Since being ousted as the head football coach at Baylor in late May, a move that was first couched as a “suspension with intent to terminate,” which then became an official termination the following month with a multimillion-dollar settlement on his contract, Art Briles had been largely off the grid, speaking only in necessary soundbites through attorneys’ statements in which he vowed that he’s not the monster the recent spate of sexual assaults by players in his football program makes him out to be.
So when Briles popped up at a Torchy’s Tacos in Waco a couple of Wednesdays ago, enjoying a casual lunch with a few of his former players and some family members, it was time to hear from the 60-year-old former head coach, thought reporter Stephen Adams of KCEN-TV. Adams waited for Briles outside the restaurant, and, as Briles walked to his white pickup truck to leave, Adams approached him on camera.
Briles was friendly enough, flashing that charming Southern smile and proclaiming how much he loved being back in Waco, but he wasn’t answering questions. “Did you deserve to be fired?” Adams asked. Briles scurried to get into his truck.
“Did you deserve to be fired?” Adams repeated, and again, silence from Briles, as he started the engine. Just as Briles was about to slam the driver’s side door shut, Adams changed up his questioning: “Coach, anything about your future plans?” Adams asked, squeezing in his query just before Briles’s door slammed shut.
Briles cracked the door back open and willingly volunteered, “Yeah, I’m gonna coach again.” Briles then confidently — almost as if he had a gig already lined up — clarified that his return to coaching would be in 2017, although he drove off before answering whether he would coach in college or the pros.
That Briles, in that brief snippet, is so confident of his regaining employment probably speaks to a combination of the necessary bravado needed to succeed at the level he did at Baylor, of all places, and the sad truth that some school, in its cutthroat desperation to win football games, will probably hire him again someday.
And should the day come that a university with female students on its campus hires Art Briles as its head football coach, that school and its leadership should have holy hell rained down upon them, because Art Briles should never, ever be employed again as a college football coach.
If Briles sees this stance as unfair, he can blame the manner in which his former employer chose to investigate and report the subsequent findings into the litany of sexual assault complaints involving Baylor football players that went uninvestigated and unpunished for the past four years. It leaves us no choice but to assume Briles willfully ignored, or at least tolerated, an epidemic of rape and assault allegations, some of which led to convictions, against players in his football program.
The school employed a law firm, Pepper Hamilton, that’s as well versed as any in Title IX investigations, having done extensive work in that realm recently for several other colleges. However, rather than having Pepper Hamilton document all of its findings in a written report, Baylor’s leaders chose to have the firm convey to them verbally what the firm had discovered, and then Baylor released a flimsy 13-page report on the findings, a telltale indicator of an institution preparing to shield itself from future lawsuits.
To be clear, the flimsiness in the school’s summary was not in the general details revealed. Those were horrifying, as the report outlined just how poorly the school and its football program had handled these rapes, and specifically categorized the football program as being “above the rules.” The flimsiness was in the fact that the report contained nary a proper name identifying the perpetrators within the faculty and football program. Not one actual name in the report, just general mentions of “staff members.”
Baylor’s report outlined a complete failure in the area of Title IX compliance, and an environment in which sexual assaults went unreported and unpunished. Even worse, it detailed a system that completely failed the alleged victims, with faculty members and football staff discouraging those women from reporting the crimes against them. It even revealed that the school retaliated against one of the victims.
If you’re a parent of any of these victims — hell, if you’re just a parent of girls — the report read like a personal nightmare. But again, it contained no names of who was truly responsible. When it comes to the football program, all we know is this — Art Briles was fired, and all of his assistants remain employed.
In his time as head coach at Baylor, Briles took a program that had been a punching bag for most of its existence and turned it into a college powerhouse, which averaged ten wins per season the last five years and won two Big XII titles. This football success led to unprecedented levels of fund-raising, which subsidized construction of a new football stadium and several other plush athletic facilities. As an on-field and on-the-balance-sheet entity, Baylor athletics became the gold standard.
In other words, it would be nearly impossible for Briles to have been better at his job of coaching football. He may be the best football coach in the country, which makes his failings in this even more obvious, because if there were any opening to keep Briles, the school presumably would have done so. Hell, several regents reportedly tried to do just that even after the initial announcement of his “suspension with intent to terminate.” The fact that Briles was indeed terminated and that the public is left with just the school’s vague report leaves us to assume that, while Briles succeeded mightily as a football coach and fund-raiser, he failed miserably as a human being.
A school’s first responsibility, above all else, is to protect the welfare of its students. Parents pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their children to be educated and protected to the best of that school’s ability. Baylor’s mission statement includes the proclamation that woven into its education is a “Christian commitment within a caring community.” In a section of its educational overview titled “Caring Faculty,” the school says it seeks faculty members who “care about every student.”
Art Briles was the head football coach, by definition a faculty member, and he failed in the area of “caring” in the worst way possible — he oversaw a football program that minimized rape victims, which is the literal polar opposite of a “caring community.”
Already you can hear the greasing of the skids from a combination of Briles’s apologists and alums of schools that will be in the market to sell their souls for some wins in the fall of 2017. They contend that Briles “isn’t a bad guy,” and “time heals all wounds,” both of which may be true, but that doesn’t mean Briles should get the privilege — yes, privilege — of coaching college football again.
This Baylor ordeal was not Jim Tressel’s lying about knowledge of some free tattoos for his players at Ohio State, nor was it Steve Sarkisian’s showing up drunk at a USC alumni event or football practice. Art Briles and members of his staff (some of whom may still be employed at Baylor; chew on that for a minute) told rape victims that they, the victims, were the problem. Sure, those may not have been their exact words to those victims, but their actions said precisely that.
To that end, perhaps when it comes time to hire Briles, if his next potential employer is looking for references, that school can talk to Jasmin Hernandez. She was the victim of a rape by former Baylor linebacker Tevin Elliott, who was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison. Or perhaps they would want to speak with Stefanie Mundhenk, whose blog outlines in excruciating, chilling detail just how callously she was treated by the school’s Title IX department after she accused a Baylor football player of raping her. Or maybe they can call Dolores Lozano, who claims that in 2014 she was beaten and slammed into a car by her former boyfriend, then-Baylor running back Devin Chafin, and was allegedly rebuffed time and again while trying to tell Chafin’s position coach, running backs coach Jeff Lebby (who happens to be Briles’s son-in-law), exactly what happened.
While they’re at it, they can find out what exactly Briles’s line of thinking was in bringing in defensive end Sam Ukwuachu on transfer after he was kicked out of Boise State in May 2013 for punching out a window during a fight with his girlfriend, who would later testify he punched her in the face. Both Boise State and Ukwuachu claim Briles knew all about the troubled player’s past when he green-lighted his admittance to Baylor. Ukwuachu would eventually wind up in prison for raping a Baylor women’s soccer player five months after he arrived on campus.
The rape-minimizing culture of the football program for which Art Briles was the caretaker at Baylor put an entire campus of women in harm’s way. Hiring Briles to coach your college football team next season, or any season, says you, as an administrator, a leader or a parent, are okay with that.
And if that’s the case, then you may as well have your school’s webmaster delete every mention of “caring communities” and “protecting student welfare” in your college’s mission statement, Just replace the entire mission statement page with a picture of a college football playoff trophy, and hope you can sleep at night, because you just told every female student on your campus where she falls in the pecking order — right behind football Saturdays.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanCablinasian or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.