In one of his more famous quips during his tenure as head coach of the New York Jets, Herm Edwards deadpanned a reporter by informing him, “You play to win the game. You don’t play to just play it.” For many coaches, that pressure is all too real — they are hired just to get fired, as the cliche goes. In college football, that pressure is further compounded as coaches have to answer at least in part to athletic departments and alumni who are always in a “win now” mindset.
Though this is not necessarily unique to college football, the importance and prestige bestowed upon a school’s football team can have real human consequences. No school has felt that cost over the course of the offseason more than Baylor, a private Christian university in Texas that, for the better part of its history, had little on-field success.
Then along came Head Coach Art Briles.
In 2010, Briles produced the program’s first winning season since 1995. In 2011 he helped create a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III, and led the team to its first bowl win since 1992.
As Baylor began to pile up wins through its high-powered offense, rumors started to circulate about members of the Baylor football team committing sexual assaults on Baylor students. One victim sent Briles and the athletic department an email with the subject line “I was raped at Baylor” and received no reply.
In a damning report released over the summer, it was determined that Briles and other members of the coaching staff were informed of the allegations and responded in the worst way: They did nothing. Wins became more important than the accusations of sexual assault, and for that, Briles, who was fired at the end of May, should never be given another coaching position in college football or anywhere else.
Last Saturday, during its marquee pregame show “College Gameday,” ESPN aired part of an interview it conducted with Briles and his words essentially confirmed why no school or professional organization should ever pay him to coach football.
After he was read some words by one of the victims, Briles noted that “People may doubt what you say but they’ll believe what you do.” This is particularly ironic because Briles did nothing to stop future assaults from happening and actively ignored written testimonials from victims seeking recourse and assistance. Briles then proceeded to note how he “hates the way she [the victim] feels about him.”
In context this makes sense: Art Briles only cares about Art Briles and how people view Art Briles.
Briles is culpable not only because he was the head coach of the team that was deemed a failure by independent investigations, but also because he actively recruited men with histories of violence to play for his team.
An ESPN Outside the Lines investigation reported at least three players with histories of violence against women — one is serving a 20-year prison sentence and another is awaiting trial. The Baylor football program has not enforced any team-related discipline upon them. Another Outside the Lines report in May 2016 noted that other players were accused of violent actions and few, if any, received internal discipline.
Like most sports fans and people, I believe in second chances, but those second chances do not necessarily have to include football, even for athletes.
However, if you knowingly recruit a man who has a history of violence and sexual misconduct and give him the shield of a football helmet that seems to act as immunity from criminal or campus discipline, you are knowingly and deliberately accepting a risk that other students’ welfare and safety could be jeopardized.
That is what Briles is guilty of more than anything.
Each and every accusation deserves a full and independent investigation because Baylor has shown itself incapable of properly supporting victims. Any player found guilty should immediately be referred to the criminal justice system because there is never an excuse for committing a crime.
In the interview that aired Saturday, Briles still struggled to explain why he was fired even though he somewhat acknowledged he felt partially responsible for what happened. This is a start, but there was nothing in that interview or any subsequent statements to suggest that Briles feels a genuine concern for the actual victims of assault given the rampant injustices that Baylor football and the university as a whole perpetuated.
In perhaps his final flabbergasting act, Briles was seen this summer on the sidelines of several NFL training camps, rumored to be attempting to rehabilitate his image and job hunting even though he reportedly received a settlement of over $10 million after his firing earlier this year.
With all of the problems the NFL has had over the past several years with violence and sexual assault, the last thing it, or any other football team needs, is Art Briles.
Michael Ippolito is a senior in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Friday.
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