Baylor to fire coach Art Briles after 8 seasons

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Friday, May 27, 2016

Baylorfootball coach Art Briles has been suspended with intent to terminate, part of major changes the university announced Thursday in response to a scathing review of its handling of sexual assault allegations made against students, including several football players.

In addition, Kenneth Starr no longer will serve as Baylor president, although he will remain at the school. In a statement issued later Thursday, Starr apologized to the "victims who were not treated with the care, concern and support they deserve."

Baylor's actions come after the university's board of regents received an independent report from a law firm that investigated the school's response to the allegations.

"We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University's mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students," Richard Willis, chairman of the Baylor board of regents, said in a statement.

"The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students."

Briles had no immediate comment. In a Facebook post, his daughter, Staley Lebby, called the circumstances that led to his ouster a "media witch hunt" and wrote that her father is a "man of incredible character."

Starr will transition into a role as chancellor and remain as a law school professor. His duties as chancellor will include external fundraising and religious liberty; he will have no operational duties at the university.

Athletic director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and put on probation. He is working to find an interim football coach, according to Willis.

Dr. David Garland, a former dean and professor at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, will serve as interim president. The school said in the release that additional members of the administration and athletics program have also been dismissed but declined to identify them.

Baylor officials said in a news release that the school had hired a New York law firm to contact the NCAA about potential rules violations.

Briles, 60, had eight years remaining on a 10-year contract extension that he signed in November 2013. Although Baylor, as a private school, hasn't released the details of his contract, it is believed Briles was making nearly $6 million per season, which would have made him the Big 12's highest-paid coach and one of the highest paid in the FBS.

According to Baylor's most recent IRS filing, Briles' base salary in 2014 was $4.2 million, which was considerably more than Starr's base salary of $789,000 annually as university president.

It is not known whether Briles has negotiated a buyout with Baylor. In most college coaching contracts, a university can fire a coach without having to pay the remainder of his or her contract if it has findings of cause.

Briles and McCaw have been criticized for recruiting players who were dismissed by their former schools, and for the way they disciplined players who allegedly committed violent acts against women and other assaults.

The school said in the release that McCaw would work with university leadership and the board of regents "to implement the recommendations as they related to the restoration of a tone of accountability within the football program, to effective oversight and controls of the Athletics Department, and to critically needed changes that will re-align the Athletics program with the University mission."

Baylor's statement said the findings in the report by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton "reflect a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA)." According to Baylor, the findings in the report include:

  • The University's student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX; Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures; and in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence or address its effects.
  • Actions by University administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.
  • In addition to broader University failings, Pepper Hamilton found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.
  • There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor's football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.
  • Over the course of their review, Pepper Hamilton investigated the University's response to reports of a sexual assault involving multiple football players. The football program and Athletics department leadership failed to take appropriate action in response to these reports.

In the fall of 2015, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton to review its past treatment of sexual assault claims. Outside the Lines reported last week that some Baylor officials, including coaches, knew about incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving football players, but most players didn't miss playing time as punishment.

Two Baylor players accused of sexual assault were recruited by Briles after they were dismissed from their previous schools for off-field problems. In August 2015, former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in jail after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a women's soccer player. Briles was criticized for accepting Ukwuachu as a transfer student after then-Boise Statecoach Chris Petersen dismissed him from the team for off-field issues. Ukwuachu's former girlfriend testified at his trial that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.

Then, in April, former Bears star defensive end Shawn Oakman was arrested on a charge of sexual assault. A Baylor graduate student told Waco, Texas, police that Oakman "forcibly removed" her clothes, forced her onto his bed and then sexually assaulted her on April 3, according to an arrest warrant obtained by ESPN. Oakman, the school's all-time sacks leader who wasn't selected in last month's NFL draft, told police he had consensual sex with the woman. Oakman was dismissed fromPenn Stateafter he allegedly grabbed the wrist of a female store clerk.

The university's findings revealed that "Baylor did not consistently conduct due diligence" in vetting transfers in criminal or student conduct matters. The university found that protocol was inconsistently applied with regard to "criminal background checks, request for records of any prior college disciplinary actions, and character reference screening forms."

"We feel very sorry for these victims," incoming board of regents chairman Ronald Murff said on a teleconference with reporters. "It's awful what they've had to endure, what they've gone through. Quite often, our response was not proper. We recognize that it was extremely brave of them to talk about these very significant issues that happened in their lives. Our thoughts are with them. They've had some difficult issues to deal with, and we're sorry it happened and we did not respond the best way we could."

When asked about the Baylor Police Department's role and its failings, regent David Harper, an attorney from Dallas, said on the call: "I'd say what we learned overall -- we were shocked. It made us angry, sad and very humble."

Former Baylor student Jasmin Hernandez, a sexual assault survivor, said on Outside the Lines earlier Thursday that she was "very surprised" by Baylor's actions given "they've shown over the years to react as minimally as possible."

In a statement, Starr said: "I applaud the Board for its transparency. It must be known, however, that I was not privy to any of the allegations regarding interpersonal violence until the Fall of 2015, at which time I immediately launched an internal investigation before recommending to the Board an independent external investigation, which the Board then commissioned with Pepper Hamilton. ... To those victims who were not treated with the care, concern and support they deserve, I am profoundly sorry."

Starr, a former independent counselor who is perhaps best known for investigating former U.S. President Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern, has served as president of Baylor since June 1, 2010. And in November 2013, the regents also appointed him as chancellor, a position that had been vacant since 2006. During Starr's tenure, he has been credited with several fundraising initiatives, most notably raising $120 million in donations that helped pay for McLane Stadium, Baylor's new $266 million football stadium, which opened on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco in 2014.

Starr was popular among students for his participation in the "Baylor Line," a school tradition in which freshman students wear yellow shirts and rush the field before home football games, and was often seen at other sporting events.

Under Starr's watch, Baylor enjoyed unprecedented athletic success. The 2011-12 academic year is often referred to as the "Year of the Bear" by Baylor alumni and fans. During the 2011 season, Bears quarterbackRobert Griffin IIIbecame the school's first HeismanTrophy winner. The women's basketball team became the first NCAA squad -- men's or women's -- to finish 40-0, and star Brittney Griner was named national player of the year. Baylor's men's basketball team started 17-0 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, and the baseball team won 49 games.

Baylor's football ascension from perennial Big 12 doormat to a national powerhouse under Briles is among the most unlikely success stories. The Bears suffered 12 consecutive losing seasons before Briles was hired in December 2007. After going 4-8 in each of Briles' first two seasons, Baylor went 7-6 and played in its first bowl game in 16 years in 2010.

Since 2011, Briles has guided Baylor to a 50-15 record, winning 10 games or more four of the past five seasons. The Bears won at least a share of consecutive Big 12 titles in 2013 and '14; the 2013 title was the school's first outright conference championship since 1980.

Briles came to Baylor from Houston, where he led the Cougars to four bowl games in five seasons.

During the Big 12 baseball tournament in Oklahoma City on Thursday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke to reporters about Briles and Baylor.

"Coach Briles has certainly had a remarkable career at Baylor," he said. "They won a lot of games and they built a beautiful stadium. There's no doubt there's a sadness that goes along with his departure. And yet I think Baylor has been transparent in their handling of the matter. They've taken steps."

ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Paula Lavigne and Jake Trotter and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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