Over the past few months, “person over player” has emerged as a steady mantra for the Baylor football staff, personnel, and players. Every program will have slogans and mantras you can’t take at face value, because of course talking the talk is easier than walking the walk. But for Baylor, more and more evidence is proving that this is not just an empty slogan, but something that has been demonstrably implemented throughout the program.
After a practice this recent Spring, I asked TE Christoph Henle why Baylor has only lost one player to the transfer portal over the past year while most programs are regularly losing 5-10 guys. Christoph responded it’s not just about football at Baylor, it’s about the entire package of what Baylor represents. I am not able to get the direct quote, but he said something like, “Even if you’re not playing a bunch or you know you aren’t slated to play much next year, it’s just so hard to leave Baylor because we all love each other, the support staff is so great, our professors are so great, the campus is so great, everything about Baylor is so great that guys just don’t want to leave.”
Recent Baylor OL commit Alvin Ebosele told Grayson Grundhoefer and Brian Etheridge of SicEm365 that the number one thing he was looking for in a school was a place where “the coaching staff puts the the player over the person,” which is about as good of an endorsement as you can hope for with the staff’s approach.
Of course, “person over player” has its limits. I’m sure your mom is a very nice lady, but she’s probably not worth a scholarship for Baylor football. Maybe she can long snap, I don’t know. But the point is that this matters where it works on the margins. Maybe you have a guy who is currently a better player in high school or has some better measurables, but you just don’t feel that he would be a net positive addition to the program because of how he’d affect the culture.
Those are the tough types of decisions that don’t necessarily have “right” answers. Some coaches—infamously Nick Saban—are confident in their ability to essentially take any player and bet that the cultural infrastructure is strong enough to mold bad apples into positive additions (all of this has limits of course). But many coaches, and it seems Aranda falls in this category, prefer not to take these chances. Instead, he can ensure a positive and healthy culture by only taking guys he knows will positively contribute to it. (There’s a third category of coach who doesn’t emphasize culture and just takes chances on basically anybody who is good enough. I won’t call anyone out, but there are some obvious candidates there. That’s a dangerous game.)
For Aranda, his approach is clear. What we’ve all learned about him so far is that he is an introspective, clear-minded coach intent on maximizing the potential of those around him. Here is what he told the American Football Coaches Association about why he coaches:
“I coach because for me, it’s always been about trying to help others serve others,” says Aranda. “When you’re helping people and really getting to know your people, your team, identifying strengths, and putting your people in a position to maximize those strengths, it’s the best.”
Every coach who comes to Baylor talks about how their mission fits Baylor’s mission. Many of us who are Baylor graduates understand the “Baylor difference.” I’ve taken classes at other universities and there is simply something different about being at a smaller school that has all the benefits of a larger university with respect to sports. When I talk to fellow Baylor grads about what they loved about Baylor, it’s always about the entire package. When I talk to friends who went to other universities, they tend to point to one thing or another. This “whole package” is at the center of what Baylor is selling.
When I was a freshman at Baylor, coming from a small town and never having been to a college football game before, I couldn’t believe my eyes when my first ever game was running the Baylor Line on a Friday Night against a Top 25 TCU. The stadium was packed, the players were huge and fast, and the atmosphere was electric. At most other schools, student sections are forced into crappy sections of the stadium. At Baylor, you get to run on the field and sit right over the opposing sideline. This experience epititomizes the “Baylor difference”—smaller school benefits with big time experiences.
The “Baylor difference” is going to become more and more important as “Name, Image, Likeness” (NIL) rules go into effect this July. For those out of the loop, these new rules allow for players to make money off their NIL while they are in school. I haven’t read much about it, but I presume that players will be able to be sponsored by local businesses and such. This is obviously a sea-change for college athletics, and will almost assuredly stratify the sport even more between the haves and the have-nots.
Baylor is a smaller university with a smaller alumni base. Of course, this smaller atmosphere is a huge part of what makes Baylor such a great experience as a student. But it will probably make it more difficult for them to compete on a 1:1 basis with the biggest programs in the nation when it comes to NIL stuff. This is all conjecture and we will have to see how it plays out — no doubt that there will still be plenty of NIL opportunities for Baylor players, it’s just a matter of how it compares to everywhere else that is to be determined.
Thus, Baylor will have to find a way to differentiate itself from your average giant school program. The family atmosphere that it has cultivated seems like a great way to do so. When recruits come on visits, like top OL commit Alvin Ebosele, and talk about the family atmosphere, the “person over player” mentality, and how he’s excited to be part of a great engineering program, I think that’s a great vision of the type of recruit Baylor will be going after in the future. Guys that value the entire package and are not enticed by one piece of the puzzle.
Of course, being really good at football has to be a part of this picture or else nothing else will matter. This upcoming season is a huge one for Aranda and staff. They’ve got a lot of the right pieces coming together to compete in what will be a very tough Big 12. The future is never guaranteed. All you can do is try your best to figure out what will be important, then put your best foot forth. For Baylor, the family atmosphere is at the forefront.