Baylor’s Art Briles: Diehard Texan and what else?

Try to imagine national-level journalists writing about how a coach does or does not fit into the culture of Notre Dame University without mentioning Catholicism.

Try to imagine sportswriters writing about how a coach does or does not fit into the culture of Brigham Young University without mentioning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now try to imagine sportswriters writing about how a coach does or does not fit into the culture of Baylor University without mentioning the fact that it is the largest Baptist academic institution on the world? Without mentioning whether or not the coach is a man of faith?

What if the coach in question was a man whose life pivoted around a tragic, soul-crushing event in which, as a young man, he lost both of his parents in a tragic car crash as they were driving to see him play? What about it, ESPN?

What if the man in question — in the midst of an amazing Big 12 championship season that could make him the national coach of the year — also lost his beloved brother in yet another tragic accident?

Would it be possible for journalists in yet another national-level newsroom to skip the religious element of that story?

Well, Washington Post folks, what about it?

It appears that Briles veered onto the elite radar at the Post, in large part, because of his more-than-a-mentor relationship with Robert Griffin III and a rumor, that lasted for a few days, that the professional football team in Washington, D.C., might want to pull him inside the Beltway as a head coach.

Thus the Post team dedicated nearly 2,300 words to Briles the other day in a long and very ordinary football-coach profile.

That’s a lot of ink.

So what did the Post editors decide is the crucial element of the Briles story, the main reason that he is such a great fit for Baylor and its unique cultural and educational challenges?

Here’s the top of the story. Trust me that this is the theme that is woven through the entire piece.

Briles, you see, is a Texan’s Texan.

Waco, Tex. – Art Briles’s football career has carried him far and wide, from the dusty towns of the northwest to the sprawling cities of the east — northwest Texas and east Texas, that is. He was raised in the tiny hamlet of Rule, right at the base of the Panhandle. Got his first high school coaching job in Sundown, out west of Lubbock. Became a college head coach for the first time at Houston. Currently plies his trade in Waco, smack-dab in the middle of the state — convenient for in-state recruiting, which is pretty much the only kind he does.

Briles, 57, is as Texan as that lone star up on the state flag. He married his high school sweetheart. He hasn’t even vacationed, let alone lived, anywhere but in Texas. Ask him what’s the longest he’s ever been outside its borders, and he’s stone-cold stumped.

“That’s a pretty good question,” he says in a thick drawl. “We don’t vacation much. We honeymooned down in Corpus [Christi] — so that’s still in the state. I’m trying to think — I mean, probably four or five days, that’s it.”

More than just a quirk of circumstance, Briles’s Texas-ness is an essential part of his self-identity.

Suffice it to say that the word “Baptist” does not show up in this piece. Neither does the word “Christian.” Ditto for the word “faith.”

Apparently, Baylor is in Texas and that’s that.

What about the crisis of faith that followed the loss of his parents? That is a major theme in any discussion of this coach’s life. Take, for example, that interview to land the job that he held before he went to Baylor.

By 2003, at the age of 48, Briles was being asked to interview for the University of Houston’s vacant head coaching job. In the interview, Briles told the story of his life — which pivoted around the traumatic loss of his parents, as well as a beloved aunt, in an auto accident when Briles was 19 — and blew away some members of the school’s search committee with his humility, optimism and confidence.

That’s all there is to that, apparently. Moving on.

Also, that connection to Griffin — who is very outspoken about his Christian faith — is just a Texan thing, too.

So how does the story end?

“I feel I’m very blessed to have great job at great university, in a great conference, in a great state,” Briles says. “What more could you want?”

From his office window, through a stand of trees off to the side of the practice field, Briles can see a trio of cranes in the distance, at the site of the $260 million stadium being constructed on the northeast edge of campus and that will open next fall.

He has 92 homegrown Texas players on his roster of 105, a top-15 recruiting class coming in next year, a ranch outside of town where he can hunt deer in the offseason and a contract nearly long enough to envision the day he’ll be recruiting an RGIV to Baylor.

If you can’t see how this is heaven, you’re probably not from Texas. And you’re definitely not Art Briles.

Right. God has nothing to do with this whole fitting-in-at-Baylor thing or this man’s stunning ability to rise above tragedy and loss.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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