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Ashway: Grambling’s big gamble on Art Briles
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

Grambling State just rolled the dice.

The historically black university just hired the disgraced former Baylor head coach Art Briles to be its offensive coordinator.

Briles, you may recall, was fired by Baylor in May 2016 after an investigation into myriad accusations of sexual assault and domestic violence were levelled at various Baylor football players.

Not only was Briles fired, Baylor demoted President Ken Starr and suspended Athletic Director Ian McCaw.

The sackings occurred shortly after the publication of an independent investigation into the school’s handling of the allegations. The investigation was conducted by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.

Among other damning findings, the report found a football program where players operated “above the rules” with “no culture of accountability for misconduct.” Pepper Hamilton said its findings “reflect concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.”

The report found that when allegations were brought to Briles and others inside the football program, “the choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University.

“In certain instances, including reports of sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics.”

The man who led that staff, and “posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University” is now Grambling’s offensive coordinator.

Why?

Because he can coach. In eight years as Baylor’s head coach, he posted a 65-37 record and won a pair of Big XII championships. He was 50-15 over his last five years, when his wide-open offense really took off. Baylor had but a single 10-win season in its history before Briles’ arrival. He produced four. They’ve posted two in the six years since his forced departure.

Why is Briles even allowed to coach? As abhorrent and morally corrupt as his behavior might have been, it didn’t break any NCAA rules. Incredibly, nothing in the mammoth NCAA rulebook governs a failure to report deviant behavior.

In its announcement last August, the NCAA Committee on Infractions observed, “Baylor admitted to moral and ethical failings in its handling of sexual and interpersonal violence on campus, but argued those failings, however egregious, did not constitute violations of NCAA rules.

“Ultimately, and with tremendous reluctance, this panel agrees.”

Predictably, the ruling elicited an equally outrageous comment from Briles’ attorney, Scott Tompsett. In a statement obtained by Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, Tompsett declared, “My client, Art Briles, has been completely exonerated and cleared of all NCAA violations alleged against him. As the NCAA Committee on Infractions explained, the conduct at issue was pervasive and widespread throughout the Baylor campus, and it was ignored or condoned at the highest levels of Baylor’s leadership.

“The NCAA’s decision today clears the way for Mr. Briles to return to coaching college football.”

In an exclusive interview last Thursday, Briles told KTAL-TV, “You report what you know. We did the best we felt at the time. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry for anybody that suffered any consequences because of it.”

Here’s what the NCAA Committee said about Briles: “His incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct by his student-athletes was deeply troubling to the panel. The head coach failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case. Furthermore, as a campus leader, the head coach is held to an even higher standard. He completely failed to meet this standard.”

This, then, is the coach Grambling hired. Grambling, the same school where Eddie Robinson coached for 55 years. With success, yes, but also with integrity, class, and a well-deserved reputation for developing good men.

It’s enough to make one of his former players, a former Grambling coach, sick. “I have a problem with it,” Doug Williams told ESPN. “A major problem with it. I can’t support it, that’s for sure. That hurt me to my core right there ... I know Coach Robinson is turning over right now.”

On Friday, Coach Robinson’s grandson, Eddie III, concurred. “I never really thought we would actually do that,” Robinson told ESPN. “Once you weigh everything, that’s not the Grambling we all know. That’s not the legacy that Eddie Robinson built, that Doug Williams followed. How do you fathom that?

“I don’t have anything against coach Briles. It’s just ... we’re Grambling.”