According to Chip Brown of Horns Digest, the Baylor regents are considering bringing Art Briles back as coach after a one year suspension. At first glance the idea seems crazy, but when you consider the money behind it, the decision makes some sense.
Let me explain why.
First, let’s toss the moral angle aside. As we’ve long established on Outkick, I am more outraged by every bad thing that happens in the world than you are. This wouldn’t be a moral decision — clearly you’d keep Briles fired if you were concerned about the message you’re sending — it would be about what motivates most decisions in business — money.
At the time of his firing Art Briles had a reported eight years and forty million dollars remaining on his contract. If Baylor fired him without cause the school would still be obligated to pay him that forty million. (If coaches get fired for not winning games, as most coaches are, then they receive all the money owed them.) But if Baylor fired him for cause — that is, violating the terms of his contract — then his contract would be void and Baylor would owe Briles no more money.
So here’s the central question at play: did Baylor have cause to fire Art Briles?
Most of you will say yes because this story is such a mess. But what direct wrongdoing has been proven by Briles? Absent direct action on his behalf that is clearly violating the terms of his deal then it would be difficult to prove his contract was violated for cause. Based on what I’ve read so far, I’m not sure that Baylor had enough evidence to fire him for cause, at least not with the information that has been publicly released. Remember, Baylor only gave an outline of the investigatory report. That outlined report doesn’t mention the wrongdoing of specific coaches, it just refers to coaches in general. So far Briles is the only coach to lose his job. Was Briles really the only coach who behaved inappropriately? Further, remember that this is just one report. Briles hasn’t offered his side of the story yet at all. In the event that the report specifically charges him with wrongdoing, Briles’s attorneys would combat it aggressively at trial.
Moreover, given that Briles’s two superiors, the school president and the athletic director have both been fired or removed from their jobs, couldn’t Briles’s lawyers reasonably argue that it isn’t the job of a football coach to conduct Title IX investigations or be involved in investigating allegations of player misconduct? Here Briles might be somewhat protected by the fact that it appears Baylor failed its students across the entire university when it came to issues of sexual misconduct. If it’s a school-wide failure is the football coach entirely to blame?
Here’s the other important fact — remember that if Art Briles sues the school then Baylor has to prove that they’re firing Briles for cause and that their decision was justified based on their internal investigations. But how can Baylor do that without providing specific proof of his wrongdoing at trial? So far Baylor has refused to release any specific proof from the investigatory findings. The trial would force this report into the public light, potentially embarrassing the school and giving other potential plaintiffs grounds for their own lawsuits.
Further, if Briles sues seeking his forty million in lost salary he’d also be able to sue the school for a variety of additional lost income — if his actions didn’t rise to the level of firing, he’s not just lost his current contract dollars his reputation and future earnings have also been immeasurably harmed. Worst case scenario for Baylor how much could that cost them? Tens of millions more, for sure. Finally, think about who would be hearing this case — a jury in Waco. Do you think they might be predisposed to favor Art Briles in this case? There would definitely be a ton of Baylor Bear alums and fans on that jury. If they, thanks to skillful lawyering, can be made to feel that Briles was scapegoated, their verdict could be huge.
That’s why there are reports that Baylor may be willing to settle with Briles. But that settlement, according to the report linked above, could cost the school $15-$25 million. That’s a huge sum of money. Does Baylor athletics have that much money just sitting around? And how many years would it be paid out over? Given that most athletic departments, especially ones at private schools like Baylor, run at break even, the money would likely have to come from the school’s overall budget. Which is why some regents are probably asking the question, why can’t we just suspend Briles and then bring him back after a year?
The point: Briles’s contract is a huge subplot here in what has already been an ugly situation at Baylor.
If Art Briles ends up coaching again at Baylor it won’t be because he’s blameless, it will be because his contract protected him to such a degree that Baylor couldn’t afford to fire him.