Sports

Briles’ best shot at returning is to take an assistant job at Southern Mississippi

Art Briles may never coach a game in Florence, Italy, as he is currently in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to potentially become the offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi.

Sources said a job offer has not been made to Briles, who accepted the position as head coach of an American football team in Florence, Italy last August. That season in Italy does not begin until later in the spring, and his contract easily allows him to leave.

Although his aspiration is to be a college head coach again, an offer to be a Southern Miss assistant coach is going to be about as good as he’s going to get for now.

Monday’s news of Briles being at Southern Miss smells of a program that is floating this out to measure the public’s reaction, or, more specifically, its anger.

Briles was fired by Baylor in May of 2016 after several of his players were accused of sexual assault.

An interview with Southern Miss is the clearest indication to date that the ongoing NCAA investigation of Baylor’s football program, and Briles, is headed in such a way that the former head coach will not be penalized.

Sources said both Baylor and Briles have formally submitted a response to the NCAA’s notice of allegations, which were made last fall. That process has more layers to it, and any punishment is not expected to be announced until after the academic year ends in May.

Coincidentally, the interview comes on the same day the Chronicle of Higher Education published a lengthy interview with Baylor president Linda Livingstone who said, “If you look at the actual changes that have taken place on campus, the vast majority of them were not related to the athletic department. Clearly the university understood that this was a much broader issue.”

If Briles is hired, the reaction to this announcement will be swift and strident; those who are convinced he is “Coach Rape” will maintain their stance regardless of whatever information is available, or has been published. Briles’ detractors will never go away, and both he and Southern Miss must accept that reality.

The vast majority of society will move on and, if Southern Miss is successful under he and head coach Jay Hopson, some of the noise will fade.

If USM wins, Briles will likely be offered a head coaching job after the ‘19 season. Whatever university will hire him will not have had to endure the PR hit that Southern Miss will.

USM is a good spot for Briles, 63, to re-enter the major football coaching ranks. The school is located in a nice, quaint community, and the team plays in the non-Power 5 world of Conference USA.

Since Briles was fired by Baylor, other schools have broached the topic of hiring him, either as the head coach or a coordinator. Every time word leaked that a university, or a team in Canada, was considering Briles, the social media reaction was so loud he was dropped.

Sources said a pair of Texas Tech regents quietly inquired about hiring Briles after the school fired Kliff Kingsbury late last year. The reaction was no; Tech hired Matt Wells from Utah State.

Sources indicated Briles was hopeful to be hired by Liberty University last year, when head coach Turner Gill abruptly resigned to be with his wife who is in poor health. Liberty’s athletic director is former Baylor AD Ian McCaw.

McCaw instead hired former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who had to resign from that job in July of ‘17 for “personal misconduct” violations; the school was also deep into an NCAA investigation, which resulted in a one-year postseason ban.

Freeze was a better candidate for the simple fact he had made himself available to the public, and both explained and apologized for his involvement in the events that led to his resignation.

Liberty’s hiring of Freeze was still roundly criticized and, predictably, the noise has since faded and replaced by our latest outrage du jour.

Other than two interviews, one with me and another with the Baylor Line Foundation magazine in Sept., Briles has mostly been silent, and reticent to explain his side of what happened in his tenure at Baylor.

Those close to Briles have maintained he must tell his side of the events that led to his firing in attempt to change the public perception of him that believes he allowed young men who had sexual assault charges levied against them to play.

Sources said that his buyout agreement, which was over $18 million, includes provisions that do not allow him to talk about Baylor in a negative light without the threat of penalty.

The two other men in leadership positions at Baylor who resigned and accepted buyouts in ‘16 - McCaw and president Ken Starr - both agreed to what roughly amounts to “no comment” policies regarding Baylor. Both men have said little about their respective exists from the school.

McCaw made blistering comments towards the university and members of the school’s board of regents, but under oath as part of the many Jane Doe cases that are currently open against the school.

Baylor, however, made bold statements and effectively blamed the football program for what since has been exposed as a major university-wide failure in terms of its handling of sexual assault claims.

Since his firing, Briles’ entire staff moved on and all eventually landed jobs elsewhere. Baylor’s new AD, Mack Rhoades, personally vouched for the staff, nearly all of whom remained with the team for the 2016 season.

Most notably, Houston hired Briles’ son, Kendal, to be its offensive coordinator in Jan. of ‘16 after extreme vetting by the school. Kendal Briles is now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida State.

Since May of ‘16, Briles’ reputation has been toxic, despite Baylor writing a letter essentially exonerating him for his involvement in the ordeal.

Sources said he never thought he would go this long between coaching jobs, and he did not accurately assess the damage that had been done to his reputation.

This partly explains why he is currently a head football coach in Italy, and hoping to be an offensive coordinator in Conference USA.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
Support my work with a digital subscription
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
  Comments