they’ve never lost in the national championship game; especially when they were presented with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. Along with Saban’s time as the head football coach at LSU, he was 5-0 in title games before Monday night as he always knew how to push the right buttons. But Saban was done in by a head coach in Swinney that not only had seen his act, but also had the personnel in which he could slay the dragon.
College football may be seeking parity for its game, but in the three years of the College Football Playoff, Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have all made multiple trips to the field of four with each program claiming the trophy once, while the top seed entering the tournament has never claimed the title which is good for the game.
But as Alabama left Raymond James Stadium on Monday night watching purple and orange confetti rain down, they’ll once again be set for another title push as Saban continues to recruit and develop talent that will be playing in the National Football League in the very near future. However on Monday when Clemson won the title, they won it not only for themselves, but for all of those people who were told they weren’t good enough to accomplish a goal.
When Dabo Swinney was named as the interim head football coach of the Clemson Tigers in 2008, nobody knew what to expect as he appeared to be a stop-gap guy. But under Swinney, Clemson would go 4-2 down the stretch which included them beating their in-state rivals in the South Carolina Gamecocks which led to him getting the job on a full-time basis. By 2009, Swinney would have the Tigers in the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game for the first time in school history which gave him some traction. But when the Tigers went 6-7 in 2010, Swinney appeared to be on the hot seat. However Clemson’s decision to stick with Swinney has been extremely beneficial for everyone involved as the program has gone to new heights.
In 2011, Swinney would lead Clemson to their first Atlantic Coast Conference Championship since 1991. And although that Clemson’s season didn’t finish on a positive note as they were blown out by the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl 70-33, they were headed in the right direction. Since then Clemson has won at least 10 games in each season while they’ve defeated some of the nation’s elite programs such as that of the LSU Tigers of the Southeastern Conference and the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference. The last two years have seen Clemson win the ACC, while also having a spot in the College Football Playoff.
In 2015, Clemson had their moment in the spotlight which saw them as the top-ranked team for the majority of the season. The Tigers set a school record by winning 14 games and they played for their first national championship since 1981. But unfortunately for Swinney and the Tigers, the Alabama Crimson Tide were too much for them in the title game. But instead of sulking after the 45-40 loss to Alabama, the Tigers set out to take their experience from 2015 and improve on it.
With quarterback Deshaun Watson returning for his junior season, the Tigers began the 2016 college football season ranked second in the Associated Press Poll, and unlike 2015, they wouldn’t be able to sneak up on anyone.
Clemson took everyone’s best punch this year which included losing by a point at home to the Pittsburgh Panthers on November 12, while also having close calls against the Auburn Tigers, Troy Trojans, Louisville Cardinals, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and Florida State Seminoles. And after Clemson survived a fierce battle with the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, they were headed for the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year.
Just like last year’s Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, along with the title game versus Alabama, Clemson would be the underdog when they took the field against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl which was one of the national semifinals. The Buckeyes were national champions in 2015, and aside from winning the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2016 college football season, they were led by a head football coach in Urban Meyer that has won three national titles.
Clemson would begin the contest with Watson throwing an interception on their first drive. But Clemson’s defense would shut down one of the best offenses in the nation, while Watson and the Tigers offense would navigate through a defense that was expected to give the Heisman Trophy finalist fits. And when it was all said and done, Clemson defeated Ohio State 31-0 and they would be heading back to the title game as they won at a place in University of Phoenix Stadium that saw them denied a national title last January.
So now Clemson is headed back to the title game and they’ll be facing a familiar foe in Alabama. The only things that have changed heading into the title game are that this year it will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, while Alabama will be the designated home team. Clemson is still the underdog as Alabama is led by head football coach Nick Saban who has won five national titles and is one of the most revered minds that college football has ever seen.
On the other hand there is Swinney who is originally from Birmingham, Alabama and played for the Tide on their national championship team in 1992 as he is once again looking to lead Clemson to college football’s holy grail. Swinney was initially a walk-on at Alabama before earning a scholarship and just as he had to earn his stripes at ‘Bama, the same can be said about his coaching career at Clemson. Swinney has never been afraid to slay the giant as most of the Tigers recent success within the Atlantic Coast Conference has come at the expense of the Seminoles who dominated the conference for nearly two decades. And that lack of fear will once again be on display this Monday night when the Tigers clash with the Tide.
America has been long known as a country where people get second chances and after being so close to toppling Alabama last January, Clemson and Swinney will get another chance to forever etch their names into college football lore.