DALLAS (AP) — Baylor quarterback Seth Russell was on a mission trip in Brazil with other athletes from the private Baptist school when he got the text message from Art Briles saying he was no longer their football coach.
“Felt like I was helpless, like a lot of people felt,” Russell said Tuesday at Big 12 football media days.
Russell described it as a “punch in the gut” when hearing what came out in the wake of Briles’ departure after winning two Big 12 titles at the school.
An independent review by the Pepper Hamilton law firm found that football coaches and staff interfered with investigations into sexual assault complaints against players, and even impeded potential criminal proceedings. The firm released a 13-page report May 26, the same day Briles was immediately suspended before reaching a mutual agreement with the school for his departure about a month later.
“Personally, I was heartbroken, I was very surprised,” senior center Kyle Fuller said. “I wasn’t aware of all the things that were going on. I didn’t know exactly how to react to it.”
But Fuller and Russell both said the Bears, down to about 70 scholarship players, are focused on staying together as a team and moving forward with acting coach Jim Grobe and the assistant coaches who remained.
“We all got together and we talked about it, saw who was in and who was out,” Fuller said. “I was confident and I was very happy with the guys that were committed to getting to this next year. So that’s all we’re going to focus on: getting through this season, being a Big 12 championship team.”
Grobe said he is coaching a “great, great group of kids” and has been impressed by how they have handled the adversity. And he won’t change how the Bears play on the field after leading the nation in total offense and scoring each of the past three seasons.
“I’m an old West Virginia hillbilly, and we got that feeling if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Grobe said. “So from strictly a football perspective, I think we want to continue to play fast and furious on offense.”
Russell, the top-rated FBS passer when he suffered a season-ending neck injury in the seventh game last season, was among players who had lunch with Briles last week.
“We’re family, he brought in, he gave me the opportunity to play the game,” Russell said. “I know that he’s a great character guy and he just got caught in the wrong situation.”
While Baylor players were meeting with the media, interim university president David Garland and two members of the board of regents met with the Big 12 board of directors for two hours. Oklahoma President David Boren and Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said they wanted to be filled in on the investigation and what measures Baylor is taking in response.
“The details provided today are a necessary step in helping the entire membership gain a better understanding of the past actions and how the university plans to deal with all the issues identified in the Pepper Hamilton findings,” Boren said in a statement. “We were assured of the university’s commitment to keep the conference appraised going forward.”
Some other things from the end of Big 12 media days.
STRONG KNOWS: In his opening statement, Texas coach Charlie Strong immediately talked about the Longhorns having to “elevate this program” this season. They were 5-7 last year, even with wins over Oklahoma and Texas, after going 6-7 in Strong’s debut in 2014.
“The expectations here are always high, which they should be, and why would you want it any other way,” Strong said. “There is no reason for us to go 6-7 and 5-7, and you want to see progress.”
NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Bob Stoops is going into his 18th season at Oklahoma and is barely the longest-tenured FBS coach after Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer retired. The Sooners hired Stoops the day before Iowa hired current coach Kirk Ferentz.
When asked Tuesday how long he planned to keep coaching, the 55-year-old Stoops said he is excited as he was his for his first season as the Sooners’ head coach, and hopefully will go 10 more years or so. But he doesn’t plan to stay as long as Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, who is 76.
“I don’t think I will be one of those guys, God bless him, like Coach Snyder, I’m not going that long,” Stoops said. “But I sure can go to retirement age.”
STEDMAN BACK AT WVU: Stedman Bailey left West Virginia early for the NFL. The three-year pro is now back on campus to finish his undergraduate degree and work as a student assistant coach this fall for coach Dana Holgorsen.
Bailey is still not cleared medically to play again after getting shot twice in the head while sitting in a car with family in November back home in Miami. The Los Angeles Rams placed him on the reserve non-football injury list, though the 25-year-old with high hopes of playing again was working this summer in a support role with Rams’ assistant coaches in charge of receivers and special teams.
“We worked pretty closely with the Rams to figure out what’s in his best interest right now,” Holgorsen said. “The No. 1 step for that is to get his undergraduate degree. … I’m anticipating him being able to take a couple of young receivers and showing them technique stuff and kind of doing what he did with the Rams a little bit, just get his feet wet with coaching.”
Bailey had 210 catches for 3,218 yards and 41 touchdowns for the Mountaineers from 2010-12.
DEFENDING WILDCATS: Four Kansas State defenders were named to the preseason All-Big 12 team selected by the media: linemen Will Geary and Jordan Wells, linebacker Elijah Lee and defensive back Dante Barnett. That’s not all that impresses Snyder about them.
“I like the fact that they’re good, young people,” Snyder said. “I like the fact that they are valued young people in terms of having an intrinsic value system that allows them to be productive leaders, and obviously leadership is important in our program as it is any other program.”