Today's announcement that Art Briles will be the new football coach at Baylor marks a nice rebound for athletic director Ian McCaw in a search that had been sprialing in the wrong direction -- from a perception standpoint -- since Baylor legend Mike Singletary took his name out of the running last Wednesday.
Baylor may not be as committed to pursuing a national championship as Singletary would like, but the Bears showed some commitment to trying to climb out of the Big 12 South Division basement by putting together a reported seven-year package for Briles, at $1.8 million per season. The length of the contract is more significant than the payout because it suggests a willingness to let Briles recruit and develop his own players before he is judged by the W' and L's. That's key in any turnaround situation.
With Briles, Baylor gets something it would not have had with Singletary: a coach with longterm ties to the Texas High School Coaches Association. The former Stephenville HS coach is well-liked among that group and should be in position to pluck some plums from off-the-beaten-path HS programs thanks to input from his former THSCA peers. At the very least, he should be well-positioned to know about -- and, hopefully, sign -- a promising, undersized QB from Texas who can play at the Big 12 level before letting the next Todd Reesing (5-foot-10) go off and resurrect Kansas' football fortunes instead of Baylor's.
With Briles' wide-open, spread offense, Baylor's existing personnel should be a good match for the incoming coach and make for a more seamless transition period than is usually the case in these situations. But the big assest is Briles' recruiting ties to Texas' HS football coaches. Baylor will have to find its share of hidden jewels in that talent pool to turn things around, as they once did under Grant Teaff. Briles gives them a well-connected opportunity to do that. A better opportunity, frankly, than they would have had with Singletary.
Will this work? No one knows. Baylor has suffered through 12 straight losing seasons. It will take time and talent to turn things around. From the looks of things, Baylor officials are willing to give Briles the time it takes. Bringing in the talent to do it is up to him. At the very least, he's well-connected with the people a Baylor coach must know to get the talent upgrades the school needs to get back to a bowl game -- forget about a championship -- sometime in the next three to four years.
_ Jimmy Burch