News of Art Briles’ hiring, then subsequent resignation at Grambling State has confounded many around the nation, particularly in Big 12 country. I share that consternation, and as I mulled the reality of Briles’ return to college football over, I found myself contemplating Baylor’s football program and its history in the Big 12.
Big 12 football was a lot different when the league was formed in 1996. Oklahoma was floundering, arguably the best programs in the league were Nebraska, Kansas State, and Colorado, and KU was nothing like the perennial cellar dweller it is today.
For more than the first decade of Big 12 football, Baylor was the worst program in the conference. From 1996 to 2007, the season before Briles took over, Baylor went 35-101 overall and 10-85 in the Big 12.
Let me put that conference record another way: in the first twelve seasons of Big 12 conference play, Baylor won just ten Big 12 games (0.83 conference wins per season).
Baylor wasn’t just bad before Briles arrived, it was KU bad.
Briles, and his prize recruit, QB Robert Griffin, III (RG3), changed that. Despite the precipitous fall when the horrific allegations against Briles’ program came to light, Baylor is what it is today largely due to what Briles accomplished.
Briles made Baylor fans believe.
That isn’t to take a thing away from what Matt Rhule and Dave Aranda did to rebuild and take the program to ever greater heights, but it was Briles who turned Baylor into a killer after years and years at the bottom of the food chain.
The fact that Rhule and Aranda combined to right the ship in the wake of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal is certainly to their credit and the credit of Athletic Director Mack Rhoades. But their success was built on what Briles had already accomplished while their triumphs at Baylor, at least in part, involve overcoming what Briles’ scandal did to the program.
Briles made Baylor football a winner and then embroiled it in a disgusting situation that preyed on college women and nearly tore the program to the ground – that would have torn it to the ground if not for two back-to-back homerun coaching hires by Rhoades.
Briles’ short-lived hire at Grambling State resulted in considerable national backlash, but the news was probably taken the hardest by Big 12 fans, many of whom do not believe that Baylor and Briles have suffered enough for the sexual assault scandal that resulted in Briles’ dismissal and resignations of University President Ken Starr, Athletic Director Ian McCraw, and Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford.
No one in the Big 12 can control what Grambling State does or doesn’t do. However, Baylor has controlled what it can control since the scandal, and no one can deny that Rhoades has done as good of a job as Baylor’s AD as anyone in the nation.
Briles is not the coach at Baylor, Dave Aranda is. No one who played for Briles plays for Baylor now. Whether the Big 12, the NCAA, or anyone else handled Baylor’s situation and punishment correctly, Baylor has handled its business correctly since then, and that is why Baylor managed to avoid losing everything it had built during Briles’ tenure.
It is fair to ask why the scandal hasn’t set the clock back on Baylor’s football program to the days it was winning 0.83 conference games a season. However, it is unfair to not realize that the answer to that question is hard work, a hunger to do things the right way, and a bearish refusal to let go of success.
I’m not saying that Grambling State made a good decision by hiring Briles, and I’m certainly not saying that Big 12 fans should let bygones be bygones when it comes to sexual assault. I’m saying that it is time to acknowledge Briles’ stain on Big 12 history while giving people like Aranda and Rhoades the credit they deserve for persevering in taking their predecessors’ wreck and making it better than it was before.