When Mount Vernon officially announced disgraced former Baylor football coach Art Briles as its next head coach it set off a national reaction. Nearly every response to the hire was ascerbic, marrying the taint around Briles with a perceived lack of moral standing in Mount Vernon for giving him a second chance.
Yet that’s far from the opinion in Mount Vernon itself, as chronicled in this excellent ESPN piece by Dave Wilson. From the Dairy Bar to the Dairy Queen, all across the town there’s a perceived excitement about the football future for Mount Vernon (Texas) High School, even if some have serious misgivings about giving a second chance to a man who allegedly covered up a series of sexual assaults.
So how are Mount Vernon officials justifying the hiring of Briles? Here’s a statement from Mount Vernon Independent School District superintendent Jason McCullough, the man who oversaw the school board vote that confirmed Briles’ hiring.
“During our due diligence process, we found the problems at Baylor University to be systemic, university-wide, and well beyond the scope of any one program or department,” he said. “While that does not in itself excuse any one individual, we did find it notable that Coach Briles expressed remorse over the systemic shortcomings at Baylor, including his program’s part in them, and his desire to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Minimizing Briles’ culpability (and make no mistake, that’s what McCullough is doing there) based on the larger culture of Baylor’s athletic superstructure is some trick of mental gymnastics. Others in town who spoke to Wilson said they were fine with the Briles’ hire because it provides him with a second chance, and an opportunity to right a perceived wrong.
While there is no question about Briles’ pedigree, it’s understandable to wonder about his fit mentoring even younger, more impressionable men than the ones he oversaw at Baylor. And while most in town allegedly agree that Briles’ talent and backstory justify taking a calculated risk in hiring him — “In a little town like Mount Vernon, most people feel the same way about everything,” 79-year-old former state legislator Tom Ramsay, whose four children went to Baylor, told ESPN — that hardly means the sentiment is universal.
“Everyone is afraid to say anything because they’re going to be ostracized or their businesses aren’t going to be supported,” Mount Vernon native Lauren Lewis told ESPN. “It feels like a horrible message to be sending to our youth.”
Now, the hometown of legendary Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith will wrestle with accommodating talent and success at the potential cost of moral high ground.