On Thursday, Baylor football coach Art Briles could charitably have been considered an incompetent know-nothing who had little interest in learning the off-the-field truth about a troubled transfer into his program.
On Friday, Briles looks more like a flat-out liar.
Now we'll see whether that's the man the Baptist school in Waco still wants leading its football program.
When Washington coach Chris Petersen issued a statement to ESPN Friday afternoon saying that he personally informed Briles about the reason for defensive end Sam Ukwuachu's dismissal from Boise State (where Peterson used to coach) in 2013, it put Briles' credibility on the front burner. Coaches don't always do what Petersen did. Good for him for speaking up – and bad for Briles.
"After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with coach Art Briles," Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington after the 2013 season, said in the statement. "In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam's disciplinary record and dismissal."
That came after Briles said this when asked Friday morning if Boise State told Baylor the unsettling details about Ukwuachu's problems: "No. No. That's not true. Lord, no. No, there's no truth. Find out who informed us and talk to them, please."
That would be Petersen. And in two sentences, the former Boise coach basically shredded Briles' limp, we-didn't-know excuse for taking a bad guy who revealed himself to be an even worse guy at Baylor. A guy who, on Thursday, was convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a fellow Baylor athlete.
A damning Texas Monthly exposé that was published this week, before the conviction, revealed that Ukwuachu was a major problem at Boise State:
"In documents from May 2013 obtained by Texas Monthly, Marc Paul, the assistant athletics director at Boise State University, recounts advising to Ukwuachu's then-girlfriend in Boise that she stay away from the house the two shared for several nights, after he put his fist through a window while drunk. Paul also makes plans for how to get police protection for the couple's other housemate, who received threatening text messages from Ukwuachu. Handwritten notes in a document from a Boise State source also refer to times that Ukwuachu would get verbally abusive over "small irritants" like a spilled drink, and note that the woman he lived with acknowledged that she would "probably not" admit it if the abuse were physical. It ends with the words 'NOT healthy relationship!' underlined. …
"And in August 2013, Chad Jackson, a senior associate athletic director at Baylor, was informed by John Cunningham, an associate athletic director at Boise State, that Ukwuachu's previous school did not support any waivers to get the player back on the field."
Yet he was welcomed in Waco in Spring 2013, sat out the '13 season as a transfer – and then sat out 2014 as well, with no real public explanation given by the school and apparently none demanded by the media that cover the Bears.
The reason, we later learned, was that he was accused of sexually assaulting a Baylor soccer player in October 2013. After a school investigation went nowhere, Ukwuachu was indicted in June 2014. The case culminated in his conviction this week.
Yet even after being indicted on two counts of sexual assault, Texas Monthly reported that the Bears were hopeful he would play for them this season. The magazine said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett informed a luncheon gathering this past June that he expected Ukwuachu to be on the field – even though his trial was scheduled to start this summer.
This story comes with the familiar odor of a striver program that has finally reached the top – and is willing to sell plenty of its soul to stay there.
Baylor football historically has been a beaten-down stepchild in the southwest – perennially unable to compete with Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. That began to change when Briles arrived in 2008, with the breakthrough season coming in 2011 – the Bears went 10-3 and Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy.
The past two years, Baylor has gone 11-2 and been ranked in the top 10. Last year it moved into a spectacular new stadium. This year the Bears start the season No. 4 in the USA Today coaches poll. Big ambitions are being realized at last.
But at what cost?
The odor around this story is familiar in Waco because Baylor has been down a dark road before – and not that long ago, either. It was 2003.
This is the school where one basketball player, Carlton Dotson, murdered another one, Patrick Dennehy. Coach Dave Bliss was found to have committed violations in partly paying for walk-on Dennehy's schooling, and attempted to cover it up by saying Dennehy paid his way via dealing drugs. Bliss' reputation was justifiably trashed, and the basketball program was heavily sanctioned – by the NCAA and the school itself.
Baylor may not have learned very well from its own past. Once again, a coach is now ensnared in a situation that could undo his program building.
On the eve of a promising season, this mess could cost Art Briles his job. The timing isn't good, but neither is Briles' handling of the affair. Removing him is something the school should consider, if it truly cares about an athletic reputation that still bears stains from earlier this century.