Independent review finds no reason Briles shouldn’t coach again at collegiate level

John Eddie Williams (left) Art Briles (center) Ken Starr (right) after Briles made his debut as...
John Eddie Williams (left) Art Briles (center) Ken Starr (right) after Briles made his debut as head coach at Mount Vernon High School. (Photo courtesy of Alice Starr)(KWTX)
Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 9:28 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2020 at 9:53 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - An independent review of the firing of Baylor head football coach Art Briles in 2016 commissioned by one of the university’s biggest benefactors concludes there’s no reason Briles shouldn’t be a candidate to coach again at the college level.

Baylor had no comment on the review Thursday evening, saying only, “Baylor University’s position on this matter over the past four-plus years remains unchanged. We will decline to comment further.”

John Eddie Williams, a Houston attorney who played football under former coach Grant Teaff, graduated from Baylor, and then earned a law degree from the Baylor Law School, commissioned the Atlanta-based Aloston & Bird law firm to conduct an extensive review of “what’s on the public record” about Briles and “how Baylor handled sensational allegations and ultimately made decisions.”

Williams provided what the university described at the time as a “transformative gift” that helped fund construction of the university’s new law school in 2001, and was among several major donors whose contributions helped fund construction of McLane Stadium, whose field bears his name.

But after Briles was fired, he helped organize and served as president of the group Bears for Leadership Reform, which demanded more transparency and an independent review of what led to Briles’ firing.

In August 2018 the group called for the resignations of all of the regents involved in Baylor’s handling of the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the school’s football program as well as for release of the complete Pepper Hamilton report and a third party review of the investigation and its aftermath. The group also requested a full accounting of money spent on the investigation, including PR firms and attorneys, and payouts to former athletic department and university officials.

Williams, in a letter dated Dec. 9 to which the results of the law firm’s review are attached, says he hates waste of talent, injustice and stronger interests that bully people.

“My goal is to pursue redemption and fairness,” Williams said in the letter.

“Coach Briles deserves a better hearing than he got, and is getting, about his tenure as Baylor’s head football coach.

“There’s no reason someone as talented as Coach Briles shouldn’t be coaching at the collegiate level,” Williams wrote.

“It’s time to redeem Coach Briles’ reputation, his future and to establish our own commitment to fairness.”

The review by the Atlanta-based Alston & Bird law firm’s report, a copy of which KWTX obtained Thursday, makes several points it identifies as important:

*”No findings were ever made as to what Briles did or did not do.”

*Baylor never made a determination whether “Briles violated any then-applicable Baylor University policies, procedures, and/or instructions concerning the handling of sexual assault, domestic, violence, dating violence or stalking.”

*Baylor “does not believe that Briles violated an institutional policy or directive at that time.”

*”Baylor does not contend that Briles concealed information from law enforcement.”

*Baylor is not aware that Briles ‘concealed’ information…'from officials of Baylor University who should have, according to Baylor policy, been notified by Briles.’

“We are not aware of any conduct on the part of Coach Briles that should serve to foreclose consideration of him as a candidate to coach football again at the collegiate level,” the law firm’s report concludes.

In fact, the report says, Briles’ experience at Baylor would help him improve the Title IX protocols of any university that hires him.

“Indeed, Coach Briles has specific ideas and suggestions for ensuring a robust Title IX compliance program born of his prior experiences should be he selected to coach again at the collegiate level.”

On May 26, 2016, following a nine-month investigation by the Philadelphia based Pepper Hamilton law firm, Baylor regents released a 13-page findings of fact statement and a list of 105 recommendations from the law firm, and announced the firing of Briles, the reassignment of Chancellor and President Ken Starr, and the suspension of Athletic Director Ian McCaw.

Four days later, on May 30, 2016, McCaw resigned saying he needed to step down in order to help the university heal and move forward.

He is now the athletic director at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Va.

Starr resigned from his position as chancellor on June 1, and severed all ties with the university in August 2016.

But the Pepper Hamilton review was flawed, according to university insiders to whom KWTX talked during a months-long investigation following the scathing report.

Information from sources with direct knowledge of the review, and secret recordings of meetings with athletic staffers obtained by KWTX, suggested that Pepper Hamilton’s investigators came to Waco with an agenda to purge members of the football program and had a racial undertone in their line of questioning.

The Alston & Bird law firm’s report affirms the information the inside sources provided.

Despite university-wide problems with respect to Title IX, the report says, Pepper Hamilton’s presentation to the Board of Regents in May 2016 “focused on a handful of specific cases concerning allegations against football players rather than of specific cases related to other athletic programs or involving other components of the university.”

The report cites McCaw’s deposition testimony in a suit brought against Baylor by Jane Doe plaintiffs in which he said he believed there was “a conspiracy…to try to turn a longstanding campus-wide sexual assault scandal into a football problem” and that there was “an elaborate plan that essentially scapegoated black football players and the football program for being responsible for what was a decades-long, university-wide sexual assault scandal.”

Briles spent three years in the wilderness after leaving Baylor, but in August 2019 he was hired as head coach at Mount Vernon High School.

He led Mount Vernon to an 8-3 finish last season, but his team lost in the first round of the state’s high school playoffs.

This year Briles’ 12-2 Tigers face 12-2 Jim Ned in the Class 3A Division I semifinals at 3:15 p.m. Friday at Globe Life Park.

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