Problems off the field could have more of a detrimental effect on the Baylor Bears this season than what happens on the field.
Baylor, a team that has won 50 games in the last five years, has a lot of obstacles to overcome.
Coach Art Briles, one of Baylor’s most successful coaches ever, was fired following a report criticizing Baylor’s handling of complaints of sexual harassment at the private university.
Jim Grobe, 64, has been tabbed as the interim head coach and he has kept Briles’ coaching staff pretty much intact. Grobe, who was out of coaching the last two seasons, was 77-82 in 13 seasons at Wake Forest, leading the Demon Deacons to five of their eight all-time bowl appearances and winning the ACC championship in 2006, when he was named the AP National Coach of the Year. Before Wake, he compiled a 33-33-1 record in six seasons at Ohio University, which had won just 17 games combined in the previous 10 years.
“We’re going to try to keep the same schemes, the same offense, the same defense, keep the staff intact,” Grobe said, “and hopefully go forward with these guys. I think it was a sense of relief for the players to know that we’re going to try to be as steady as we possibly can.”
Grobe said his No. 1 priority is to “restore confidence” in the football program.
“That’s the thing we’ve lost,” he said. “It’s really sad when the behavior of a few affects so many people. The collateral damage that comes from bad behavior of just a few kids can be overwhelming.
“I want everybody to know that we have great kids. I’m sure I’ll have a few guys that I’ve got to dust off once in a while, but that’s on every football team. I’m OK with guys that are a little edgy, if it’s missing class or getting parking tickets, things like that. But we have to have a no-tolerance policy right now with bad behavior. Winning is very important, being good students is very important, but nothing is more important than character.”
Some of the 2016 freshman class did not report for the start of the first summer session and some asked for and got a release from their letters of intent.
“I’m not here to replace Art (Briles), I’m really here to try to help these kids get through this tough time,” Grobe said. “And I think that’s echoed in the willingness to keep the staff together, not bring in my own people, and not try to make a bunch of changes. . . . Basically, everything I’m doing right now is geared toward helping our players. And I think they understand that.”
Grobe has no problem with his interim status.
“Every coach is on an interim basis,” Grobe said. “Whether you like to admit it or not, football coaches are an endangered species. And I think administrators are an endangered species. A football gig, a basketball gig, today at the highest level is interim whether you say it or not. For me personally, I have only one focus, and that’s 2016, to coach these kids as good as I can and to help our coaches be the best they can be, and win a bunch of football games.”
Baylor rolled to a 10-3 record last season, including a 49-38 win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Bears rushed for 645 yards in that bowl game.
Baylor, which began the year 8-0 before losing three of its final four regular season games, led the nation in scoring offense (48.1 points per game) and total offense (616.2 yards per game) a year ago despite injuries to multiple starting quarterbacks (four different players attempted at least 20 passes).
In a game against Oklahoma last year, the two teams combined for 927 yards of total offense and 78 points as the Sooners beat the previously unbeaten Bears 44-34 in Waco. Oklahoma (2012 and 2015) and Baylor (2013 and 2014) have accounted for each of the last four Big 12 championships with the head-to-head winner taking the conference crown each year.
Oklahoma State lost to Baylor 35-45 in a shootout in Stillwater last year. Baylor had 700 yards, with 396 passing and 304 rushing while OSU had 433 passing yards but only 8 yards on the ground.
Baylor lost a ton of talent in the NFL draft, with six players being drafted, including wideout Corey Coleman in the first round to Cleveland and cornerback Xavien Howard to Miami in the second round. Nose tackle Andrew Billings went to Cincinnati in the fourth round while offensive tackle Spencer Drango went to the Browns in the fifth round. Safety Jimmy Landes was drafted in the sixth round by Detroit while Rico Gathers, who played basketball at Baylor, was taken in the sixth round by the Dallas Cowboys.
Quarterback Seth Russell, who will probably start for Baylor, was a Heisman contender through seven games before he was sidelined with a neck injury.
He threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns on 59-percent passing in his limited time in 2015.
Wideout K.D. Cannon caught 50 passes last year for 868 yards and six scores. Baylor’s leading rusher, Shock Linwood, was a Doak Walker and Maxwell Award candidate last year. He rushed for 1,329 yards and 10 scores on just 196 carries (6.8 yards per carry).
The Bears’ defense ranked 79th in points allowed in 2015. Linebacker Taylor Young finished third on the team with 80 tackles a year ago while also racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
The Bears will open the 2016 season with a home game at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2, against Northwestern (La.) State. Baylor has one of the lightest nonconference schedules in the nation among the Power Five Conferences with games against Northwestern Louisiana, SMU and Rice.
Baylor was ranked No. 7 in a preseason poll by ESPN but that could change with the loss of Briles and some of the freshmen recruits.