As the countdown to the end of the season continues to tick, Mack Brown continues to find ways to win games. So why am I wasting the time worrying about whom the next coach is going to be? Because there are tough games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor remaining and it is far from a sure thing to expect Texas to win all three of those games. Can they do so? Of course they can. Will they? That’s a completely different topic.
Today, let’s take a look at the coach that Mack will face on December 7th to close out the regular season. In a game that could potentially decide the Big 12 Champion and a berth into a BCS contest, the game could have national title implications if Baylor continues their winning ways. The man on the opposite sideline of Mack not only could be coaching the biggest game of his career, but he could be auditioning for the best job in the country at the same time.
It’s difficult to compare Briles to a guy like Nick Saban head to head. But comparing anyone to Saban really is not fair at this time. But, there are a lot of things to like about Briles and what he has done in his career. He’s definitely a guy who has grown on me a lot over the past month or so and would more than likely be my 2nd choice at this junction behind Saban if there were an opening.
But who is Art Briles? Where did he come from? Who did he learn from? It’s not hard to trace back Briles’ roots and most Longhorn fans have known the name for nearly two decades.
Briles made his name in the Texas high school ranks, turning a Stephenville program that was used to playing second fiddle to Brownwood into a powerhouse, winning back-to-back titles on two separate occasions, first in 1993-1994 and again in 1998-1999. But the most interesting part about his titles is the changes that he made in winning them. His first titles were won on the back of a punishing rushing attack, scoring 89 and 96 rushing touchdowns over those two seasons. Somewhere between 1994 and 1998 Briles made a switch in offensive philosophy, moving to a spread-based passing attack that at the time was revolutionary in Texas high school football. Today, it is far more rare to see a team who does not have spread principles based in its offense, but in the late 90s, that was a foreign concept. When Briles left Stephenville after being hired by Mike Leach and Texas Tech, he had compiled a 135-29-2 record for Stephenville. Among the quarterbacks that Briles coached and sent to the collegiate ranks included Kelan Luker (SMU), Branndon Stewart (Tennessee/Texas A&M), Kevin Kolb (Houston) and Kendal Briles (Texas/Houston).
Briles was hired as the running back coach at Texas Tech under another prolific offensive mind, Mike Leach, in 2000. While at Tech, Briles’ top protégé was a young man with a familiar name, Ricky Williams. Williams earned 1st team Big 12 honors following the 2001 season and the Tech RBs, normally an afterthought in the Leach offense increased their production each season under Briles’ teaching.
The University of Houston hired Briles in 2003 following the unsuccessful 8-26 tenure of Dana Dimel and Briles paid immediate dividends. In his first season as a collegiate head coach, Briles led the Cougars to a 7-5 mark and a loss in the Hawaii Bowl. A pair of underwhelming seasons saw U of H go 3-8 and 6-6, but Briles led Houston to their most wins in a season since 1990 with a 10-4 mark behind quarterback Kevin Kolb and an offense that averaged nearly 440 yards per game. A second place finish the next year behind Todd Graham’s Tulsa squad with an 8-4 record ended his Houston career as Baylor hired him to be their 25th head coach.
Once again, it took Briles a couple of seasons to get his traction with matching 4-8 marks his first two seasons, but since that point, he has produced three straight winning seasons, not including his 8-0 start to this year. As the head coach of Baylor, not only has Briles turned the program from a Big 12 afterthought into a potential champion, he has consistently churned out top NFL draft picks, including five first rounders. He has also won a Heisman Trophy (Robert Griffin III) and a Biletnikoff award (Terrence Williams). In a state where the spread offense has become as common as Whataburger’s there might not be an offense which fits the talent as well as what Briles has installed at Baylor. And despite losing the greatest player to ever suit up for the Bears two years ago in RG3, his offense has not missed a beat with different quarterbacks and could be even better this season with Bryce Petty leading the charge. Could you imagine what Briles could do with the opportunity to cherry pick the talent like he could at Texas?
The biggest knock on Briles throughout his career at Houston and Baylor has always been his defenses. While he is an offensive guru, he’s consistently failed at stocking the cupboard on the defensive side of the ball. That is a major question mark, but one that I think would be less of an issue at a place like Texas where he would have the funds available to hire someone on a different level than what he’s had the chance to do previously.
I’ve come around on Briles in a major way. If you had talked to me three months ago there’s a good chance that I would not have even had Briles in my top 5 potential coaching candidates to replace Mack. It is amazing what an 8-0 start will do. But the more I have watched Baylor and looked into what Briles has been able to do throughout his coaching career it is not hard to see what kind of coach he would be for us. And at 57 years old, he probably would have five more years of coaching in him than Saban would. The fact that he could go undefeated this year at Baylor and fail to play for a national title also could not hurt our chances. You would have to think that would never happen at Texas. In the end, if Saban were to turn us down, I am firmly behind the hire of Briles as our second choice.