Baylor University fired football coach Art Briles and removed Ken Starr as president on Thursday after an independent review uncovered significant problems with how the athletic department handled sexual assault allegations against football players. Starr will keep his title as chancellor of the university.
In addition, Baylor’s athletic director was sanctioned and placed on probation after the review stated that the culture of the football team was that they were above the rules.
It was punishment similar to what Penn State levied in 2011 against legendary coach Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. The school president resigned and regents terminated Paterno and the school’s athletic director. Sandusky, Paterno’s long-time defensive coordinator, is in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of child sex abuse.
Richard Willis, Baylor’s chairman of the board of regents, said Thursday on a teleconference that he felt deep sorrow for the Baylor victims.
“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Willis said.
“This investigation revealed the university’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us.
“Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”
The results of a report compiled by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton were so stunning that regents unanimously voted to dump Briles, who turned a once-moribund football program into a national power. Briles, who was hired in late 2007, led Baylor to Big 12 titles in 2013 and 2014. In 2o11, Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III won the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
Starr, a one-time favorite for a Supreme Court spot who in the 1990s spearheaded a federal investigation of President Bill Clinton, was removed as school president. He had tenure, so he could not be fired. Rather, he will stay remain as university chancellor with no involvement of daily operations at the school. He also will be allowed to stay as a law professor.
Willis said Starr’s role will focus on development and religious liberties.
Athletic director Ian McCaw, who has led a revival of all sports at the school, was reprimanded, but Willis declined to reveal details about the punishment. Willis did say that McCaw would lead the search for a new football coach.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who was not implicated in the report, was named interim coach. Briles, 60, earned a base salary of $5.3 million.
Willis said the school has notified the NCAA and Big 12 Conference of the results of the review and would cooperate in any investigation.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who was attending the conference’s baseball tournament in Oklahoma City, said he had yet to see the report. He said it was unclear what the league would do.
“Are we concerned about it? Yeah, we’re concerned about it,” Bowlsby said, “because we’re concerned for the welfare of students in general and particular in this case students on the Baylor campus.”
Other Baylor employees were fired or sanctioned, although Willis declined to name who they were.
Briles did not meet with the team to tell them the news. Rather, he sent a three-word text message. His official Twitter account was deactivated minutes before the school announced he had been “suspended with intent to terminate.” He was not available for comment.
Bears linebacker Taylor Young said he didn’t think he could play for Baylor without Briles. He posted on Twitter: “Will forever love coach Briles. He changed my life. Thank you coach.”
Briles’ daughter, Staley Lebby, who is married to a Bears assistant coach, posted a response on Facebook:
“Sadly, Baylor was influenced heavily by the media and felt pressured to let him go,” Lebby wrote. “I guess a man that has resurrected your program and made you a top 10 program wasn’t worth fighting for or defending. The easy way out was taken. ... I will never wear a Baylor tshirt ever again & I hate that, but they did the unthinkable to one that matters most.”
Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton last September, days after former defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, a transfer from Boise State, was sentenced to 180 days in state jail for sexually assaulting a Baylor athlete. He was the second player to be sentenced to jail time since 2014. Former defensive end Tevin Elliott is serving a 20-year sentence after he was convicted of rape from an incident in 2012. McLennan County prosecutors said five women had accused him of sexual assault.
The school reached an out-of-court settlement with Ukwuachu’s victim, who transferred from Baylor. Jasmin Hernandez, a former Baylor student who said Elliott had raped her, has filed a lawsuit, accusing the school of failure to protect her.
Last month, former star player Shawn Oakman was arrested and charged with sexual assault. He was once a coveted NFL prospect. However, he was not selected in the NFL draft and did not sign a free agent contract.
Gina Smith, a Pepper Hamilton lawyer who led the review, said her team examined at least one million pages of documents pertaining to sexual and domestic assault. Smith is a former sex crimes prosecutor.