As Baylor scandal deepens, Art Briles associates can't hide from it at their new schools

Pat Forde
College football and basketball columnist

At Liberty University, they don’t want to talk about Ian McCaw’s past at Baylor.

“Liberty has no comment at this time,” said the email from Len Stevens, executive director of external communications.

Same thing with Kendal Briles at Florida Atlantic.

“It is our policy not to comment on legal cases,” said the email from Katrina McCormack, assistant athletic director for media relations.

Arizona State at least put a little more effort into discussing Phil Bennett.

“All university employees are fully vetted through ASU’s human resources department on campus, and Mr. Bennett was no exception. We look forward to his contributions to our program.”

They’re ducking questions from Yahoo Sports – and who knows how many other media outlets – about hires of prominent former employees from the fetid swamp that was Baylor athletics during the Art Briles Era.

The hires happened during the winter, so they’re not new questions. They’ve heard them all before. But they need to be asked, again, after the latest and perhaps most lurid Title IX lawsuit was filed against the school last week. When an alleged gang rape is portrayed as a football bonding experience, a re-examination is necessary.

And then they might need to be asked again and again and again, depending on what else comes out.

The Baylor stain on the careers of McCaw, Briles and Bennett is not going away. If anything, it’s deepening with every new allegation. It must be noted that lawsuits give only one side of the story, and these belong to the plaintiffs suing the school – but they’re unbelievably ugly, and they spur fresh wonderment over how some people have gotten their current jobs.

Baylor continues to fall from grace while some former Art Briles associates escaped on life rafts. (Getty)

Liberty took the most egregious step, bringing onboard former Baylor athletic director McCaw for the same position at the fundamentalist Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. McCaw resigned from the Baptist school in Waco after victim allegations and the school-funded Pepper Hamilton report portrayed him as, at best, a buck-passing administrator more concerned with information suppression than cleaning up a massive problem.

Florida Atlantic hired former offensive coordinator Briles – Art’s son, the head coach whose own job prospects should be increasingly dim. Kendal was a truculent holdover under interim coach Jim Grobe last season, inscribing his father’s initials on his hands for the season-opening game. While loyalty to one’s father is understandable, the public display at an extremely charged time on campus was questionable. It wasn’t the time or place to make Art Briles a martyr.

Arizona State landed former Baylor defensive coordinator Bennett, making him the only full-time assistant from the 2016 Bears team to land a job at another Power Five conference school. He came with something of an exoneration letter from current Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades – but that piece of paper isn’t an all-purpose cleanser.

Neither the younger Briles nor Bennett were named in the publicly shared summary of the 2016 Pepper Hamilton report, and there is nothing that publicly links them directly with any of the wave of sexual assaults and other violent acts perpetrated (and/or allegedly perpetrated) by Baylor football players. But guilt by association has torpedoed the rest of last year’s staff.

The rest of the full-time staffers from that team have become virtually untouchable: two former Baylor assistants are working at a junior college, two at an NAIA school, and three appear to be currently out of coaching. Former assistant athletic director/strength coach Kaz Kazadi was “reassigned” this spring, with no explanation of what he’s been reassigned to do other than disappear. Nobody was retained by new Baylor coach Matt Rhule.

For the three schools that put their reputations on the line by hiring former Baylor staffers, the desire is to minimize and move on and hope to start winning games and changing the conversation. Because winning games is the most important thing in the college football world, right?

They shouldn’t get off the hook that easily.

Why did McCaw, Kendal Briles and Bennett get life rafts? Well, look who hired them.

The founder of Liberty University is the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who once had this to say about feminists: “I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. … These women just need a man in the house. That’s all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they’re mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They’re sexist. They hate men; that’s their problem.”

The current president of Liberty is Falwell’s son, Jerry Jr., who last autumn may have personally vetoed a student newspaper editorial critical of then-candidate Donald Trump following his infamous “Access Hollywood” comments about women.

As noted above, Liberty isn’t talking this week about hiring a man who led Baylor athletics during an alleged epidemic of violence against women.

But Falwell Jr. did have this to say last November, when McCaw was hired: “Ian’s success really speaks for itself. You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.”

Yes, look at what Baylor was able to do. Win a lot of football games and then become a disaster area – the school is the target of more than half a dozen lawsuits, multiple criminal investigations, and ongoing inquiries from the U.S. Department of Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the NCAA. Who wouldn’t want to follow that template?

(McCaw’s true value to Liberty is persuading the NCAA to green-light the school’s ambitious leap to FBS football status. To make that move work, multiple schools had to play ball with Liberty, quite literally. Among the FBS schools that have scheduled the Flames for future series: BYU, Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Mississippi and Rutgers. Thank them all for McCaw’s first big success in a job he shouldn’t have gotten.)

Florida Atlantic, which hired Kendal Briles, also hired Lane Kiffin as its head football coach. If you’re looking for an exemplar of probity in college football, you could go through about 125 FBS head coaches before you got to Kiffin. So of course he hired the younger Briles, unconcerned about adding another layer to his rogue reputation at a time when rehabbing that image would seemingly be a high priority.

Another head coach who would be close to the Kiffin end of the FBS probity scale: Todd Graham at Arizona State. He’s the guy who brought in Bennett, and who might be coaching to keep his job this season. If anyone were going to hire from the Briles staff, Graham would be almost as logical a choice as Kiffin.

Now, here’s the big problem for Liberty, FAU and Arizona State: The repercussions aren’t over, no matter how much they want them to be over. It’s not their timetable. They made hires of former Baylor staffers quickly and before anything near closure was at hand, and they’ll have to deal with what may be yet to come.

A Houston Chronicle column last week says more lawsuits are on the way. At least one investigative book on the Baylor scandal is nearing completion.

The ducking and covering at the three schools craven enough to hire from Baylor could become more difficult in the weeks and months ahead. Even if Ian McCaw, Kendal Briles and Phil Bennett help their new schools win football games, they bring a stain from Waco that isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

Former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw (L) is shown introducing Art Briles as Baylor’s football coach on Nov. 28, 2007. (AP file photo)