DALLAS — I keep thinking that someday soon, Baylor University will hire a public relations firm that can adequately prep its leaders for public speaking engagements. If the last couple days are any indication, they have not been coached on what to say to a room full of reporters after a crisis has broken out on campus.
It’s truly astonishing that almost two full months after the Pepper Hamilton Finding of Fact was released and Art Briles, the most successful head coach in school history, was fired, people representing Baylor stand in front of a crowd and don’t fully grasp the problems permeating their campus.
In the past 48 hours, I’ve been asked by quite a few Baylor fans some version of, “Why are you picking on my school?”
The easiest way to answer this is to show exactly why reporters can’t stop writing about Baylor. It’s as if Bears are writing this stuff themselves.
On Tuesday, Jim Grobe, the man hired to watch over this dumpster fire for the upcoming season, took the stage at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas to stand in front of the media firing squad. I didn’t think it could get worse than Monday, when new athletic director Mack Rhodes talked about “recruiting” his good-looking wife at his introductory press conference (I’m so glad we’re finding different ways to objectify women in the wake of a major sexual assault scandal) and interim Baylor president David Garland, when asked about keeping all the assistant coaches from Briles’s staff, told reporters, “What was done was not pernicious. These are good men. These are honorable men.” (Uh, about that …) Then Grobe spoke Tuesday morning. Here is a list of some of his quotes from the interview on the main stage, with my notes following in italics.
On how football will stay the same: “I think [defensive coordinator] Phil [Bennett] is doing a great job combining four-man and three-man fronts.” Phil Bennett should not have a job because he played a major role in bringing dangerous players to campus, but nice work glossing over that.
On when he took over: “I know the staff was in shock …” Because they were all still employed?
On the mess he walked into: “It’s a shame when a few guys can really hurt a large group of people in such a devastating way, really.” He’s talking about a few players breaking the law, but there’s beautiful irony in the fact that a few Baylor administrators made some ridiculous statements while in Dallas the last couple days that continued to put the football team in a bad light. Talk about batting for the cycle.
On the topic everyone wanted to ask about: “The problems that we’re dealing with at Baylor or have dealt with at Baylor … are probably problems at every university in the country.” Sexual assault is a problem across the country, but covering up sexual assault isn’t. Also, this really isn’t the time to point the finger at someone else in the grown-up version of, “He started it!”
On Baylor’s decision to fire Briles, its athletic director and school president: “You can make a call as to whether you think Baylor was too strong in the way they dealt with it.” Is Grobe honestly saying something that could be interpreted as, “Art Briles should still have a job?”
On changes since he took over the program: “I’ve had nobody tell me about assistant coaches’ conduct misbehavior.” Maybe he should read the Pepper Hamilton report.
But this was the most shocking:
When he was asked about his role in coming in to clean up a rotten culture: “We don’t have a culture of bad behavior at Baylor University.” What? Yes you do. Baylor University paid the law firm Pepper Hamilton a lot of money to investigate its football program, and in turn Pepper Hamilton wrote exactly about a culture of bad behavior.
Any responsible reporter cannot ignore these remarks. Any sensible person, parent of a current Baylor student or alum who gives money would find these remarks troubling. Late Monday, I received an email from a reader who told me he and his wife, whom he met at Baylor, are proud alums, and that they have so many great memories in Waco. Then he said he’s going to actively steer his 16-year-old daughter away from his alma mater because it’s not safe and its leaders are tone deaf.
Later, in breakout sessions, Grobe tried to clean up some of what he said. He clarified that he meant sexual violence is a problem across college campuses, and that culturally, what he’s experienced is only good, not bad (he also admitted he’s “not exactly a crusty veteran,” considering he’s been on campus for roughly seven weeks). He added that he thinks the “very egregious stuff” that had not been dealt with properly in the past has “been rectified.”
He said he’d read the entire Finding of Fact, and that if anyone, particularly any assistants, were guilty of “subverting justice,” he thinks they would have been dealt with before he got to campus. One astute reporter noted that law firms use very specific language, and the language in the Finding of Fact addressed “staff” and “coaches”—plural. Grobe responded by saying, “I think you really have to be specific with me.” I obliged.
“O.K.,” I said. “I think people want to know why Phil Bennett is still on staff. He brought [Shawn] Oakman to campus, and he brought the Boise State kid (Sam Ukwuachu) to campus.
Grobe: “Bringing kids to campus is not the issue, to me …”
He missed the point. I liked that Grobe eventually said he’s “not in the rehab business”—a dramatic turn from Briles, who publicly talked about giving second and third chances—but his answer was neither satisfactory nor specific.
I’m going to guess the general public, not all of whom are diehard football fans, agree. I know the dad of that 16-year-old girl does. I don’t understand how anyone can say anything about the culture being good, problems being solved and so forth, if Baylor won’t reveal specifics. (And don’t even try to make some argument about HIPPA or FERPA laws—why can’t redacted documents be released?) The fans who are outraged over Briles’s firing should be demanding transparency, too. If you’re convinced Briles was treated as a scapegoat and should still be coaching, you would want information that proves that.
I appreciate that Grobe, who didn’t play any role in this, wanted to clarify some poorly worded answers from his first media go-round. But which Grobe is the real one? And when is Baylor, which at this point should really know better, going to stop having to clean up something it previously said or did?