Silent Assassin: Briles’ departure a natural career move
Houston Athletics Director Dave Maggard should have seen Wednesday’s development coming from the moment Houston defeated Southern Miss in last season’s Conference USA Championship Game.
If not then, Maggard should have seen the future after Minnesota contacted Art Briles about its then-vacant head-coaching job in early January, nearly a month after the now-former coach received a new five-year contract to remain with the Cougars.
The word was out that Briles, who also interviewed for the then-vacant Iowa State head job in late November 2006, was an attractive option for bigger programs needing a jump-start. That meant those programs would continue to call, and would do so with big-time checkbooks.
This time, Baylor came calling with its checkbook and the allure of better recruits, adequate facilities, a larger fan base and the opportunity to coach in the Big 12.
And Briles would not send the Bears away empty-handed.
Briles flew to Dallas to meet with Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw on Tuesday, and the following morning Baylor offered a seven-year deal worth approximately $1.8 million per year.
Briles did what any up-and-coming coach in his position would do. He took the money and ran.
Of course, if you believe Briles, the Baylor job had nothing to do with money.
"The question that I asked him was ‘Is this about money?’ He said it is not about money," Maggard said Wednesday. "I asked, ‘What is it about?’ He said it’s about location. (He) said, ‘It is an area that I feel very good about in that part of Texas and also being in a place that offers a new challenge and being in the Big 12.’"
Even if Briles, who leaves with a 34-28 record in five seasons, took the job because of money, that hardly makes him a villain.
He accepted a job that nearly doubles the $900,000 annual salary he received at Houston. He now has a job that he views as a great opportunity. At the end of the day, he and his family are better off financially because of it.
But with that move, Briles also delivered a well-timed slap to multitudes of Houston fans who were deluded into thinking that he would become a modern-day Bill Yeoman, who coached the Cougars from 1962-87.
News flash, fans: The days of coaches such as Yeoman, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (36 years at FSU) and Penn State’s Joe Paterno (42 years at PSU) are long gone.
College football is a business, more so now than in the past. With coaching salaries’ reaching all-time highs and bigger programs going after the best coaches, there are fewer coaches setting up long-term tenures at their respective schools.
Did I say that?
Of course, these truths won’t buy Briles any sympathy from Houston fans, many of whom claim that he violated his loyalty to the Cougars.
I guess they put too much stock into the following statement.
"I don’t think anyone should ever question my loyalty to the University of Houston," Briles said in January. "I bled the blood (from) 1974-77, and I’m bleeding it today. I’m always going to be loyal to the University of Houston."
Yeah, Briles put his foot deep in his mouth with that one. But he isn’t the first coach to do so, and he certainly won’t be the last.
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville once said, "They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box," while coaching at Ole Miss in 1998. Chances are, Ole Miss fans would have happily granted him his wish when he bolted for the vacant coaching job at Auburn a few days after uttering those infamous words.
And who could forget former Texas A’M head coach Dennis Franchione, who asked his upperclassmen at Alabama to remain at the school and persevere, despite NCAA sanctions that stripped the Crimson Tide of 21 scholarships, placed it on probation and handed it a two-year bowl ban in 2002?
However, Franchione ran off to Texas A’M after the season, betraying the players he said he would never leave. He didn’t even have the guts to face his players afterward.
Briles, who addressed the Cougars briefly on Wednesday, did not come close to sinking to Franchione’s level.
Difficult road ahead
Briles faces a tough task as he attempts to do what three previous coaches couldn’t do – lead Baylor to a winning season.
The Bears’ last winning season came in 1995, and their last bowl appearance was in 1994. Since 1995, Baylor has gone 35-101.
But hey, if Art Briles can bring Houston out of the depths of futility, then why can’t he do the same at Baylor?
Two seasons before Briles arrived at Houston in December 2002, the Cougars finished 0-11. They hadn’t been to a bowl game since 1996.
Briles promised to turn the program around, and he did. He led the Cougars to four bowls in five years and a C-USA championship last season.
Yep, fans would be hard pressed to hate Briles after all the success he accomplished with the Cougars.
But, instead of hating Briles, Houston fans should thank him for the good work he did, and be grateful that he left the program in much better shape than it was when he arrived.