MT. VERNON, Texas (KWTX) Football coach Art Briles is no stranger to winning, and on Friday he had a complete shutout against Canton, 57-0, with his new team, the Mt. Vernon Tigers.
John Eddie Williams (left) Art Briles (center) Ken Starr (right). (Photo courtesy of Alice Starr)
Although the high school football coach remains undefeated in his new post, perhaps the bigger story was who was in the stands for Briles' biggest MV win yet.
"He's in his element, he's back home," said Ken Starr, former President of Baylor University.
Starr was one of the two or three dozen people from Baylor in the crowd of 3,000 who came to support their former coach.
“Art is a man who only loves football, faith, and family--I’m not sure which order though," said John Eddie Williams, President of Bears for Leadership Reform.
Williams, the namesake of Baylor's football field at McLane Stadium, traveled to Mt. Vernon from Dallas for the homecoming football game.
He says it was a homecoming for Briles, too.
"It's a Renaissance, and it's interesting, somebody pointed out, that he'd been coaching in Florence where the Renaissance started, and it's been a rebirth for him, I think it's the start of a new journey for him," said Williams.
Other Baylor 'big wigs' who came to see Briles' first home game for Mt. Vernon included former regents and athletic directors.
"Some people get treated fairly and some people get treated unfairly," said Tom Stanton, former athletic director at Baylor from 1995-2003. " Art was one of those that still should have a great opportunity in football at very many levels, and this is a great first step for him to start a phenomenal comeback."
Briles was fired by Baylor in 2016 amid the school's rape scandal that university leadership heavily blamed on the football program following the findings of Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia-based law firm Baylor hired to conduct an investigation about the school's mishandling of sexual assault reports.
As more information has been released over the last three years surrounding the scandal, many people, especially in the Waco community, feel Briles, and others like longtime athletics employee Tom Hill, were scapegoats in a university-wide cover up.
"We're excited for him, and this is his new step, and hope each one of us can begin each of our new steps and our new stories," said Hill.
Along with Briles and Hill, Starr was fired as President amid the scandal.
"I knew that justice would win out, remember--Coach Briles left Baylor under unhappy circumstances but he was not fired for cause, and his contract was honored," Starr told KWTX. "We don't want to revisit all that, re-litigate all that, but I think the more that we know about Coach Art Briles, the more we know he's an honorable man."
Briles' character has been put under the microscope since the scandal broke in May of 2016; the former Big 12 Football Coach of the Year couldn't get a job coaching anywhere in the U.S., let alone at the collegiate level, until May of 2019 when Mt. Vernon ISD offered him a job as head football coach and athletic director of the high school in the small, northeast Texas town.
"It's high school football but it doesn't make any difference, it's still fun to see," said Walker Harman, a member of the Baylor Board of Regents from 1996-2005. "The man's gone through pure hell in his life, to have small town people love him and support him in high school football...it's not the Big 12 and it's not the big championship game, it's just good 'ole high school football."
With a Yahoo Sports article heading saying Mt. Vernon had 'sold it's soul,' the school district has faced much criticism for the decision to hire Briles, however, district officials have defended their decision to give the man a second chance, and now others are defending the district.
"They did the right thing and they had the courage to do the right thing, and I'm so proud of them," Starr said of the school board. "You see the community rallying around him, he's part of the community now, and that's who Coach Briles is, he's a very good man."
Not everyone agrees.
According to Mt. Vernon ISD Police Chief Max Cannaday, there have been reports of vandals putting stickers up around town (in a restaurant bathroom and on fruit and aisles of a grocery store) that read "Art Briles Protects Rapists."
The vandals are on camera but have yet to be caught; Cannaday believes they're outsiders not from Mt. Vernon.
While Bonham ISD hired extra officers for Briles' season opener there in late August, which MV won 44-16, Cannaday says he didn't hire an extra officers for the homecoming.
However, there were a lot of law enforcement officers there on their own accord to watch the game.
"Coach has to feel great to have this many people to support him both locally but from Baylor and from Waco and all of that, it's gotta feel good, a homecoming for him as well as the team," said Hill.
Baylor University officials declined to comment on the support Briles is seeing, shifting the focus to their current coach and team.
"Baylor declines to comment and stresses that the University is behind Coach Matt Rhule and the Bears' prospects for the 2019 football season," a spokesperson said in an email.
Briles told KWTX he's grateful for the Baylor supporters who have stuck with him and who came to see him in his new coaching role.
"I feel extremely blessed because I've got some people that are true, and they're loyal, and they know who I am and I know who they are, so it's encouraging for them to take time out and come be a part of this," said Briles.
He was a little nervous, he admitted, and felt extra pressure with them being there, however, it paid off.
"It's added pressure but it's also added humbleness, so I get a chance to experience something like this with these great kids and great friends and it's very humbling," said Briles.