Former Baylor football coach Art Briles, now the incoming head football coach at Mount Vernon High School in East Texas, finally broke his silence since his return to the United States in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. In the process, he defended himself, dismissed critics who point a finger at him for Baylor’s sexual assault issues, and insisted his return to high school football in Texas comes from a desire to coach … and that alone.
“I just want to coach football,” Briles told the Chronicle. “That’s all I’m concerned with. It’s all I’ve ever done. I just want to coach football. It doesn’t matter what level.
“Football is football, and as far as what I want to accomplish, there’s really nothing there other than getting back on the field and working with coaches and players.”
There has never been a question about Briles’ talent with a clipboard. He built up a reputation as an offensive mastermind at Stephenville (Texas) High School before leading Houston and then Baylor. It was with the Bears that he gained national renown, leading Baylor to BCS bowl games and watching star quarterback Robert Griffin III win a Heisman Trophy and stars like receiver Josh Gordon earn early round selections in the NFL Draft.
Yet while Baylor’s on-field performance was in the midst of a mercurial rise, it’s reputation off it rapidly unraveled after a string of sexual assault allegations was uncovered. Investigators determined that Briles’ program had not only failed to report some allegations of sexual assault, but actively tried to cover them up.
The findings of that investigation led to Briles’ dismissal, though he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He spent two years out of football before returning to coach a team in Italy this spring, then was offered the position at Texas Class 3A Mount Vernon and quickly accepted.
Briles’ most dogged defense of his role in Baylor’s sexual assault cases is grounded in a letter he received from Baylor general counsel Chris Holmes, who said the school knew of no incidents where Briles were made directly aware of a potential crime which he then attempted to not report or cover up.
“I know me. People know me,” Briles told the Chronicle. “That’s all I can do. I can’t control people’s opinions. I’ve never been in a position that I am going to try to change people’s opinions. How you do it is how you live and the type of person that you are, and that is what I believe in and what I always have done. I certainly will stand on that ground.”
Now, that ground is closer than it has been in two years to a return to competitive football in the U.S. From there, it’s up to Briles and his critics to respond.