Baylor football doesn’t need to be rebuilt. It simply needs to be maintained.
Continuing the program’s on-field success -- which pales in comparison to the off-the-field overhaul -- sits high on the priority list of new coach Jim Grobe. The former Wake Forest coach could end up being a good choice to take over for Art Briles, who was removed this offseason from the program he had built to prominence, if he’s able to change the culture while simply maintaining Baylor's recent success.
“If someone (asked) ‘Would Jim Grobe be a good hire at Baylor with the circumstances?’ I would have said no doubt,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “He’s a very smart, mature, veteran coach so I would think whatever circumstances he’s presented, he’d have the best chance to make good decisions. He’s going to sit down and think things through.”
The off-the-field work is the most important project for Baylor’s new head coach, but continuing to drive forward a program which won 50 games during the past five years to go from Big 12 also-ran to title contender is also important. Briles was at the center of it all, the driving force behind Baylor’s rise, so the key for Grobe is to figure out how to combine his ways with the elements that helped the Bears win a pair of Big 12 titles.
“The last few years they’ve had as much success as anyone,” Gundy said. “What he’s faced with, you gotta bring guys in and start over or stay with what you have, maintain what you have and do the best to keep going. I wouldn’t think it would be easy. I think they brought him in because he was out there and most people wouldn’t want to take that task on.”
Gundy is one of the few Big 12 coaches who can relate to some aspects of what Grobe faces. Oklahoma State has won 47 games during the past five seasons as Gundy built his alma mater into a conference title contender. He joins Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and TCU’s Gary Patterson as Big 12 coaches who understand the challenges of keeping in contention.
“The most important aspect of maintaining overall success, not just football, but everything we deal with, is never coming off course of what you believe in,” Gundy said. “I don’t know that I knew that (beforehand) but I was lucky enough to say ‘This is who we are.’ There has to be accountability as a coach, accountability as a player. That’s what I think is important to sustaining success at a program that, over the years, is not as tradition-rich as some of the other schools across the country.”
Obviously, nobody has faced the same situation that Grobe is facing, but experience keeping a program at a championship level is difficult to come by. Patterson, who has won 100 games in the past 10 seasons, understands some of the challenges better than most, even though he’s convinced that his program hasn’t reached elite status quite yet. TCU’s transition to the Big 12 resulted in back-to-back single-digit-win seasons after four straight years with at least 11 wins prior to becoming a member in 2012. After winning 11 combined games in its first two seasons in the conference, TCU won 12 games in 2014 and 11 games in 2015.
“The biggest thing is, as I said when we got in the Big 12, our work just started,” Patterson said. “Recruiting and facilities, keeping your staff together, doing the right things and graduating your kids. If you can have those four (things), you have a chance to do it (have success) a long time.”
TCU and Oklahoma State have parallels to Baylor as programs that aren’t known as tradition-rich behemoths but have a case full of trophies that earned them a spot among college football’s elite.
The expectations at Oklahoma present a much different challenge but -- as we’ve seen at programs like Michigan, Tennessee and USC -- maintaining a place in the college football hierarchy can be just as difficult as building and maintaining success at a non-traditional power. Stoops' experience, and passion, for maintaining a title contender is a trait Grobe and Baylor’s players can try to mimic.
“The challenges are the players overall work ethic, their attitude and that they constantly realize that it's earned every year,” Stoops said. “Just because of a reputation or a group ahead of you, that has been Big 12 champions or whatever, (it means nothing) you have to earn everything all over again. You do that with sheer hard work, intensity and toughness."