There was an immediate and intense reaction to Monday’s news that former Baylor head coach Art Briles was interviewing for the offensive coordinator position at Southern Miss.
While many USM fans expressed support for hiring the 63-year-old with hopes that he could turn the Golden Eagles into an offensive juggernaut, others were adamantly against it.
Baylor fired Briles in 2016 amid a probe into allegations of sexual assault by his players.
The school acknowledged 17 women had reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players, including four alleged gang rapes. A 2017 lawsuit alleged 31 players committed 52 acts of rape, and that the school had a “show ‘em a good time” policy that “used sex to sell” the football program to recruits.
An independent investigation found that Briles’ staff members failed to report allegations to the proper authorities.
Briles interviewed with USM head coach Jay Hopson in Hattiesburg on Monday and was introduced to players as he toured the Duff Athletic Center that afternoon, the Sun Herald has learned.
National media and football fans across the country were overwhelmingly critical of the move after news of the interview broke Monday morning.
Among Southern Miss alumni, the reaction was mixed as fans took to social media to express their opinions on Briles.
One poll on the GoldenEaglePride.com message board has fans voting 87 percent in favor of hiring Briles. Other USM fans have put their faith in Hopson to make the right call.
“I trust Coach Hopson to make a good decision here,” said Jim Warren, a 1984 graduate of USM. “I do have concerns, however, as I don’t completely understand Coach Briles’ role and the status of the various investigations. We will need a clear statement on all this if the hire is made.”
If Southern Miss is willing to give Briles a second chance, there’s no denying that allegations against his Baylor football program will continue to follow him throughout his career.
Other findings from the independent investigation commissioned by Baylor include:
▪ When Baylor dismissed players for unspecified violations, the coaches helped those players transfer to other schools and created “dangerous environments” elsewhere.
▪ The football staff worked hard to handle disciplinary matters within the program to “actively divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes” in violation of Title IX rules.
▪ The program did not do background checks or request records on any disciplinary actions for transfers from their previous school.
The NCAA conducted its own investigation and submitted a formal notice of allegations against Baylor, according an October report by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. The report says that Briles is among those who committed NCAA infractions
However, former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told CBSsports.com last week that he believes Briles will be “largely exonerated” and will be given a chance to again be a head coach. “As more information comes out on the Baylor scandal, they’re going to find out [Briles] was scapegoated for a much larger campus wide problem and the failings were in the police department and across campus which is what I know to be the case.”
Briles received a $15.1 million contract settlement from Baylor after he threatened to sue the school for wrongful termination, according to a report by the Dallas Morning News.
In August, Briles issued a lengthy list of denials in response to a Title IX lawsuit brought by former Baylor student Delores Lazano, who claims the university failed to take proper Title IX action when she reported a member of the football team allegedly assaulted her in 2014.
Baylor took the step of countering Briles in a statement: “Just as when he was coach, he again attempts to skirt responsibility for actions of the football program that he led, the players he recruited and coached, the coaches he managed the loose discipline he championed.”
When Briles was trying to land a job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League in 2017, he helped his case by providing a letter from Baylor that seemed to all but clear him of wrongdoing, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The letter ended with, “We wish you the very best in your future endeavours.”
Briles was hired as an offensive assistant by the CFL squad, but dismissed soon after following a stream of criticism for the move.
Briles spent two decades coaching on the high school level and was the head coach at Stephenville (Texas) High School from 1988-99 before he landed a job as the running backs coach at Texas Tech, where he worked for three years.
In 2003, Houston hired Briles as its head coach and he instantly installed one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. The Cougars were 34-28 under his watch and made four bowl games.
Baylor hired Briles in 2008 and had a pair of four-win campaigns before running off six consecutive winning seasons. His last five years at the Waco, Texas, school featured four seasons of at least 10 wins and two Big 12 championships.