New Baylor coach Jim Grobe expands on his controversial comments
DALLAS — At 11:25 a.m. CT on Tuesday, new head coach Jim Grobe was asked what he had changed to help modify the culture that exists at Baylor. Grobe’s response — or at least part of it — left many of the media scratching their heads wondering, did he really just say that?
"We don’t have a culture of bad behavior at Baylor University," Grobe said.
The comments, coming in the wake of the sexual assault scandal that prompted a massive overhaul of Baylor’s leadership, soon went viral on social media. Grobe’s choice of words sounded, at the very least, tone deaf given the circumstances surrounding what had gone on at Baylor, which had cost Art Briles his job as Baylor’s head coach as well as led to the dismissals of the Bears’ president and athletic director.
Those words also sounded to anyone who knew Grobe from his days before coming to Waco very uncharacteristic of the man who used to be the chairman of the American Football Coaches Association’s ethics committee.
A half-hour later, I found Grobe on the floor below with a break from his series of interview sessions. What I wanted to get a better understanding of is, how does he balance trying to be supportive of his players and yet also not come across as unsympathetic to the victims or their families or the people puzzled by so many of the murky details left unspecified from the Pepper Hamilton investigation.
"The thing I wanted people to know is that since I’ve been there, the kids that I’ve worked with are a great group of kids," Grobe told FOX Sports. "There is no culture that I’ve witnessed for misconduct. If you’re talking about culture that existed before I got there, where we didn’t deal with serious issues the way we should, probably so, but I was not here for that. I don’t mean to be disrespectful of anybody who has been violated, of anybody who has been a victim. What I do want for people to understand is the misbehavior of a few has hurt a lot of (people).
"We have a lot of (players’) parents that are really upset. They feel like their kids are doing great things but they’re being pulled into this so-called ‘culture of violence.’ I’m not disrespecting anything that happened before I got there. Obviously there were problems."
Talking about the subject was also awkward for Baylor’s three players who the school brought to Big 12 Media Days where their words are dissected. Quarterback Seth Russell was on a mission trip in Brazil when he got the text message from Briles saying he was out as the Bears coach.
"I felt like I was helpless, like a lot of people," he said. "There wasn’t anything I could do about it."
Russell later talked about his old coach: "Coach Briles is a great guy," he said. "He tried to do things the right way. He got caught up in the wrong situation."
Such praise for a guy who lost his job for a sexual assault scandal that happened on his watch doesn’t play well in many corners, especially in a society that craves things in absolutes — where one is either a good guy or a bad guy. But for Briles’ players like Russell, how are you supposed to reconcile a person you know who believed and supported you with the apparent actions of someone who ran a program that was found to make such horrific decisions?
One of the issues that has perplexed many is how has Baylor been able to keep all of Briles’ position coaches? An example of that is defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, whose comments regarding defensive lineman Sam Ukwuachu — about his "expected" return to the team even though the player had been indicted (and was later convicted) on two counts of sexual assault against a female Baylor soccer player — left many figuring the veteran assistant would be out in the wake of the investigation too. I asked Grobe about what he was informed of in regards to others implicated in the scandal and how he has sorted all of that out.
"I read the Finding of Facts and I know they refer to ‘staff,’ but staff is Art, the athletic director and a couple of support staffers that I know were released," Grobe said. "In terms of how issues were dealt with, obviously they weren’t dealt with in an acceptable manner. Most assistants pushed things up the ladder. I would be disappointed if any of my assistant coaches had knowledge of misconduct from a player that they didn’t bring to me, and I think it’s the association with the program that hurt Phil.
"Was there an intent to subvert justice? I read the Finding of Facts. I would assume, and I probably shouldn’t assume things, but my thought is, if there were individuals that were still on my staff that had been in a situation where they tried to subvert justice or showed misconduct that I would be told that, and I have not been told that. That’s where I started. Nobody from the university has told me Coach So-and-So did this or that."
But isn’t it risky to make those kinds of assumptions given what has just unfolded at Baylor?
"I don’t think so given that the university hired an independent firm that did a nine-month investigation," Grobe said. "That was their report. I would hope that would not be kept a secret if they felt that there were individuals that were doing some really bad stuff. I have to assume that."
Grobe said he received an email from someone who told him the coach needed to let the whole staff go, but he said that if he felt like the whole staff had done "bad stuff," he would not have had a problem with letting them all go. The reality is Grobe’s expertise isn’t as an investigator, and that’s not what he was hired for.
"The thing is, we’re good at coaching," he said. "We’re good at recruiting. We’re good at issues like (addressing) missed classes or a guy being late for a workout, all those kinds of things. We have no expertise in this (investigating). People are probably skeptical when I say this, but I think Baylor is better (after the scandal). Baylor has a clearer path of how to deal with things. Everybody understands going forward when dealing with issues such as sexual violence that only the Title IX office should be dealing with it. These are professionals. I’ve talked to (Baylor’s Title IX Coordinator) Patty Crawford. She’s talked to me and my coaches. We know things that even hint at misconduct from a sexual assault nature, we go right to Patty and we’re out of the loop, and we go back to coaching and let her deal with it.
"There was a time when coaches tried to deal with everything, and investigate things. If one of their players was involved in a fight with his girlfriend. I think Baylor brought this to the forefront. We can’t do that. As much as you love a player, and coaches look at players like their own kids, and you tend to want to believe them. But in areas of serious misconduct, you need to get out of that loop and you really need to take the victim’s side before you take your player’s side. You want to find out, is this is a serious issue? Was my guy wrong? But you’re not the person to make that determination. You need to get it out of your lap and get it to Title IX and let them investigate it."