Baylor football seeks to redefine its image

Senior quarterback Seth Russell dodges West Virginia University’s defense and runs the ball last season’s home game at McLane Stadium on October 17. Photo Credit Sarah Pyo, Lariat Editor-in-Chief

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

To say that the Baylor football program experienced one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in recent memory would be an understatement. As news of sexual assault allegations and pending lawsuits continued to flood headlines across the nation, massive changes had to be made by the Bears, who were coming off a 10-3 campaign, including a 49-38 win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The changes began when Baylor announced that head coach Art Briles had been fired and that Ken Starr was being removed from his position as president, making room for David Garland to serve as interim president of the university. On May 30, Baylor hired Jim Grobe, former head coach at Wake Forest University, as its interim head football coach. Just mere hours later, Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw resigned. These changes were brought on when details were released in a report by Pepper Hamilton, the Philadelphia based law firm hired to investigate Baylor’s handling of sexual assault cases.

“Institutional failures at every level of Baylor’s administration impacted the response to individual cases and the Baylor community as a whole,” found in the Findings of Fact.

Although nothing can be done to erase the crimes committed against members of Baylor’s student body, the university is committed to taking the correct measures to make sure these heinous acts of sexual violence do not continue.

As the university begins to implement the 105 recommendations presented by the Pepper Hamilton LLP, where does that leave the current members of the 2016 Baylor football program? How do they begin to flip the script on this past offseason?

It requires them getting back to what they know, and that is football. It is a new season and although the personnel is different, Grobe is committed to keeping the same successful schemes in place and making the transition as smooth as possible for his players.

“I thought it was really important, especially for our players, to have the same terminology, the same type of schemes as much as possible. But hopefully as we go forward, if I do see things that I think might help us be a little better, we might put a little different spin on a few things,” Grobe said at the Big 12 Football Media Day.

Grobe said he is impressed with the character of his football team since taking over for Briles.

“We have a lot of really, really good kids,” Grobe said. “All I can speak to is since I’ve been at Baylor. We’ve lost some kids that were dealt with previously, but the kids I’ve been associated with are quality kids. I want to support the good kids in our program that are doing the right things.”

One of those students Grobe is referenced is senior quarterback Seth Russell. Russell, who watched his season cut short last year after suffering a neck injury against Iowa State, has returned with a championship mindset and a commitment to excellence.

“You can throw whatever you want at us. You can take our head coach away; you can take our athletic director away; you can take our president,” Russell said at Big 12 Football Media Day. “But you’re not going to knock us out. We’re going to come back and we’re going to fight.”

Senior cornerback Ryan Reid shares Russell’s stance on moving past the distractions and maintaining a competitive mindset.

“What we came here to do — win football games, win the Big 12, contend for a national championship,” Reid said at Big 12 Football Media Day. “That’s what we need to focus on.”

The tarnished image of the football team will not quickly dissipate. Although healing is an often slow and painful process, the Baylor community, as well as the Baylor football team, are actively engaged in this process, hoping to put these tragedies behind them for good. The challenge is rigorous and the order is tall, but Grobe and Baylor football are prepared to face this challenge head-on.

“I know the challenge is great. We play a lot of good football teams going forward, but we have to get people to understand that we’ve got a great group of kids at Baylor University,” Grobe said. “And I think going forward, Baylor is going to be better than we have ever been. I’m proud to be at Baylor, and I can’t wait to start the season.”