A brash Texan with a bold approach, Art Briles made Baylor football relevant after years of wallowing in the basement of the Big 12 Conference.
The Bears became one of college football’s cool teams under Briles, winning league titles and earning lofty rankings with one of the most exciting and prolific offenses in the history of the sport. The new, $250 million stadium on the banks of the Brazos River doesn’t have Briles’ name on it but there is no one more responsible for its existence.
That era is over.
Everything Briles accomplished has been tarnished and it would be surprising if he ever becomes the head coach of a big-time program again.
Briles is on his way out at Baylor after the Waco, Texas, school released details Thursday of a sweeping investigation into allegations that the football program and school leaders failed to take action after complaints of sexual assault and violence by players.
Baylor regents said the 60-year-old Briles had been suspended “with the intent to terminate according to contractual procedures” – an extraordinary and rare decision in a sport where coaches often survive scandals. Briles has eight years left on a 10-year contract that runs through 2023 and paid him $4 million per year.
The Bears went 65-37 in eight seasons under Briles and won two Big 12 titles. In Waco and among Baylor fans, Briles was revered like Bear Bryant was at Alabama and Bo Schembechler was at Michigan. He was a savior.
Baylor booster Mike Holman, 61, said he is very disappointed in Briles but added that the regents made the right choice.
“Very sad day and a very sad situation,” Holman said.
As a coach, Briles made a name for himself by pushing limits and conventions on the field. He climbed the ranks as a high school coach in Texas and became known for innovative spread offenses that played fast and aggressive. After winning state championships at Stephenville High School he got a shot as an assistant at Texas Tech and after just three years he was named the head coach at Houston. He took over in Waco in 2008 and has been the face of Baylor football ever since – never shy about sticking up for the Bears.
When Baylor was left out of college football’s first playoff – passed over for Ohio State and forced to share a conference title with a TCU team it had beaten – Briles lobbied loudly for his program in that deep Texas drawl. He went after Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby for the league’s lack of a tiebreaker and called out the playoff selection committee, suggesting there weren’t enough folks from Texas on it.
But the program had become insulated to a fault, according to the investigation by the Pepper Hamilton law firm. It said football coaches hindered investigations while dealing on their own with accusers and parents of accusers, and failed to provide information to university officials. Football coaches at Baylor doled out insufficient discipline and shielded players from the punishments that would have been handed out to other students, the report said.
“The football program failed to identify and maintain controls over known risks, and unreasonably accepted known risks,” the Pepper Hamilton report stated.
Baylor and Briles could also face NCAA discipline for some of the actions outlined in the report. NCAA punishment alone could make Briles untouchable for another school, though the scathing report is likely enough to cripple a career that has been ascending for more than two decades.
Will he ever be hired again by a major program?
“The likelihood is no,” said Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA and Washington coach and current CBS analyst. “And hate to say that. It’s just a very difficult thing for another university to bring Art in even though he’s had tremendous success on the field of play with the baggage that’s associated with this.”
Calls and text messages to Briles and his son and offensive coordinator, Kendal, were not immediately returned.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III became a Heisman Trophy winner under Briles in 2011 and the Bears won the Big 12 championship in 2013 before sharing it with TCU in 2014.
But to rebuild a Baylor program that had not had so much as a .500 season in the 12 years before he arrived, Briles had to find and develop talent that other powerhouse teams had passed on.
Briles took in some players with troubled pasts, like defensive end Shawn Oakman, who had been dismissed from Penn State before becoming an all-conference performer for some of the Bears’ best teams. Oakman is currently facing a rape charge from an incident that occurred in Waco after he left school.
The transfer of Sam Ukwuachu looked like a similar move. The defensive end had been dismissed from the team at Boise State before coming to Baylor, but never played for the Bears. Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a former Baylor soccer player last year, and from there more stories were reported by ESPN and other media about allegations of violence by Baylor football players that were seemingly never dealt with.
Players took to social media Thursday to praise Briles.
“Only reason I’m here today is Coach B. Took a chance on a skinny ass kid wit barely any offers but had had faith in me and I did it 4 him!!” senior safety Orion Stewart tweeted.
The next coach at Baylor will inherit a far better football program than Briles did, but the glory days will never be looked at the same way again.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins and Samantha Pell contributed to this report.