Art Briles situation sparks conflict

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Southern Miss president Rodney Bennett and interim director of athletics Jeff Mitchell announced in a statement on Wednesday, Feb. 4 that former Baylor head coach Art Briles will not be hired as the offensive coordinator of the football team.

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson also released a statement on Wednesday that publicly contradicted the statement that Mitchell and Bennett released.

“Although I respect the decision of Dr. Rodney Bennett, I disagree with it,” the statement read.

Hopson said Briles “is a man who deserves a second chance,” who “committed no crime.”

On Monday, Feb. 11, Bennett released another statement where he declared the matter closed.

“University of Southern Mississippi head football coach Jay Hopson and I have spoken on multiple occasions in recent days and met face-to-face over the weekend to chart the most successful path forward for the Southern Miss football program. Coach Hopson assured me of his commitment to overseeing a program that upholds the values of The University of Southern Mississippi. I know Coach Hopson to be a man of high ethics and integrity, and I assured him of the University’s dedication to continuing our winning tradition.

Our conversation included many topics, including the events of the past week. As a matter of practice, Coach Hopson seeks approval from and works in good faith with athletic administration on prospective student athletes who have special or unique circumstances for admission to the University, which is consistent with University protocol in student-athlete recruitment. Additionally, Coach Hopson notified the University of his desire to meet with Art Briles, which is his right to do so as head football coach and is in line with normal University processes. After an intentional and thorough review of Mr. Briles’ candidacy, I expressed my reservations, and ultimately that review led to the decision that Mr. Briles was not a viable candidate.  

I consider the matter closed, and I am looking forward to working with Coach Hopson on our mutual priorities and shared goals for the Southern Miss football program and how it contributes to our vision for The University of Southern Mississippi.”

Briles was the head coach of Baylor from 2008 to 2015 where he had a 65-37 overall record, including two Big 12 championships. While Briles has not held an offensive coordinator position at the collegiate level, he also served as the head coach at Houston from 2003-2007 and was a running backs coach at Texas Tech from 2000-2002. Prior to his stint at Texas Tech, Briles served as a head coach and assistant coach at the high school level in Texas.

However, despite success on the gridiron, Briles was fired in May 2016 when allegations of sexual assault by his players began to surface. A total of 52 acts of rape were reported in a 2017 lawsuit that 31 players allegedly committed. The school acknowledged that 17 women reported sexual or domestic violence involving 19 players. The scandal led to Briles getting fired, the resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw and the resignation of university president Ken Starr.

A report released by the Baylor University Board of Regents detailing law firm Pepper Hamilton’s investigation details the failure of members of the Baylor football program and athletics department to properly respond to reports of sexual assault.

“In addition to broader university failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players and to take action in response to a report of dating violence. Pepper’s findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct,” the report said.

Briles has had trouble finding work in the football world following his dismissal at Baylor. In August of 2017, the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League attempted to hire Briles as an assistant coach. Hours later, however, the Tiger Cats released a statement that they had decided not to hire Briles. The only official football position he has held since his dismissal at Baylor is as head coach of Estra Guelfi Firenze in the Italian Federation of American Football in 2018.

The Student Printz polled 42 students at Shoemaker Square on campus on Friday, Feb. 8, and 26 respondents said they did not know about the situation. Additionally, six females and eight males polled said Briles should not be hired, while one female and one male said that he should have been hired.

The situation became further complicated on Thursday, Feb. 7 when a report published by Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic revealed that Hopson recruited three players with histories of sexual assault, two while head coach at Alcorn State and one while at Southern Miss.

The player that was recruited at Southern Miss, Charles West, was accused of raping two women at knifepoint in 2015. West pled guilty to two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after both women in the cases declined to testify against West, according to a 2016 report from the Dallas Morning News.  

Anna Gonzalez Rose, a 1984 graduate of Southern Miss and current M Club and Alumni Association member, said that after reviewing Briles’ situation, she was in favor of hiring the former Baylor head coach and supported Hopson in the matter.

“I initially did not know if Art Briles would be a fit for our team, or our school or our program, but I started doing my own research after the initial tweets came out about Coach Hopson considering him as the OC [offensive coordinator],” Rose said. “So by the time it was really developing and it looked like there was a chance he was going to hire him, I started buying in. I decided to put my trust in our coach. If Coach Hopson had chemistry with him and felt like he was a fit for our team, then that was good enough for me.”

Southern Miss senior English major Emily Rasch was against a potential Briles hire.

“I think that it’s an embarrassment on behalf of Southern Miss,” Rasch said. “We are a school that promotes equality and justice for all people, and that includes sexual assault survivors and victims like myself.”

With the situations involving Briles and Hopson now over, Southern Miss will have to look to other options to fill its still-vacant offensive coordinator position, among other coaching positions still vacant. Hopson said that at his post National Signing Day press conference last Wednesday that spring practice will start on March 19.

 

*News editor Alyssa Bass and Printz reporters Brad Crowe and Elishah Santiago also contributed to this report.