Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Strongest Choice For Baylor

I have a certain affinity for Baylor.  My sister went there.  She met my brother-in-law there, and they now have two hilarious boys that call me Uncle Matt.  Through them, I know a bunch of their friends from Baylor.  They invited me into their fantasy football league, and they've done an exceptional job of tolerating the lone Longhorn in the group.

In addition, my very first job interview after college was in Waco.  It's a surprisingly pretty town that's only been accentuated by the brand new McLane Stadium, Baylor's gorgeous new stadium right on the Brazos River.

Plus, I've always a great time at Cricket's, Waco's venerable college pub.  But Waco is a tough sell to many, especially now.  Most still associate Waco with the Branch Davidian cult and massacre of the early 1990s.  Many more associate Baylor with the Dave Bliss scandal of 2003 where he lied about his ties to murdered basketball player, Patrick Dennehy, and accused the deceased Dennehy of dealing drugs in order to deflect the fact that he was paying him under the table.  

Most recently, though, Baylor is thought of as the Baptist university that hired Art Briles, an architect of a high-flying offense, and a Christian man who looked the other way when women came forward with allegations of rape by his football players.  At least two different players were convicted of sexual assault under Briles' watch, and no discipline was handed down against running back Devin Chafin despite the fact that Briles and the team chaplain both knew about the incident.  

Baylor dismissed Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and university president Ken Starr in wake of the scandal.  Baylor has spent these last few months trying to maintain a cohesive football team despite all the upheaval, and is now searching for a new coach due to interim coach Jim Grobe's decision to move on from the Bears.  

Baylor's leading candidate so far is California's Sonny Dykes whose 41-45 lifetime record is apparently good enough to at least consider a lateral move from the liberal utopia of Berkeley to conservative bastion of Waco.  Perhaps it's because no one else really wants to take on the challenges of picking up the pieces from the successful and troubled Art Briles, but the Dykes rumors seem to be uninspiring at best.  

Dykes finished his 2016 campaign with a 5-7 record, and apparently this is good enough because he's the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes.  Maybe Sonny Dykes will be a good fit, but this choice reeks of nepotism and a good ol' boy networking con job.  The hiring of Dykes really doesn't speak to an act of contrition towards the women that have been aggrieved due to the Briles administration.  In addition, Dykes' interest in the job seems disingenuous at best given that he has a 19-30 record in his four seasons at California, and has been in danger of losing his job as a result.  Dykes interest may be more proactive given that he may not be in the Bay Area for much longer anyway.  

If a 41-45 lifetime record is the best Baylor will consider, they need to consider that there's someone else out there, someone else who finished with a 5-7 record this year too, but who is a way better fit for the situation the Bears are in now.  

I won't take back anything I've said about Charlie Strong.  Strong's tenure at Texas was chaotic at best.  It was marred by inexplicably bad coaching decisions, wretched special teams play and inconsistent preparation.  That said, Strong is absolutely the best candidate for Baylor job given the pedigree of coaches they are currently leaning towards for three reasons.

1.  Hiring Charlie Strong is a fantastic PR move.

Strong would bring to Waco his five Core Values for his players: honesty, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons...and treating women with respect.  For a school rocked by sexual assaults by its football players, Charlie Strong would absolutely bring back integrity to a Christian university in desperate need of reform.  In addition, Strong would have absolutely no issue removing potential predators left over from the Briles regime.  Strong would rather abdicate wins than tolerate misogyny.  

Hiring Strong would send a clear message to the community, to the university and to college football, that it is ready to shed its shameful past, and clean house by any means necessary.  Furthermore, when the NFL was trying to figure out how to rehabilitate its image after the scandals involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, Commissioner Roger Goodell turned to Charlie Strong for advice during a breakfast meeting in Austin.

Goodell is perhaps the most powerful man in sports, and he flew down to Austin to figure out how to change.  Waco is just up the road.  Baylor would be wise to listen to him now that he's available.  

2.  Charlie Strong knows the Texas recruiting trail.

Let me get this straight.  Baylor is heavily courting a guy who has no head coaching experience in the state of Texas.  His biggest claim to Texas is his dad.  He has spent the last four years in Berkeley, CA, the cultural antithesis to Texas.  And now Baylor thinks this is the guy who is going to convince guys to come to Waco?  

That's absolutely ridiculous.  Charlie Strong just finished the 2015 recruiting campaign with the eleventh best class in the country, and the best in the Big 12.  Baylor would be foolish to consider a guy who has spent the last four years as an outsider to the state when a guy who knows the recruiting trails in Texas incredibly well is available, and only lives 90 minutes away.

3.  Both Strong and Baylor are in need of redemption.

Baylor needs redemption way worse than Strong for all the reasons previously stated.  But Strong needs this too.  He needs to be able to prove that he can take his Core Values and win elsewhere.  Furthermore, we have seen coaches fail miserably in one place, surface with a different team, and win in resounding fashion.

Bill Belichick was dismissed from Cleveland.  He found redemption and four Super Bowl rings in Foxboro.  More recently, Gary Kubiak presided over a 2-14 disaster in Houston, only to win a Super Bowl ring two years later in Denver.  

Baylor needs to prove that it can win with integrity.  Strong wants to prove that integrity is integral to winning.  Strong and Baylor seem like they need each other at this point in time.

I sincerely hope that Baylor reconsiders their choice of coaches.  Maybe Sonny Dykes is a good man who will do well in Waco, but based on what I've read and seen, it sounds like a pick rooted in desperation rather than in confidence.  

I'm not sold on Charlie Strong, the football coach, but I know one thing for certain.  He won't tolerate that Good Ol' Baylor Lie.  

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