Mac Engel

Exclusive: Former Baylor defensive coordinator recounts the rape scandal

Phil Bennett is 62 and currently relaxing on his back porch by the pool.

He wants to talk. He’s wanted to do this for years.

For the record, Phil Bennett, did you or any member of the Baylor coaching staff deliberately try to suppress or hide allegations of sexual assault against members of the football program?

“Never. Never. Never. I would have led the charge. Never,” he said.

This has been the insinuation for years is that you all knew and covered it up.

“Never. If I had heard about it, trust me ... no,” he said. “My integrity, and I could say this when I was 29, my integrity was more important than any job I ever had.”

The former defensive coordinator at Baylor under Art Briles was the one member of Briles’ staff to land a Power 5 coaching position after all of the members left the program following the 2016 season. He was hired by Arizona State.

The man he wants to see hired now is Briles, who remains unemployed and lives on Horseshoe Bay near Austin.

“Every night I say a prayer for him because, without question, I think he deserves to (coach again),” Bennett said.

Bennett, who is taking a year away from coaching after he had surgeries to repair a few problems, was vetted by ASU, but no member of that Baylor staff has given an extensive interview about the events that led to the departures of Baylor President Ken Starr, athletic director Ian McCaw and Briles.

This is the first time any member of that staff has talked publicly about the “Baylor football rape scandal.”

Bennett spoke for more than an hour on a variety of subjects.

OF SAM UKWUACHU

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Former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu leaves the 10th Court of Appeals following arguments in Waco, Texas, on March 1, 2017. Texas’ highest criminal appeals court has reinstated the 2015 sexual assault conviction of Ukwuachu, whose case ignited a scandal that engulfed the nation’s largest Baptist school. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said June 6, 2018, that a lower court erred by overturning the conviction of Ukwuachu based on text messages between the victim and a friend that had not been allowed in trial. Jerry Larson Waco Tribune Herald via AP File

In the early fall of 2015, Texas Monthly published a story that essentially started the downfall of the Baylor football program. The story detailed how the school handled the addition of Boise State transfer defensive end Sam Ukwuachu.

In June 2014, Ukwuachu was indicted on two counts of sexual assault of a Baylor student athlete. That fall, Ukwuachu would sit out the NCAA mandatory one-year period for transfers.

Included in that TM report was an anecdote that Bennett told a group of Baylor fans in a June ‘15 gathering for the Baylor Sports Network that Ukwuachu was expected to play that fall. At the time, Ukwuachu was scheduled to stand trial for allegedly raping a member of the Baylor women’s soccer team.

Why did you make that comment?

“It was at Joe T. Garcia’s (in Fort Worth). I was asked about it. I never mentioned it until I was asked. I would do a rundown of the defensive players (for the audience). I would say, ‘At left defensive end, we have so and so.’ I never said his name. Someone asked me, ‘What about Sam?’ I said, ‘We expect him back.’ We didn’t go into personnel or anything. He had just been cleared by our judicial affairs, who said, ‘We think this is going to be cleared.’ “

Who told you he would be clear?

“Sam told me. He took out a $5,000 loan to pay for his own lie detector test. And (the staff) was told that he gave (Baylor chief judicial officer) Bethany McCraw all the facts. We were told he would be clear. How do you end up getting convicted and six months’ probation?”

In August 2015, Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years of felony probation by a Waco jury. A Waco district judge added 400 hours of community service to the sentence. The jury originally recommended eight years in prison, but the sentence was to be probated. The judge added 180 days in jail as a term of his probation.

In March, the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco ruled that Ukwuachu deserves a new trial based on text messages that were not included in the original trial. As of June 30, 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to review the state’s appeal of the reversal by the lower court.

How did the staff handle it when Texas Monthly published the story about Ukwuachu?

“We were committed and we knew more about the situation than anybody else. Art would say, ‘(athletic director Ian McCaw) says, “Stick with due process ‘til it’s done.” ’ (Ukwuachu’s) roommate was there (during the alleged attack). And, at the same time, you said it yourself: How do you know? You can’t live with that if you’re wrong. It was not our job to do it, and we were going on what we were told.

“If we had had (Title IX coordinator) Patty Crawford (who was hired in November ‘14) in place, this all would have been out of our hands and they would have handled it. Art would have survived. We all would have survived. I go back to Sam’s deal; the sensationalism and the lies that he played. He never played. He never set foot in the weight room or the locker room. I’ve said this from the get-go: This was a systematic problem. Baylor never wanted Title IX in the first place.”

High-ranking Baylor officials have said that Starr was fundamentally against Title IX because he felt it was not legal.

Reached by phone, Starr said, “That is patently and demonstrably untrue.”

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More testimony in the Jane Doe Title IX case against Baylor University now includes a member of the school’s board of regents who said the school initially voted to retain President Ken Starr, pictured here, as well as football coach Art Briles in May of 2016. L.M. Otero AP File

OF PEPPER HAMILTON

In September 2015, Starr announced that Baylor had hired the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton to conduct an independent internal investigation of the school’s Title IX policies and procedures regarding sexual assault claims.

The firm sent a pair of investigators to Baylor who spent more than a year on campus conducting various interviews. The investigators presented their findings to the Baylor Board of Regents in the spring of 2016, which eventually led to the firing of Briles and several changes at the school.

How was your interview with Pepper Hamilton?

“It was somewhere in January or February after our bowl game. I told (staffers) it was a fraud set up from the get-go. I wanted to bring a lawyer in and to record it. I wanted protection. They would not talk to us if we did. They didn’t have a recording of it, either. That’s what bothered me. I was in there for 4 1/2 hours. They wrote notes. I wrote notes. They looked at mine. I looked at theirs. (The two investigators) were so out of touch with the structure of college football, it was comical.

“They said, ‘Did you all try to circumvent the rules from the on-campus people?’ (The investigator) would say, ‘What would you do if a guy was late to practice?’ I said we have punishment running; up at 5 a.m. She said, ‘Did you tell the student affairs people?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They said, ‘We should have if we had our strength and conditioning coach running people for misbehaving in study hall.’ I laughed. I said, ‘We are bringing these kids in and we take great pride in keeping them within the lines of university procedures. That’s our jobs. We are not getting the normal student.’ I wanted to be as real as I could with them. We are trying to teach these kids how to be in college and how to react in situations. She says, ‘Judicial Affairs should have known.’ As soon as she said that, I knew this was over.”

Is it true one of the investigators asked a coach why the team has so many black players?

“It was me. We had been talking about (defensive end) Shawn Oakman. They asked about a situation. They thought we just got Shawn (who was a transfer from Penn State). I knew Shawn because I recruited him when I was at Pittsburgh. I knew his situation (before college in Philadelphia). It was tough. One of the investigators said her husband is a Philly cop and knows the area and I get up (for a break) and the woman says, ‘Y’all seem to have a lot of black players.’ I looked at her and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’

“She says, ‘I don’t mean ...’ and that was the end of it. Later on it comes that how do your black players fit in on campus life at Baylor? As it went on, I asked one of them, ‘Do you realize you have not asked me about a single white player?’ It was too many questions (about race) and it was almost that I got the feeling you should have thought about bringing them in before you brought them here. I was not going to explain to them how or why we recruited.”

When did you know that you were all in trouble?

“When I had the interview with Pepper Hamilton. I knew it was a fraud. I told Art that. I told Ian, ‘They don’t know what they don’t know.’ .... I don’t care about perception. We made our kids go to class. We were No. 1 or No. 2 in graduation; you can’t be a rogue program and do that.”

Do you think they were looking for a reason to fire you?

“Yes. I remember when this all started, my wife told me, ‘This is the sort of thing that gets you fired.’ I don’t know if this was true, but I was told by a member of the board that Art was never the objective. They were looking to fire Ken Starr. But Starr lawyered up. And the next on the pole was Briles.”

Starr responded to this, saying, “The last part is totally wrong; I did have a lawyer, (but) he did not involve himself until after the board made the decision with respect to firing me.”

OF ART BRILES

OF BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

IN HINDSIGHT, AND MOVING FORWARD

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Former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett Bill Wippert AP

BAYLOR’S RESPONSE

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A Baylor football helmet is pictured from Big 12 Media Days at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, on July 16, 2018. Jordan Ray Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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