Mac Engel

Baylor, listen to influential booster Drayton McLane

Drayton McLane was tough as the owner of the Houston Astros and tough when he was the chairman of the board of regents at Baylor.
Drayton McLane was tough as the owner of the Houston Astros and tough when he was the chairman of the board of regents at Baylor. The Associated Press

This column space was reserved for the latest on the Dallas Cowboys, but when a member of the Baylor of Board of Regents is standing there with the guy whose last name is on the exterior of the football stadium at Baylor University things change.

Current Baylor board of regents member Joel Allison and Drayton McLane, who is a regent emeritus and is as influential as any Baylor booster alive, both attended the Cowboys’ announcement Wednesday afternoon of their new partnership with Baylor Scott & White to build a healthcare facility next to the team’s new headquarters.

If anybody would know if suspended head football coach Art Briles may actually return, it’s the former owner of the Houston Astros for who McLane Stadium is named.

“Whatever the decision, [the Baylor board of regents] need to do something quickly. It just seems in limbo right now,” McLane said.

Neither McLane nor Allison would (could?) confirm that Art Briles is officially out as the team’s football coach.

“I just want to say I’m a Baylor graduate and it’s a great university and it will continue to be a great university,” Allison said. “We care about our students and we care about our people. But any comments have to go through our board chairman. That is what we have been asked to do.”

The school leadership has effectively slapped duct tape across everybody’s mouth, including interim President David Garland. But no one at Baylor is going to shut up Drayton McLane, who during a five-minute interview with a few of us hacks was gracious while he conveyed not knowing details.

McLane is right — Baylor just needs to announce that Briles will eventually return from his suspension, or say that the two sides are working toward a buyout. All indications are that Baylor is doing just that, and what is left is to agree on a settlement.

Since nothing has been announced from either side, no one is certain and it has enhanced the perception that Coach Briles may one day again patrol the sideline at McLane Stadium. Personally, I don’t think that is happening but until it does there is that small chance.

In speaking briefly with Allison and more with McLane it looks more like the school is moving forward and will try to put this ordeal behind it.

McLane acknowledged that there are influential members who want Briles back, but he said he is not aware of anything beyond that.

“That’s a decision the board has to make and we are trying to support the board,” he said. “At this point, it’s still in limbo. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment.”

We will have to agree to disagree on that.

McLane said he has spoken to Briles “two or three times” since he was “suspended with intent to terminate” on May 26. He said he has not spoken with Briles in a few days.

McLane characterized the conversations as short, but that Briles was “upbeat. Trying to be upbeat. He wants to solve the problem,” he said.

I asked McLane, 78, who previously served as the chairman of the board of regents, what he thought the school needs to do to move forward.

“Strong leadership. I think since they don’t have a president they just need to get a very, very strong president that knows all of the issues of higher education,” McLane said. “We have to remember, it’s not a sports team, it’s a university of higher Christian education. So [the new president] needs to understand that and the complexities of sports and all of the other issues. And we need a very strong athletic director.”

In reference to former President Ken Starr’s claim that the school needs to release the Pepper Hamilton report, which has now reached the status of the Warren Commission, McLane was noncommittal.

“He knew of the report. I don’t know of the report. I have not seen it,” he said. “I don’t know what decision they need to make. It’s very complex.”

On Wednesday, KCEN in Waco reported that three additional victims have filed Title IX lawsuits against Baylor; the alleged assaults, which include one member of the Baylor football team, range from 2004 to 2014.

McLane was in charge of the board when the men’s basketball program went through the Dave Bliss scandal in 2003 and 2004; in that case, the president, head coach and athletic director were all fired. McLane also owned the Houston Astros and immediately acted in cases of assault.

In 2003, Astros shortstop Julio Lugo was accused of hitting his wife twice. McLane cut Lugo the next day, and ate his $1.575 million salary. Lugo was acquitted three months later.

“In that [Lugo] case we saw two players who saw him do what he did,” McLane said. “So there was evidence.”

In 2008, Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon hit team general manager Ed Wade in the team clubhouse. McLane cut him immediately.

“Five players saw that happen,” he said. “We had substantial evidence. I was able to take action because of that.”

I asked him of all the criticisms that he has heard of Baylor throughout this saga that is nearly one year old, which one stung the worst.

He did not pause and said, “That we didn’t learn from [2003 and 2004].”

Maybe they did and the new leaders in charge simply forgot, or never learned. Whatever the case, they need to listen to Drayton McLane and get moving on this.

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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