Baylor football not so long ago was beleaguered. Beleaguered and woebegone and borderline hopeless.
Then Baylor hired Art Briles. Now the Bears are 7-0, ranked nationally, are the favorite to win the Big 12 and in contention for the national championship.
Is this just a case of Baylor hiring the right coach?
“That's always the case,” said Grant Teaff. “It's not just the case. It's always the case.”
Teaff is someone who should know. Like Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech and Rich Brooks at Oregon and Teaff himself at Baylor 40 years ago, Briles has turned a perennial loser into a national power.
Baylor hosts OU on Thursday night in a Big 12 showdown that could stamp the Bears not only as a force in 2013, but for years to come.
“With the quality of players Coach Briles has been able to recruit and the talent pool we've been able to have on the team, the future's very bright in Waco,” said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw.
A glittering new on-campus stadium is under construction, set to open in 2014. Recruits are flocking to Baylor to play in Briles' wildly successful offensive system, which produced 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and hasn't faltered post-RG3.
And Teaff says he saw it coming.
“I may be one of the only folks in the country who is not surprised by this,” said Teaff, who retired from Baylor after the 1992 season but remains an icon in Waco, where he's executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.
“Coach Briles is an outstanding coach. I knew he would be when he was hired.”
Briles is pure Texan. Born and raised there. Never worked anywhere but the Lone Star state. Coached 21 years on the high school level, where his innovative offenses became a statewide phenomenon.
Now Briles is a hero to the Texas high school coaches — one of their own has made good — and they have no problem making sure their recruited stars consider Baylor.
“His recruiting ties were really important,” McCaw said. “He had Texas high school coaches who knew him, believed in him. That was very instrumental in upgrading our program.”
Unlike many of the other rags-to-riches college football stories, Baylor sits in the middle of recruiting riches. Manhattan, Kan.; Blacksburg, Va., and Eugene, Ore., are a long way from blue-chip talent. Waco is 100 miles from Dallas, 180 miles from San Antonio, 200 miles from Houston.
A coach with a great football mind and the personality to win recruiting battles, with that kind of geography, has a fighting chance.
“I have watched him for a long time,” Teaff said. “There's not an ounce of pretense in his body. He's a real person. He relates to people. He relates to kids extremely well. He has been successful on all levels.
“The system he has, it's extremely consistent. It's worked wherever he's been. None of this is a surprise at all to me.”
McCaw came to Baylor 10 years ago from the University of Massachusetts. Baylor had gone 4-7, 2-9, 2-9, 1-10, 2-9, 3-8 and 3-9 since the Big 12's 1996 formation.
“I knew we had a lot of work to do,” McCaw said. “I came from Amherst (Mass.). I thought our talent level here was about the same. That's not good.”
Starting in 2003, Guy Morriss coached Baylor five seasons, going 18-40 overall. McCaw fired Morriss and hired Briles.
Briles and McCaw established a concrete plan: 1. become competitive; 2. get to a bowl game; 3. compete for a Big 12 title.
The Bears were competitive early, beating Texas A&M in 2008, Missouri in 2009 and playing Nebraska tough both years. Baylor made the Houston Bowl in 2010, Briles' third season. And now they're the Big 12 front-runner.
The success of 2011 — Griffin's Heisman, a 10-3 record capped by a six-game winning streak that included victories over OU, Texas Tech, Texas and Washington — made for a financial bonanza.
Donors rallied around the stadium project. University fundraising exploded. Alumni relations have improved. Student admissions have soared.
Now, McCaw's biggest problem might be keeping his coach. Briles is mentioned as a candidate at Texas, should this be Mack Brown's final season.
“He's turned this into a destination job,” McCaw said. “This is his program. He's built it from the ground up. He's really proud of it. We look forward to him continuing to lead our football program for many years to come.”
Born: Dec. 3, 1955, Rule, Texas.
High school: Rule High School, played quarterback for his father.
College: University of Houston, played wide receiver for Bill Yeoman, 1974-77.
Texas high school coaching: Sundown assistant, 1979; Sweetwater assistant, 1980-83; Hamlin head coach, 1984-85; Georgetown head coach, 1986-87; Stephenville head coach 1988-99.
College coaching: Texas Tech running backs, 2000-02; Houston head coach, 2003-07; Baylor head coach, 2008-13.
High school record: 166-46-4, four state championships.
College record: 74-58; 34-28 at Houston, 40-30 at Baylor.