It’s National Signing Day and Kendal Briles, the newly hired offensive coordinator for the University of Houston’s football team, is back on the recruiting trail in Texas. Little more than a year ago, words attributed to him were released as evidence that his former program used sex as a selling point to recruits and that its coaches fostered a culture of rape.
Briles was not directly implicated in the investigation of the sexual violence scandal at Baylor University that led to the firing of his father, head coach Art Briles, and the ouster of other top university officials. But his lack of public contrition and his career ascent have angered some, who are concerned that the desire to win at football has hindered a true reckoning.
Said Brenda Tracy, a prominent activist against sexual assault in college football, “There’s nothing that shows me that anyone [from the Baylor coaching staff] deserves that second chance.”
According to a Title IX lawsuit filed Jan. 27, 2017, Briles, then an assistant for his father at Baylor, asked a Dallas-area recruit: “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players.” By that time, Briles was nearly a month into his first job after Baylor, as offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic.
FAU didn’t back away from Briles, and the whiff of scandal didn’t stop the talented offensive mind from landing his next job. On Jan. 6, Cougars Coach Major Applewhite announced the hiring of Briles as offensive coordinator and associated head coach, as well as another former Baylor assistant, offensive line coach Randy Clements.
Among the recruits the Cougars are expected to officially sign on Wednesday is Clayton Tune, a three-star quarterback rated by ESPN as the No. 20 dual-threat QB in the nation. Tune announced his commitment last month with a picture on Twitter in which he was flanked by a smiling Briles and Applewhite.
Briles’s track record as a recruiter and offensive architect was the draw for Houston, which went 7-5 in Applewhite’s first season with an offense that scored 28.3 points per game, 65th out of 129 FBS schools. Under Briles’s direction, FAU finished last season ranked eighth in major-college football in scoring (40.6 points per game) and ninth in yards per game (494.8). In 2015, the first of Briles’s two years as offensive coordinator at Baylor, the Bears led the nation in total offense, with 616.2 yards per game, and scoring, with a 48.1-point average. Scout named Briles the Big 12 recruiter of the year twice, and in 2015 he was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football.
He was also suspended for one game for an NCAA recruiting violation at Baylor. And, according to a column by Jenny Dial Creech in the Houston Chronicle, evidence of Briles using sex as a recruiting tool go beyond what was stated in the lawsuit. Dial Creech reported that three players from the Houston area who went on to other universities said that Briles told recruits female students at Baylor were very available to football players.
Neither Briles nor Clements were named in a 2016 investigation into Baylor’s football program by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, which found that the school repeatedly failed to properly respond to reports of sexual assault. In the wake of those findings, Art Briles was fired as head coach; university president Kenneth Starr was reassigned before eventually stepping down; and athletic director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation before resigning.
Both Kendal Briles and Clements remained at Baylor the subsequent season as part of interim coach Jim Grobe’s staff. Baylor issued a summary report of the Pepper Hamilton investigation said that “some football coaches and staff” took improper steps when they were told of sexual assaults or violence against women, but did not name any of those involved. No coach on Art Briles’s staff at Baylor has publicly acknowledged wrongdoing.
The Title IX lawsuit that included the quote attributed to Kendal Briles alleged 52 acts of rape by Baylor football players between 2011 and 2014. The suit, filed by an unnamed former student, was settled out of court in September, though more suits are pending against the university and the football program remains under NCAA investigation.
In the past month, Houston officials have asserted they went above and beyond to vet their new assistants. The university took the unusual step of having Briles and Clements interview with Renu Khator, the school’s president, and legal counsel Dona Cornell. It also included a morality clause that grants it the right to terminate the contracts for Briles and Clements if new revelations of past misconduct come to light.
“Our expectations and values are clear,” Khator told the Houston Chronicle. “We want to make sure our [football] program is winning but absolutely to the best ethical standards. I’m convinced that’s what is going to happen.”
Tracy, a rape survivor who visits football programs across the country as part of a program she founded called Set the Expectation, said she was shocked to see that Briles was hired at Houston; last spring, she addressed the Cougars team at Applewhite’s invitation.
“I’m not only disappointed by this hire — I’m deeply saddened,” Tracy wrote on Twitter. “I’m not sure how he came to this decision, but it goes against everything we discussed and agreed was important to shift football culture.”
Tracy said last month in an interview with The Washington Post that she was disturbed by what she interpreted as an attitude of rebellion, not regret, by Briles and others at Baylor in the wake of the scandal. After his father was forced out, Briles wore gloves emblazoned with the initials “CAB,” Coach Art Briles, during a game. Fans sold T-shirts with the acronym on it.
“Do we even know if they learned anything? I just haven’t seen any of that,” Tracy said.
Briles, meanwhile, spoke to reporters in Houston for the first time after his hiring on Jan. 26.
“Judge me for me,” he said, leaving his father’s name unspoken. “I lived my whole life pretty pure, and you can judge me for what I do.”
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