By Tyler Alley
The darkest of days: Baylor football 2007.
This is how senior inside linebacker Elliot Coffey described his true freshman year playing for the Bears; it comes in marked contrast to the team’s recent successes.
Coffey said that during this time, players faced internal questions about their participation in Baylor football due to the team’s bad record and had to work hard to keep from getting down.
“When you’re working as hard as you are and you’re losing, it makes you think, ‘What I am doing? What am I doing wrong?’ You have to reassess yourself,” he said.
Baylor went 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the Big 12 that year. Now things are looking sunny. Baylor, which finished the season 9-3, is on its way to the Valero Alamo Bowl and the defense has forced a turnover in every game this season.
Coffey said it was monumental for the 2007 team to even think it could beat a Big 12 team, an immense difference to the team’s attitude this season.
“There was so much pessimism that was still floating around the program from guys who had just been defeated for so long that [the players] had really just accepted that as their fate,” he said.
“To approach games like we do now, knowing that we’re a solid team, and Coach [Art] Briles says it, we’re a great team and we have great players. And it’s just great to see that it’s changed the way it has. It’s night and day from the way it used to be.”
The highlight of the season for Baylor has been the “November to remember” where the team went 4-0; the defense played a big role in those four wins with 11 turnovers, and then six turnovers in the following game against Texas. Coffey himself earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Kansas, in which he had 10 tackles, one tackle for loss and two interceptions. Coffey, who has been called one of the leaders of the defense, said he is excited to see what the team is capable of doing.
“We have made big plays that we needed to make. It’s great to see guys that I’ve seen work, guys that I’ve seen grind, get yelled at by [defensive coordinator Phil] Bennett, go out there and make those plays. It just shows these guys are working, but they can make plays.”
Coffey said he credits the team’s turnaround with the arrival of the current coaching staff. However, the transition was not easy.
“There were guys, when Coach Briles got here, did not buy into his system, did not buy into [assistant athletic director of athletic performance Kaz Kazadi’s] system, felt that what they were doing was the right way, that they would win doing what they were doing, and that wasn’t the situation at all,” Coffey said. “So the more you see people buy into the system, the more people you see people accept how things are going to change, it really changed.”
And once he and other players began to follow the program Bennett, Briles, Kazadi and linebacker coach Jim Gush were implementing, things began to improve, he said. And not just on the playing field: Head Coach Art Briles highly praised Coffey in a recent interview.
“I am very proud of Elliot for a variety of reasons: being a great leader, a great teammate, being a great spokesperson for our football program and our university,” Briles said. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He has got a great mom and dad who have certainly raised him in a positive way to where he is more concerned with others than himself.”
In terms of his personal growth, Coffey said the move from being an athletically gifted suburban kid in high school to a college linebacker was about the more than talent.
“I didn’t have to go out there and focus on the details as much as I did, say, coming to college, where you understand that the game isn’t about being the best athlete anymore,” Coffey said. “It’s about how smart you are, how you can adjust to the different looks that you get, how you can listen to your coaching. It’s precious what you’re given, and you got to work and stay on and preserve.”
Coffey is currently devoting all of his focus to the bowl game, but he said he hopes to keep playing football as a professional outside Baylor. It’s in his blood; his dad played for the Washington Redskins. However, if that doesn’t work out, Coffey’s major in speech communications will provide an outlet, and hopefully a career, in which to use his off-field talents.