Sometimes institutions can be saved from themselves and errors corrected before any serious harm is done. That’s been the case at Grambling State, which last week was being universally criticized for its new head football coach Hue Jackson’s decision to hire former and disgraced Baylor head coach Art Briles as his offensive coordinator. Briles had left Baylor after an ugly series of events at Baylor concerning his mishandling of multiple sexual assault allegations and incidents.
Jackson had seemed oblivious to the national wave of criticism aimed at both him and Grambling State, but Monday he was taken off the hook. Only four days after being hired, Art Briles resigned his post. He gave a statement shortly after ESPN ran a report stating that he was out. “Unfortunately, I feel that my continued presence will be a distraction to you and your team, which is the last thing that I want,” Briles’ statement read, echoing the report by ESPN’s Pete Thamel. “I have the utmost respect [for] the university, and your players.” Whether the resignation was voluntary or forced was not addressed in the report.
But Briles’ move also puts them back in good standing with former star QB, Super Bowl MVP and ex Grambling State head coach Doug Williams. Williams had previously announced he was severing all ties with his school in disgust at Briles’ hiring. “I don’t know Art Briles. I’ve never met him in my life,” Williams previously told the Washington Post. “But the situation, nobody else would hire him for whatever reason. I don’t know why Grambling State had to go be the one to hire him, so I’m not a fan at all. “I can’t do that,” he continued when asked about supporting the program with Briles. “No, no, no. If I support them, I condone it.”
There are some who feel that Briles has been punished enough. After losing his job at Baylor in 2016, he’s returned to coaching in 2019 at Mount Vernon High School in East Texas. Prior to joining Mount Vernon, Briles couldn’t find a job after a spate of sexual assault allegations against Baylor players while he was head coach. But he clearly wanted back in at a college, and it seemed Grambling State was going to be the rare school willing to hire him despite the past situation.
For many observers, there is no willingness at that point to forgive Briles enough for him to be back coaching in college. They point to the 2017 lawsuit which alleged 31 Baylor football players committed 52 rapes over the course of four years. Briles coached the Bears from 2008-15. The subsequent NCAA investigation ultimately concluded that Baylor “failed to report allegations of and address sexual and interpersonal violence committed on its campus.” In addition, the investigation said Briles “did not report”… “potential criminal conduct” by one of his players when he learned of it. “His incurious attitude toward potential criminal conduct by his student-athletes was deeply troubling to the panel.” The report was released in August 2021.
But Briles’ few supports point out he didn’t face major NCAA penalties. As recently as Friday, Jackson through his foundation was still defending hiring Briles.
Jackson, who coached the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns and last season was Tennessee State University’s offensive coordinator, was hired by Grambling State in December. His Hue Jackson Foundation released a statement defending the hiring of Briles on Friday. “We believe through the hiring of Coach Briles and the well-developed programs we have in place, this hire will be instrumental in teaching others the importance of knowing how to prevent victimization, proper reporting structures, provide adequate resources to those individuals who have been victimized and develop strong law enforcement partnerships within the community,” the statement read.
Whether that would have proven the case, no one will ever know. But one thing is clear. Grambling State has avoided a steady stream of negative publicity that would have come their way throughout the months leading up to the next football season and beyond. Whether it was his decision or the school’s, Art Briles did them a huge favor with his resignation.