Art Briles did the savvy PR thing by verbally accepting responsibility without saying why or what for.
“The captain goes down with the ship,” the former Baylor coach told ESPN’s College GameDay during an interview that was first telecast Saturday morning.
If that sounds familiar it’s because it is verbatim what Ken Starr said when he resigned as the school’s chancellor.
So who exactly was the captain of the S.S. Baylor Bear Flop?
Starr was captain of the school, and Briles was captain of the football team.
Now more than three months removed from the dismissals of Briles, Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw hindsight says the Baylor board of regents indeed acted out of fear. It acted hastily, and it also acted accurately.
The fundamental problem at Baylor is that no one accepted direct responsibility for the handling of the rapes committed by members of the football team, and who knows how many others among the student population that went unreported for years.
Everybody was too busy saying “I’m sorry” while not accepting responsibility and blaming the other person for the failure.
The core of Baylor University is not a great football team, which is essentially a fun marketing toy, but rather the ideals and principles of the Baptist church on which the school was founded. In the end, that was more important than the football team.
Starr, Briles and so many others whose names we do not know failed to adhere to those principles; firing Briles, Starr and the rest was completely justified and the correct decision.
You can’t be Baylor and espouse the type of leadership Briles, Starr and so many others displayed.
In a clear and obvious attempt to begin the process of lobbying to become a head coach again at a major college program, Briles did his first extensive interview since he was fired at Baylor in late May. Not surprisingly, Briles chose to interview with the same network that exposed a great deal of the problems at Baylor that led to his firing.
Credit ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi for asking difficult questions, and Briles for agreeing to answer them even if with the ulterior motives. He has more money than he can count, and he did not have to do this.
These are always no-win interviews. There is nothing he can say that will satiate the angry people who cast him as the face of the Baylor rape scandal: that he knew and did nothing. The interview failed to regain for him his credibility in this matter because that is impossible; what it achieved was that he’s not hiding, and he verbally accepts some blame.
“I feel responsibility. I do. The players are part of our program and are representative of our program,” he told ESPN. “When they do wrong, it reflects on me and the university. So I feel responsibility.”
To say anything more than “I’m sorry” and “I made mistakes,” which he did, would expose himself in a potential legal situation that he prefers to avoid. It’s a vague and non-specific lollipop; Art had been clearly coached up since his first, impromptu meetings with the media at the training camps of the Cowboys and Texans.
The only part of the interview where Briles appeared stung was when he referenced the names of his late mother and father. Normally a stoic man, Briles was uncharacteristically emotional and the weight of the perception of letting down his parents bothered him.
Throughout this whole saga, it’s apparent that it never occurred to Briles he would be fired.
The thinking was that this problem was merely an example of an overzealous media, and that it was the university who failed the victims rather than him. That some off-the-field transgressions at Baylor under his watch is the price of doing business in big-time college football. That what happened is not that much different than Kansas, Tennessee, Florida State or anyplace else.
And that attitude may be correct, but Briles, Starr and Baylor have only themselves to blame for how it chose to handle this fiasco. It’s a private school, and the Department of Education never intervened.
There remains a large faction of Baylor supporters who are irate at the school’s decision to fire Briles, thinking that he was made a scapegoat by the regents in an effort to cover their own incompetence.
That stance was buttressed Wednesday when KWTX in Waco aired a report that cited sources within the athletic department that said the investigation by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton was flawed.
Baylor remains quiet about this because it wants this to go away, and so far no legal force has made the school come forward with the types of details that would expose details it wants hidden.
The report quoted Baylor sources anonymously and Briles’ lawyer. The crux of the complaint is the investigators didn’t do enough, or do their jobs well.
That is the theme of this entire sad story. No one did enough. No one did their job well. Not the board, not a number of employees, not Starr and not Briles.
And as a university that is founded on Baptist principles, somebody somewhere in the dysfunctional and self-important hierarchy at Baylor decided those ideals were more important than the football team.
Briles may be sorry, and you may question the sincerity of his compassion and his hurt, but in the end he had to go.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.