As the telecast returned from commercial with Baylor taking over possession in the third quarter Friday night, ESPN announcer Carter Blackburn introduced a short segment highlighting Art Briles' success with quarterbacks throughout his coaching career. His in-booth cohort Rod Gilmore took that segment as an opportunity to address rumors swirling about interest Arkansas probably has in making Art Briles their next coach. The idea of addressing the topic generally doesn't necessarily bother me, as a Baylor fan, the way Blackburn suggested it might. If Gilmore had simply stated that Briles could be a candidate and moved on, I'd do the same. But that's not what he did. Here's the full segment, and I apologize for the quality of the video.
Focus on the part :34 into the video. Notice after he mentions Arkansas' interest, he goes to say that Briles may be a candidate due to "his ties ... his roots ... his roots to Arkansas." This part stood out to me because, as far as I know, Briles has no such roots. His family has never lived anywhere but Texas. His entire coaching career has occurred at high schools and colleges in our beloved state. So when someone says Briles has roots in Arkansas, that's news to me. And here's why it's actually important: negative recruiting.
It probably seems like a small thing for someone to imply that a coach has ties to a school that is not his own, but for coaches of schools recruiting against us, that information is solid gold. If there is any way they can paint the picture to recruits that Briles is likely to bolt to Arkansas before they get on campus they will, and a commentator like Gilmore saying it on national television is fuel to that fire. If it's true, then that's one thing. The truth will out. If it's false, then it is incredibly irresponsible.
Before we go any further, it is entirely possibly that Gilmore knows something I don't know. I don't want to discount that possibility. But when I asked him about it on twitter, he continually avoided the question, accused me of trying to put him on a witness stand and/or bully him, and told me that I'd get more flies with honey. Incidentally, I don't know what those things mean in this context. I was asking a question he clearly didn't want to answer. Saying "please" probably doesn't induce him to reveal his support. He also said that I should be happy that other schools might be interested. Trust me, Mr. Gilmore, I am happy about that.
I want to make clear that I'm not taking umbrage at the possibility that Briles may leave for Arkansas. It's possible. I don't think it's at all likely,* but it's possible, just like it is that Gary Patterson might bolt TCU orloses his job in Texas. Those things are all possible. Arkansas will certainly be interested; there's no question about that. My problem is that I don't think the statement that Briles has "roots" in Arkansas has any basis in fact. In fact, supposed "Arkansas roots" would actually seem a hindrance to the Hogs' pursuit since they would ostensibly want him for his connections in Texas. That would make sense considering it's the only place he's ever been.
*If you'd like, I can detail why I don't think it's going to happen. I didn't here because it's not entirely germane. I'd start with the fact that he's getting a $250 million stadium, makes over $2.5 million already and could easily get another raise, has an escalating buyout already over $5 million, and has, as you're about to see, lived his entire life and coached his entire career in Texas. Then I'd add in that you can't name a coach Baylor's lost that it wanted to keep.
Just look at his personal history:
Born in Rule, Texas in 1955, Briles lived there his entire adolescence until graduating from Rule High School, where he played football under his father, the head coach. He apparently did so well enough to earn a scholarship to play at the University of Houston, where he played wide receiver for three years. During his junior year at Houston, both of Briles' parents were killed in a car accident while en route to see him play, a tragedy that spurred him to leave the school after that year for Texas Tech. Texas Tech is, of course, located in Lubbock, Texas. He finished his undergraduate degree there in 1979 before earning a master's in education from Abilene Christian University, in Abilene, Texas.
After completing his studies, Briles followed in his father's footsteps and began his coaching career at Sundown High School. Unless something has changed in the last 33 years, that's Sundown HS in Sundown, Texas. He spent one year in Sundown before moving to Sweetwater as an assistant coach from 1980-1983. So far, both of these places are in West Texas. After leaving Sweetwater, he coached at Hamlin HS in a suburb of Abilene. Abilene, Texas. He finally left West Texas for a one-year stint in Georgetown, in central Texas, before taking the job for which he'd become best known as head coach of Stephenville HS. He spent the next 12 years (1988-1999) in Stephenville dominating the competition and churning out college QBs before heeding the siren song of college football.
In 2000, Briles accepted a position as the running backs coach at Texas Tech University under then-HC Mike Leach. He got his first shot as a Head Coach in late 2003 at the University of Houston, completing the circle from his own playing days. Baylor hired him away from his rebuilding job in Houston, which had proceeded beautifully, in 2007. He's been with us ever since.
Every place I mentioned above is within the confines of the state of Texas. Briles has never lived or coached in Arkansas. He's probably visited before, but I can't find evidence of it, and I've spent about the last two hours looking. In fact, I can't tell, aside from playing against Arkansas in Houston in 1976, that he has any "connections" to the school or the state at all. Waco, as central to Texas as central gets, is the closest to Arkansas that he's ever lived, and it's 270+ miles away.
People that don't know enough of college football to distinguish truth from rumor hear the things said by respected voices on ESPN and in other places and believe them because they have no reason not to. When someone says something like "Art Briles has roots to Arkansas," then, it is a powerful statement. Just this afternoon, in the midst of the twitter conversation with Gilmore, Brian Ethridge of BearsTruth told me that a recruit he's spoken to since Friday mentioned Gilmore's assertion. Unable to shoot it down because of recruiting rules, Ethridge was forced to end the conversation without confirming or denying.
So let me: Art Briles does not have any "roots" in Arkansas that I know of or can find anywhere. I've asked everyone I know who might be able to tell me, including people who know him. If Briles has roots in Arkansas, it's news to them. I suspect that it would be news to Briles, as well, since he's always identified himself as West Texan, born and bred. From what I can tell, that's the only logical thing for him to do. He has as many "roots" in Arkansas as he does Alabama, Nova Scotia, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have as many roots in Arkansas and I drove through once when I was 7.