Roots of Baylor's rise
Art Briles uses straight talk and Texas connections to build a winner
College football recruiters often conjure up images of used-car salesmen with their inability to separate fact from fiction. In a world in which promises of playing time are made every day and dreams of playing in the NFL are inflated, it's rare to find a coach who doesn't sugarcoat things when sitting in a prospect's living room.
But not every coach is Art Briles.
In six short years, Briles has turned Baylor into one of the top programs in college football, and tonight's game against No. 10 Oklahoma is being called the biggest game ever played in Waco. Under Briles, the Bears have won consecutive bowl games for the first time in 25 years, produced a Heisman Trophy winner and are prepared to unveil a $260 million stadium next fall. The program is experiencing unprecedented success, and none of it would've happened without Briles' ability on the recruiting trail.
"He's kind of like a second father to me because he's not afraid to tell you how it is," added Baylor's top 2014 recruit, WR K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant). "He's not one of those coaches that fills you up with rah-rah recruiting stuff."
Joseph Gillespie knew Briles was special the second he met him as a sophomore football player at Stephenville (Texas) High School. Briles took the job at Stephenville in the spring of 1988 after stints in various small West Texas towns.
When Briles arrived, he changed the culture of the football program and the entire community. The Yellow Jackets hadn't been to the playoffs since 1952 and had been beaten by archrival Brownwood 27 straight times.
But that soon changed. By the time Briles left in 2000 to become an assistant coach at Texas Tech, he had won four state championships and developed six Division I quarterbacks.
"He can see more in kids than what they can see in themselves and make them believe in it," said Gillespie, who is now the head coach at Stephenville. "That's a vast majority of the battle right there. If a kid believes that, guess what? He starts to play that way. And that's also something that's awfully powerful when you're out on the recruiting trail as a college coach.
"Art's got a gift. He used that gift to get us to believe when we were one of the worst programs in Texas high school football. He used it to help recruit talent and rebuild the programs at Texas Tech and at Houston. And he's doing it again at Baylor."
Briles' first recruit at Texas Tech was Wes Welker, an under-recruited receiver from Oklahoma City who went on to set an NCAA record with eight touchdowns on punt returns and become a five-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. In his first full year recruiting at Baylor, he landed four players who eventually made NFL rosters, with several more from this year's team currently drawing NFL attention. And let's not forget that Briles was one of only a few coaches who believed Griffin was talented enough to be a college quarterback.
Briles, who grew up in Rule, Texas, has spent his entire coaching career in his home state, and he has also surrounded himself at Baylor with assistants who have deep roots in the Lone Star State.
"He's a legend of Texas high school football," Gillespie said. "He's one of us. He's also a good ol' country boy. He's just as country as I am. He's from little ol' Rule, America, and he remembers his roots. He knows the hard work we put in as high school coaches and he recruits Texas kids."
"There are no gimmicks to what we're doing," added Kendal Briles, Art's son and one of his assistant coaches. "We're not acting a certain way to get a kid to come to Baylor."
Also engrained in Briles is tremendous attention to detail and a tireless work ethic. Kendal Briles said when the staff arrived at Baylor, his father pushed his assistants to work harder than everybody to overcome the perception Baylor was always going to be at the bottom of the Big 12. Briles also made it clear he wasn't going to cede the state's top players to traditional recruiting powers Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
"You could tell right away there was an instant state of competitiveness that came to Baylor that wasn't there before," said Robby Clark, who coached Baylor starting quarterback Bryce Petty at Midlothian (Texas) High School. "Recruiting kids was fixing to get competitive for them instead of just, 'Well, we'll take whoever A&M and Texas don't want.' They're going to get in those same houses and win. They've done it. They started doing it early. They're winning more now than they ever have."
Briles' recruiting wins have translated into victories on the field, and if the Bears get past the Sooners tonight, they become the favorite to win the Big 12 and remain in contention for the national championship. There's still work to be done, but those closest to Briles aren't surprised by his success.
"It all starts with his personality and his character," Gillespie said. "The rapport he's able to build with recruits, the rapport he's able to build with coaches and the rapport he's able to build with key administrators all make him special on the recruiting trail. Everybody buys into it. He gets everybody on board, and he's going to continue to have a great deal of success."
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