Mac Engel

Baylor’s consideration to reinstate Briles would be catastrophic

Multiple reports say the Baylor Board of Regents is considering bringing back Art Briles after a one-year suspension.
Multiple reports say the Baylor Board of Regents is considering bringing back Art Briles after a one-year suspension. AP

As my mother would say, the Baptists “have gummed this up for a fare you well.”

Translation: Baylor University continues to rewrite the record book on embarrassingly inept, dysfunctional leadership.

For the past week, it has been rumored that several powerful Baylor donors were irate with the Baylor Board of Regents’ decision to suspend “with intent to terminate” football coach Art Briles. The anger of those powerful donors came with the tacit threat that they would pull money if the school proceeded with Briles’ dismissal, which many feel is unnecessary.

According to a report by Chip Brown of Horns Digest, the pressure worked and the Baylor board was scheduled to take a vote Monday to reinstate Briles after a one-year suspension. Both in theory and in practice, this one sounds like a giant bag of manure.

As preposterous as this sounds, one source confirmed that a vote would indeed take place. KWTX in Waco is reporting that it will occur, and that a preliminary vote on this issue was “very close.” Others have denied that a vote would occur, or that “any action would take place,” per Dan Wolken of USA Today.

One prominent Baylor alum, who previously had been a member of the board, told me, “We can’t go down that road.”

It looks as if this was a road Baylor never intended to actually pursue. In an interview with Star-Telegram partner WFAA, Baylor interim president David Garland told Mike Leslie that the Monday 6 p.m. conference call with the board was scheduled for a different reason.

He said the Briles’ news “caught him off guard,” but that “a lot of fans love what coach did on the football field, and you can understand that,” Garland told Leslie. “But other factors have to be taken into consideration.”

Garland intimated the school will not be releasing the full findings of the Pepper Hamilton report as well.

As upset as some Baylor fans and powerful boosters are over losing their successful football coach, no one in leadership could think this is a wise decision. To reinstate Briles after a one-year suspension would be unprecedented and create an even more unflattering image for the school and its handling of this situation than already exists.

To even consider this, Baylor would create a new standard of myopic hypocrisy, and extend a rape scandal that this school can’t end quickly enough.

It’s one thing for your head coach to be associated with grade fixing, paying players or players who beat up other male students. It’s quite another for your highest-paid employee to have been the head coach during a rape scandal.

Last week Garland released an extensive list of new initiatives and named a task force to respond to on-campus sexual assault. There were a total of 105 recommendations from the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, which conducted the near 10-month investigation of the school, to improve Baylor’s “prevention and response to sexual violence.”

Despite considerable outrage from Baylor fans, which include some wealthy boosters, I am only about 45,000 percent sure that bringing back the coach who is the face, fair or not, of a rape scandal is not going to help the image of “prevention and response to sexual violence.”

However, “suspended with intent to terminate” is not a firing. It does create the slightest of avenues for a Briles’ reinstatement. Why Baylor chose not to immediately fire Briles was more about reaching a contract settlement; in November of 2013, Baylor was scared that the University of Texas would grab their favorite coach, so BU gave Briles a 10-year extension that pays him about $4 million per season though 2023.

Baylor is going to have to pay Briles a lot of money to go away, even if there is cause. And then there is the matter of lawsuits from victims of sexual assault, which one source said the school fears could be around $100 million.

There are Briles defenders who believe he has been scapegoated in this rape scandal by the board of regents. The defenders claim that the university failed to have adequate Title IX protocol and procedures in place to handle the type of sexual assault claims that were levied against members of the Baylor football team.

Per the partial release of the investigative report by Pepper Hamilton, that claim is true. The school put too much on Briles and his staff to handle these claims.

To Briles’ many loyal defenders, that exonerates his level of culpability in this ordeal. It does — to a degree.

What is equally true, per that report, is that members of Briles’ coaching staff interviewed some of the victims and coerced them from coming forward.

The entire staff should have been fired for that alone. As a parent, if I found out that my daughter was assaulted by a member of a football team and a football coach interviewed her rather than a proper authority ... nuclear would be an adequate response.

Per the “finding of facts” from Pepper Hamilton, “findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.”

As justifiably upset as former Baylor president Ken Starr, Briles and his supporters are at the board, that independent claim is not at Baylor’s 35 regents. That claim is at the football team, its head coach, its staff and an enabling athletic department.

As a successful head football coach at a Big 12 school, Briles had the power to dismiss any of his players at any time. For any reason.

No matter the threat, no matter the volume, no matter how badly Baylor and its board of regents have screwed this up, there is no way they can merely suspend Art Briles for one season and look anything other than horrendous on this.

To reverse this would be catastrophic for the entire university, which is why the initial decisions were made — it’s about the entire school and not just the football team.

Briles should be allowed to return to coaching again, but the normal timeline for this is to leave the public light for about a year and surface at a different location — not the same place.

However you cut it, no one looks good in this and, as my mother would say, the Baptists “have gummed this up for a fare you well.”

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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