Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
With notable jobs hitting the market across the country and Baylor's program continuing a positive trend through a third-consecutive bowl game, it's only natural that Bears fans worry about Art Briles' inclusion in high-profile coaching searches. Should they, though?
Across the twitterverse and the blogosphere (portmanteaus, anyone?) the last few days, speculation has run rampant about who will eventually fill the jobs opening up in the SEC (Arky, Tennessee, Auburn, and Kentucky so far), ACC (BC, NC State), Pac 12 (Colorado, Cal), etc. This sort of thing happens every year when programs with tradition and history can under-performing coaches and go in search of replacements. It's a fact of life when you're a school like Baylor largely bereft of those things on a national level and with a coach who is clearly making a positive impact that other programs would be interested in stealing that person away. I don't see it as a negative at all, actually; much like you typically want to date the girl others are also interested in dating, you want your coach to be good enough to bring in outside attention. It's certainly better than having, for example, a coach like Charlie Weis that is almost universally despised. As the architect of one of the best, if not the best, offenses in college football over the last few years, the molder of Robert Griffin III into the most exciting QB in the NFL, and the man who took Nick Florence from being a lightly-recruited 2* into what he is today, schools are going to come after Art Briles. They've done it already (Texas Tech for sure, A&M by rumor last year, Arkansas by rumor this year) and will do it again. Accepting this fact will make your life easier.
All that said, I've gone on record before and I will again saying that I don't think Baylor is going to lose Art Briles. Not to Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, or anyone else likely to have a job opening this year. If pressed, I'd actually say the only schools I'd really be afraid of are the ones least likely to court him; he'd leave if Texas or Oklahoma came calling, for sure, or if a national power on the level of Alabama or Florida offered him the job. Like I said, though, that's not happening. As much as I love Art Briles, he's probably not Longhorn or Sooner material, much less Crimson Tide or Gator, so don't go flaunting around that I said Art Briles will be coaching in Austin or Tuscaloosa someday, because I didn't. Those schools aren't looking for coaches this year, anyway, even assuming they'd look at Briles. Of the schools that are, I think we can safely eliminate everyone except for Arkansas and Tennessee on the basis of either proximity (the ACC schools and Cal), familiarity (same), the program's view of its own self-worth (Auburn), and the fact that the move would definitely be a step down at this point (Colorado and Kentucky). You can probably eliminate Tennessee, too, since they'll be looking at bigger fish than Briles. I won't for the sake of this argument.
Still, I really think we're just talking about Arkansas, and this isn't the first time.
One thing you should realize straightaway is that nearly every argument stating that Briles will leave Baylor for a school like Arkansas relies on a few assumptions varying from the basic "Baylor sucks" to the more complex, but equally wrong "Well, we can just pay him more than you can." They also generally involve a hierarchical ranking of programs dating mostly from the 90s and early 2000s, an ill-informed perception of our facilities and fanbase, and a simplistic dismissal of Baylor and its leaders as having misplaced priorities, not being interested in competing at the highest level, "sucking" once again, or some combination thereof. You'd think that the commitment of nearly $400,000,000 over the last few years to the construction and modernization of new athletic facilities, including an on-campus football stadium, would silence those criticizing our level of desire to compete but confirmation bias is a tricky thing to get around.
In the interest of not appearing biased, though I almost certainly am to my core, here are the primary reasons why I don't think Art Briles is leaving Baylor:
1. He's older than you think -- As I mentioned in the article linked above several times, Art Briles is 56 years old (about to turn 57 on December 3) and has lived his entire life in the state of Texas. His entire career has so far occurred in the state of Texas. He has never coached anywhere but the state of Texas. If you're looking for an up-and-coming spring chicken of a coach, Briles is no more your man than Bob Stoops (52), Mack Brown (61), Tommy Tuberville (58), or even Dennis Franchione (61).
2. Did I mention he's from Texas? Once again, Briles has never coached outside of the state of Texas. His connections to other areas for recruiting purposes, so much as they exist, stem from his experience in the state of Texas. A school like Tennessee, in a state that doesn't have nearly as much home-grown talent from which it can recruit, has to have someone who can recruit nationally. Art Briles biggest strength in recruiting -- his ties to Texas high schools from his time coaching in those ranks -- don't work nearly as well in that kind of arrangement. The only scenario that makes sense for Art Briles is to coach in Texas. You could argue that Arkansas is close enough to take advantage and that his ties would entice them, but I think he knows that his connections matter much more when he's actually in the state. I don't see any reason to believe that Arkansas can get by in this day and age recruiting exclusively in Texas, and that's basically what Art Briles gives you.
3. Baylor pays (and is willing to pay) Briles more than you think -- Over $2.5 million, without a doubt, and rumored to be north of $3 million now. Fans of schools thinking they can just buy him away probably don't realize how well-compensated Briles actually is. Arkansas' last coach, Bobby Petrino, made $3.5 million. To get Briles, they'd certainly have to pay more than that-- something in the neighborhood of $4 million, at least-- and there's the little fact that they'd have to outbid Baylor to do it. Perhaps this is where my bias shows brightest, but I know from my own conversations that Baylor adores Art Briles. Our biggest donors, billionaires Bob Simpson and Drayton McLane among them, adore Art Briles. There is no reason to believe that after investing so much in giving him what he wants, namely, on-campus practice and stadium facilities, they would be outbid of his services like that. Baylor can and will pay Art Briles if/when the situation arises. Baylor has never lost a coach it wanted to keep and won't now.
4. We're building his stadium -- Right now if you click this link you can get a live look at the construction of Baylor's new on-campus stadium across the Brazos River in Waco. The entire project will end up probably costing north of $250 million, a massive portion of which has already been pledged to the project. That stadium opens in August 2014, just under two years from now. I'm not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that there is no one in our entire athletic department who worked harder to make that stadium a reality than Art Briles. He schmoozed donors, shook hands, and most of all, made it possible on the field through positive results. That stadium is his dream as much as it is yours or mine, and someday, his statue will be beside it.
In this list I'm not even including the fact that pride in building something in Waco may convince him to stay here to finish the job because that concept is inherently speculative and every coach probably believes he could do every job. Briles has the same pride as most alpha personalities that he could do the job anywhere. I'm also not including as a viable argument that we brought in one of his best friends, Phil Bennett, to serve as basically his head coach of defense and paid Bennett extremely well for the privilege, a measure of commitment and trust to Briles that I don't think even Kim Mulkey has gotten from the University. I certainly don't see Bennett, who has his own reasons for staying in Texas that I won't get into, would leave again for an out-of-state school. I also didn't include the fact that other schools may not have nearly the stock of long sleeve shirts we do for Briles' gameday apparel needs. That last sentence is only partially a joke.
My point in all this is to say that Baylor fans shouldn't freak out about media reports linking Briles to other places. Those reports are going to happen and their accuracy will probably never be tested. In this day and age, people care less about being right than they do about being first. There is no penalty for being wrong a million times if you're right once; call it Antoine Walker Syndrome in that unscrupulous reporters just keep taking shots. The reports may not be wrong, either, considering it would probably qualify as a breach of his duties if Briles' agent weren't using those openings to leverage more money for his client. It's what I would do. Instead of getting all hot and bothered and edging toward the cliff, however, recognize that these are only reports, and take solace, if you can't ignore them completely, in the fact that once again we have a coach so highly sought-after who, for the reasons I gave you above, probably isn't going anywhere.