We’re a week into the college football season and fresh off an opening weekend like none the great game has experienced before. There were important matchups between ranked teams, maybe even more importantly major schools with huge appeal lining up to play each other often times with stunning results. The effect of the College Football Playoff was on full display. Strength of schedule matters. Fans were the big winners. So was ESPN whose Texas-Notre Dame telecast was the second highest rated telecast of an opening weekend game (exceeded only by Miami-Florida State in 2005) ever. Now about the slate of games in Week 2…not nearly close to as compelling as there are exactly NO games between ranked teams. TCU-Arkansas is the top game of the week, but with all due respect to those schools and their fans, that’s not going to move the meter.
Which makes the decision by ESPN to air an interview with Art Briles all the more logical. Outside of the games themselves, there is no more intriguing story than the future of the former Baylor head coach who was fired in May for his role in the sexual assault scandal that rocked the team and campus. Since his removal, Briles has embarked on an image rehabilitation, visiting several NFL training camps (including the Cowboys in Oxnard) and now has been interviewed by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi for College GameDay that will air Saturday. A 40-second excerpt of the interview was played on SportsCenter on Wednesday night, in which Briles, no fewer than four times said, “I made mistakes.” The goal is clear: To return to the sidelines as a Head Coach of a Power 5 Conference school in 2017.
No doubt LSU and Auburn fans watching the continued ineptitude of their offenses salivate at the prospect of Briles bringing the on field success he had at Baylor to their schools. Both Les Miles and Gus Malzahn were on the hottest of seats before the season began because of their inability to get their offense right, and combining to score 27 points in their losses to Wisconsin and Clemson only ratcheted up the thermometer. However, Briles has an Everest-like mountain to climb if he is able to reach his goal.
That climb involves not his immediate future boss (his athletic director), but rather the university president who will be doing his best Wallenda high-wire act to defend such a decision. You know that Briles is going to have to tell the president everything that happened at Baylor. Would the president reveal the substance of the interviews with Briles that would likely already go deeper than the known? Does the president simply ignore the known case history? Can he simply explain this away as a football decision? If so, then little, if anything, will have been learned from Baylor. If Briles doesn’t come clean, why would a president waste more than three seconds with him. Does the president expect that media will try to stop investigating Briles and what happened? Is he ready to accept the embarrassment if anything is found?
They say time heals all wounds. Jackie Sherrill, who built both Pittsburgh and Texas A&M into powers, was forced to resign amid NCAA issues at A&M and it took him three years before he found a job at Mississippi State. The argument can be (and has been) made that what Briles was party to is far worse than what happened to Sherrill. Not saying Briles won’t get another big time job, but he might have to wait for a lot more information to be made public and/or resolved before anyone is willing to commit to him.