WACO, Texas — It’s like Art Briles never left Baylor.
No, not that way. We’re talking about the successful opening of another season — what should be a fairly minor subject considering what’s gone on here the past few months.
Yes, the Baylor scandal still hangs heavy in the air. But so did the smell of smoked meat outside McLane Stadium on Friday night.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Bears fan Hobby Howell said hunched over a grill. “Would you like a rib?”
From there, off went Baylor blasting Northwestern State in the season opener seemingly without a care, definitely without its leader, Briles, who built a top 10 program out of rubble.
“The only adjustment,” Bears running back Shock Linwood said following the 55-7 clobbering of an FCS opponent, “was the head coach.”
In the snapshot that is the last three-plus months, it turns out that wasn’t a significant hurdle. Briles was fired in late May following the release of results from a damning investigation that concluded there was at least a lax response to sexual assault allegations by female students.
Choices made by Baylor’s athletics leadership and football staff, the report said specifically, “in some instances posed a risk to campus safety.”
That campus could not have been giddier Friday as McLane, The House That Art Built, began its transition to The House That Art Left Behind.
“I can play without a head coach,” Linwood added. “I mean, it’s football.”
If it were only that simple. Any mention of the joy of football here for the foreseeable future must be tempered by proper respect for the victims. Two former Baylor players are serving jail sentences after being convicted of sexual assault.
The scandal cost president Kenneth Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw their jobs. At least three Title IX lawsuits have been filed against the school by alleged victims.
One junior student was asked if she felt safe walking across campus. “I prefer not to comment on that,” she said.
“I think we’re able to recognize the football program does not define what our school is,” she added. “Baylor is still an academic institution. The athletic department doesn’t change the value of our degrees, doesn’t change the quality of our education.”
The student wouldn’t give her name or confirm the name of her sorority.
“The actions of a couple of boys doesn’t determine the whole team and it doesn’t determine the whole school,” said Shannon Foy, a female student from Bakersfield, California. “We were obviously upset about it. That was kind of hurtful to put it on the whole school. We’re wanting to put it in our past.”
Foy, a junior, said she felt safe on campus and chose Baylor because, “You never find a school that’s this big with this good of a Christian foundation.”
Faith in the Baptist flagship has not wavered where it counts. The school just enrolled its second-largest freshman class. There was a 98.2 percent renewal rate on 28,000 season tickets. All 9,500 student tickets went quickly.
Trust me, media were on the lookout for any protests by effected parties outside McLane Stadium regarding the scandal. There were none.
New athletic director Mack Rhoades made a huge statement when he left Missouri — with its own set problems — to come here in July.
The school is well on its way to adopting all 105 recommendations made for change in that Pepper Hamilton report following the sexual assault investigation.
“We have an opportunity to be leaders in this space,” Rhoades said, “dealing with sexual assault.”
Everyone involved probably longs for the good, old days when the worst gripe about Baylor was its Charmin-soft schedule. After roaming the McLane concourse, it was clear they’d all prefer the episode be over and done. Of course, it isn’t and won’t be for a while.
The NCAA hasn’t decided — at least publicly — whether to investigate the school. There seems to be room to do so through the traditional enforcement route.
Any accused players allowed to practice or play theoretically would be accepting extra benefits if they didn’t go through the school’s disciplinary process just like all students.
“It was a cluster — the whole scenario,” said 50-something Baylor alum Bob Drury shortly before kickoff.
“Briles never had a chance to rebut. None of the coaches had a chance to rebut. I guarantee most all of the alumni feel like there’s a lot we don’t know. … Somebody came in, threw together a report, threw it on the board and, man, it all blew up.
“What does [Nick] Saban say? ‘We take care of it in-house.'”
This scandal is being played out in public with varying degrees of transparency. Neither Baylor nor Pepper Hamilton have revealed the names of football staff members who may have been involved. Two low-level off-field football administrators were fired.
Acting coach Jim Grobe then kept the entire staff intact after taking over in May.
“It was refreshing, honestly, to get to football,” he said. “I wanted to see how we reacted as a team.”
On the field, they reacted as is if Briles was still pulling the strings. There were plenty of points, plenty of yards and a plenty good beatdown of another outmanned opponent.
“It felt like Baylor,” quarterback Seth Russell said. “That’s the way it was. We have all the same coaches, minus one. We’re going to have a great one replace him.”
Grobe is probably only a stopgap until a permanent coach can be found next season. He knows that. The team knows that. Grobe has been out of coaching a couple of years. The Bears rewarded him Friday with the most points ever scored by one of his teams in his 20-year career.
Is it too soon to say Baylor football is going to be fun again?
“When I first got here, I thought there was a lot of doubt,” Grobe said. “The kids were in doubt, [the] coaches, too. I started feeling more like a coach after a while.”
Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Art’s son, carries on the family name, and frankly, the keys to Baylor’s football success. The Bears put up almost 500 yards featuring the same up-tempo, spread, attacking style set in place by his father.
As a tribute, 33-year-old Kendal took the field with his dad’s initials scrawled on one hand.
“Kendal is special,” Grobe said. “To think about him losing Art as his head coach … it had to be tougher on Kendal than anybody. He’s on fire to coach these guys. I had no problems with that whatever. If you don’t love your dad, something’s wrong.”
If it wasn’t for the blanket indictment of all the assistants from the report, Kendal Briles might be one of the hottest assistants in the country. Maybe he still is.
Art Briles says he wants to coach again — soon. Right now, only the NFL seems to be an option given the current state of affairs. But a source confirmed Briles has retained super agent Jimmy Sexton, perhaps paving the way for a return to college.
“Art brought belief back here,” said Mark Petersen, past president of the Baylor Bear Foundation booster organization. “We can attract another great coach here. I think he’s a good person; I think like a lot of people got blindsided by some things.
“This wasn’t just a football problem, this was a university problem. Tell me what major university campus doesn’t have these issues somewhere. It just got exposed, and we didn’t deal with it at a time when we needed to deal with it.”
Source: CBS Sports / Baylor turns back to football, and strangely, everything feels the same