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The Future’s So Briles, I Gotta Wear Shades

With a riverfront stadium under construction, an 8-year contract extension, and string of solid recruiting classes under his belt, the future is bright for Art Briles and his Baylor Bears.

Joe Robbins

I study nuclear science, I love my classes
I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses
Things are going great, and they're only getting better
I'm doing all right, getting good grades
The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades
If Art Briles doesn't have any Timbuk3 on his practice playlist, he should.

After an up and down and up 2012 campaign, an eventful offseason, current success on the recruitment front, and high hopes for the upcoming season, this song just seems apropos.  Of course it brings back fond memories.  The same year that song was released on cassette, Baylor went 9-3, finished the season ranked 14th in the nation, and beat Colorado in the Bluebonnet bowl.  On a personal note, I was enjoying life as well.  Doing all right and getting good grades…

I am not aware that any of Baylor’s current football team members are studying nuclear science, but I could be wrong.  After all Baylor did top the conference APR rankings last season so it would come as no surprise.  You never know which classes a recruit might take to assure his eligibility.  It was Packard Physics in my day, but I imagine that times have changed.

The thing that I am definitely not wrong about is the "things are going great, and they’re only getting better" part.   And Baylor’s shades-wearin’ Art Briles has a lot to do with that.  Granted, it has been a team effort and there are a lot of people that had a lot to do with turning this program around.  Among the names that immediately come to mind are Ian, Phil, Phil, Kaz, Nick, Robert, Drayton, and many others.  But I would say that coach Briles is in a category by himself. He is the guy in the intersection with the whistle in his mouth, the guy at the front of the parade march holding a saber and not a rifle, and the guy at the head of the table saying grace.  There are a number of reasons why he is where he is today, but a few traits like his levelheaded management of a game plan, his charisma, and his ability to do more with less really stand out in my mind.

Coach Briles walks on the sidelines in his long-sleeved shirt with arms crossed, and no matter what is going on in front of him, he just does not get rattled.  Sure I have seen him get frustrated at a bad call here or there. Passionate?  Of course.  But the bad things just seem to roll off him.  Angry about the last play of the Holiday Bowl?  Yes.  Challenge the last play of the Holiday Bowl?  No.  Didn't matter.  Everyone in San Diego that night knew that he could have scored 100 points, but he ran, ran, ran the clock in the second half and subbed liberally.  No problem.  Celebrate the win, congratulate the team and fans, and head back to Waco with another trophy.  Take one more step away from pretender and one more closer to contender.

Bubble screen on 4th and 3 from his own forty and not think a thing about it?  Why not. Nobody in the stands would call that play.  Nobody.  They would be staring in disbelief as the ball was quick-snapped with the only sound heard a combined 70,000 lung gasp.  If he got it fine, if not fine, but he usually gets it.  In any case, the game plan didn't change.  When you think about it, it made sense.  The other team was pretty likely to score if he had punted it anyway, so what the heck, try to keep the drive going.  I would like to see the stats on it, but I imagine he goes for it on 4th down more than any coach in Division 1.

What about calling a receiver pass in the 4th quarter of a nationally televised season opener against a ranked team that sends your star quarterback on a crossing route into a safety/linebacker hammer sandwich? And by the way, that was no soft defense; they were the number one ranked squad from the previous year giving up a parsimonious 11 points per game.  Sure, go ahead, throw it to him.  I was in the stands cheering, but shaking my head at the same time on that one.  It was ridiculous, crazy.  The really ridiculous part was that it worked.  Talk about a Heisman moment.  People forget that one, but boy it was big at the time.

The bottom line is that Art is not afraid of taking a risk and does not get wrapped around the axle about it when he does.  Say what you will about that, but it is a good thing for Baylor fans.  Only a pretty serious risk-taker would have come to Waco in 2008 and taken over Baylor’s appalling Big 12 state of affairs.

In terms of personality, you would be hard-pressed to find a more colorful character in the collegiate coaching world. Sleeves, sunglasses, humor, self-effacement, Texas drawl, all of it goes together in a package that is a perfect fit in Waco.  Screenwriters in Hollywood would not draw it up any differently except that John Wayne (God rest his soul) is not available to play coach Briles.

Even if you are a competitor, you just can’t help but like the guy when you hear him speak.  I have to admit, I don't understand some of his quotes.  A lot of them actually.  Maybe it is my East Texas upbringing or where I am on the redneck continuum.  I don't know if it would help to be more or less of a redneck, and I consider myself pretty far down the scale.   But when I hear one of those quotes, I normally chuckle and just move on.

"That’s a good question, that’s an intelligent question, and it’s a sensible question, but I’m not a sensible man. We’re not going to predicate anything on anything that should be predicated."

I don't get it, but it sounds good.  The reporters at the Big 12 Media Day liked it.  In fact they loved it.

"Well, there’s two shiny things up here, that helmet and my head probably."

Now that is funny and everybody smiled when they heard that.  Everyone who just read that quote also smiled.  Admit it…

"Really, Bryce, a reasonable expectation, first thing that popped into my mind is break every Baylor record there is offensively, which is what we expect him to do and what he plans to do. I don’t know what expectation anyone would have other than doing that, which equates to winning every football game we step on the field with, which needs to be his expectation along with ours."

Confidence.  Not unfounded, non-sensical departure from reality, but a genuine belief in your player.  Did that put pressure on Bryce?  You bet it did, but not any more than he already had on his shoulders.  His name has found itself in the same sentence with names like: RGIII, Nick Florence, Tim Tebow, etc.  He has been feeling the pressure since December 28, 2012, so that did not incrementally add to it.  In fact it fired Bryce up.  It gave him increased confidence, made him want to do it even more.  Time will tell, but I doubt Baylor fans will be disappointed.

Speaking of confidence, I fell out of my chair when Lache announced he was winning the Heisman.  I thought it was a bit premature as I am sure that many reading this article thought.  This was a week before the Holiday Bowl game.  I was thinking to myself as I was booking tickets to San Diego that he better back it up…  Well he did.  He torched a top-20 team and was the offensive player of the game.  Frankly I think that barring injury Lache could very well be in New York at the end of the season, but it is not my opinion that matters.  An opinion that does matter?  Art Briles’.  Was Art upset about the prediction?  Nope, not at all.  He backed up his guy all the way.  He wants people believing in themselves.  Confidence does not equal arrogance.  Good to have the former without straying into the latter.

"He's always that way. Everybody thinks that he's just this guy with the big bold predictions.  But if you're a pretty premier, elite athlete and I ask you if you think you're good enough to win the Heisman, I would want you to say 'yes sir'."

This is a coach that is loved by his players, his constituency, his employers, and the media.  A pretty tall order for anyone but somehow he pulls it off.  He has a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.  In other words charisma.

Now for the number one reason why the future is bright in Waco and why Art Briles is a success.  It is that he is an overachiever in the classic sense of the word.  Overachievement is a relative term to be honest.  Overachieving in Waco is not the same as overachieving in Austin, Norman or Tuscaloosa.  And it does change over time.  Think about it for a minute.  2010 was a 7-win season that ended with a blowout loss in a minor bowl.  Everybody, including myself, thought that was a huge success.  We stormed the field after winning a 6th game as giddy as we could be.  If you didn't think it was a success, you were 1) lying to yourself or 2) delusional.  I am sure that Art thought it was great to have a 7-5 season and be a hero.  To take that season and build two more successful seasons and begin to quash the discussions around being a one-hit wonder (with all due respect to Timbuk3) is impressive.  Now people are saying that a 9-win season will be only ok, a bit on the disappointing side.  We have come a long, long way in the last 3 years.

And by the way, this was all with fairly average recruiting classes, good but not great facilities, and average levels of resources.  Make no mistake, Baylor has always had a reasonably good story to tell on the recruiting front and has been part of a major conference, but not even close to what its larger, state-supported rivals have enjoyed.  Can you imagine what coach Briles could have done with some of the top recruits that Texas has landed in the last 3 years?  A scary thought, and now that we are getting some of those top recruits, one that we will get to see played out in real time.

My point is this, Baylor is en route to the next level.  Not there yet, still debatable where it is on the scale, but at least on the scale somewhere.  Recruiting classes that are nationally recognized (that will no doubt overachieve), world-class facilities, an 8-year contract extension for its coach, and an outstanding Christian-based education that parents want for their kids are all parts of the puzzle that will spell success on the gridiron for the Bears.  With the new river-front development next door to the stadium, dare I say that Waco is in danger of becoming a tourist attraction? That might be too big of a stretch...  The needle is pointing in the right direction though.  Things are only getting better.

So Coach, thanks for all of your hard work and good luck in the upcoming season.  And… if you haven’t heard of Timbuk3, you should have a listen. Just make sure you are wearing your shades when you do.