WACO, Texas -- The closing paragraph of Baylor's findings on the failures of its football program, released Thursday in conjunction with the school's decision to suspend, and eventually fire, coach Art Briles, begins with a conclusion that seems almost too obvious:
"The football program failed to identify and maintain controls over known risks, and unreasonably accepted known risks."
That allegation had been hanging over Briles' head for more than nine months, ever since his former player Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault in August. Briles and his staff had given Ukwuachu, a troubled former freshman All-American who'd been dismissed from Boise State, a chance for a fresh start in Waco. They took a risk.
His conviction prompted Baylor's hiring of Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP to conduct a thorough external investigation. The results of that investigation -- which also alleged that staff members had improper involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters, did not report misconduct and relied on internal discipline that created a culture without accountability -- brought an end to Briles' eight-year reign at Baylor.
The 13-page report of the investigation's results does not reveal any names of players or coaches, but Briles' influence isn't hard to find. Accepting known risks with football players has long been a foundational part of his coaching philosophy. As he put it in his 2014 autobiography "Beating Goliath: My Story of Football and Faith," Briles believed he was in the "kid-saving business." He has never been shy about sharing that viewpoint.
In an interview with ESPN.com in March 2014, for example, Briles spoke proudly about his coaching staff's track record with transfers. They'd sent defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a Penn State transfer, to the NFL. Oregon import Lache Seastrunk was their star running back. Shawn Oakman was about to become a starter.
"I think we do a good job of nurturing and giving these guys a chance to get their feet on the ground and start over," Briles said. "We're very nonjudgmental."
Embracing those players who needed a fresh start to unlock their talent was important to Briles on a philosophical level.
"I've always thought the best of people until they prove me wrong," Briles said. "For somebody that hasn't made a mistake that's on this earth, I'd like to meet him. We're all a work in progress and all where we're at because somebody believed in us and gave us an opportunity. Just because somebody is wrong yesterday doesn't mean they're wrong today. You try to help people move on."
In an interview last summer, while discussing the opportunity he'd provided Oakman at Baylor, Briles brought up this ideology again.
"I've always just judged people for the way they were when they're around us, when they got here," he said. "If we're going to carry clouds around on people, then there's going to be a lot of dark days. So we came in with an open mind, a fair beginning."
This didn't just apply to transfers, of course. In "Beating Goliath," Briles revealed a core tenet he had in building Baylor into a football powerhouse. When evaluating recruits, he and his staff sought players from less-privileged backgrounds. They preferred high-potential kids who were rougher around the edges.
"We wanted mavericks. We wanted guys with no sheet on their bed rather than silk sheets," Briles said. "I wanted tough guys. Guys that just had to fight and grind and work for everything that they ever earned. Someone who had to earn their respect."
He was a father figure in the lives of many of those players. He cared deeply about helping them thrive, and his faith in them was rewarded time and time again on the field. And Briles fought for them during their off-field failures.
"If they do falter or make a mistake, then we need to save them and give them a chance to get back on the right path," Briles wrote in "Beating Goliath."
That attitude was part of the reason Pepper Hamilton concluded:
"The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University."
A system built on second chances crumbled under intense scrutiny. Briles will surely fight for himself in the weeks to come. In order to coach again, Briles will have to persuade someone to take a chance on him.
Will he be willing to change now? In "Beating Goliath," Briles made it clear he doesn't seem willing to budge. He believed in guiding players through mistakes to ensure they'd succeed. He believed he could save them.
"That's the way I've always felt," Briles declared, "and I'll never think differently."
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