Art Briles isn't looking to replicate other college football dynasties, he's working on building his own at Baylor.
Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Baylor football coach Art Briles is more Steve Jobs than Darth Vader. Why build off someone else’s empire when you can find a new way to do something and just create your own?
It’s tougher than it sounds, but Briles is doing it. Like Jobs, he’s done it all in a long-sleeve mock turtleneck, too.
So far, Briles has fulfilled a little more than 16 percent of his grand vision for the Bears.
Two consecutive Big 12 titles?
How does 12 consecutive titles sound, with a few national titles tacked on for good measure?
"What I’m doing is recruiting 11-year-old males right now sitting in front of the TV every Saturday," Briles told Fox Sports Southwest. "They sit there and for six years, they see Baylor being a dominant football program and on the national scene. When they’re 17, they’re thinking that’s the place I need to go.
"To me, to change perceptions and traditions, it’s a 12-year process. We’re certainly in the beginning stages of that, but that’s where I want to see it go. I want to see it go to where in 15 years, they’re talking about the best sustained football programs over the last 20 years, I want them to be saying Baylor."
Chuckle and dismiss at your own risk. On the day Briles was hired at Baylor, he didn’t speak in generalities. He spoke of a plan and didn’t seem bothered by the league-wide laughter and condescending pats on the head after declaring Baylor would soon end its decade-long bowl drought before winning a Big 12 championship.
Seven seasons later, the Bears have two of those trophies (not to mention a $266 million, six-month-old stadium) and an outstanding chance for a third in 2015. That chase unofficially begins Tuesday when Baylor takes the field for the first of its 15 spring practices. It’s only fitting the Bears, who play as fast or faster than any team in the league, start spring practice first among Big 12 programs.
Quarterback Bryce Petty is gone but 17 starters return, headlined by defensive end Shawn Oakman and offensive tackle Spencer Drango, who turned down the NFL Draft to chase a third ring in Waco. The Bears also have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers returning in Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, as well as 1,200-yard rusher Shock Linwood. Just two starters — linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive back Collin Brence — are gone from last year’s defense that ranked fourth in the Big 12 in yards per play.
Briles hasn’t named Petty’s replacement but the safe bet is junior Seth Russell, who, thanks to Baylor’s penchant for blowout wins, has earned more garbage time snaps than any quarterback in America over the last two seasons. He’ll have to officially beat out sophomore Chris Johnson and incoming freshman Jarrett Stidham, but he’ll begin the spring with the majority of the first-team reps.
Russell threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns against FCS Northwestern State in Baylor’s second game of 2014 after Petty’s fractured transverse processes in his back forced Russell into his lone career start.
He boasts a sub-4.5 40-yard dash time that makes him a couple steps faster than Petty and his 41-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds has spawned stories from teammates of between-the-legs dunks at the rec center.
"He can do any dunk out there," Coleman said. "When we do sprints after practice, he’s competing with the skill-position guys."
And off the field?
"He’s like the dad of the team," said Coleman, who was a fellow member of Baylor’s 2013 recruiting class. "He’s in bed by eight or nine o’clock. Even on the weekends, I think. (Laughs) If you go to a party, you won’t see Seth. He might go to a movie, maybe.
"He just wants to be great and he has great parents and wants to make them proud."
While Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma bemoaning their lack of a franchise passer, Briles keeps churning one out after another at Baylor.
Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011 and Bryce Petty is preparing this spring for life in the NFL.
In between them, all Nick Florence could manage to do before leaving football was set the single-season school record for passing yards (4,309).
Besides quarterbacks, Briles has helped Baylor build a budding college football brand by recruiting and developing players who share his disdain for hesitation amid skepticism.
As a four-star recruit from Cedar Park, Texas, Drango narrowed his choices to Stanford, Texas and Baylor. Like Briles, he ignored the raised eyebrows to buy into Baylor. Remember, this was back in 2011, before Baylor had a Heisman Trophy or even a bowl win under Briles.
"Everyone was like, really? Baylor?" Drango said. "I wanted to be a part of building a tradition, not just joining one."
With attitudes like that, it makes sense why Briles declined a year ago to chase a Texas job that would have been a perfect fit for him.
Still, there are plenty of boxes left unchecked for Baylor. Baylor followed both Big 12 titles with bowl losses. In 2013, the Bears were 17-point favorites before UCF embarrassed them 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. In last year’s Cotton Bowl, Baylor squandered a three-touchdown lead over Michigan State in a 42-41 loss.
The Bears were only in that game because a two-touchdown loss to West Virginia in October gave the selection committee reason to deny them a chance to play for the program’s first national title and snubbed them from the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.
"We still feel like there’s a lot of unfinished business," Briles said. "Our feeling of satisfaction is not there."
Take a few moments to drink in the sight of two crystal bowls in Baylor’s trophy case? That’s something he’ll save for retirement, Briles says.
Instead, he’s fashioned Baylor into the most accomplished and stable program in the Big 12 over the last five years. A third consecutive title would be an achievement equaled only by Oklahoma from 2006-08.
The Bears will be co-favorites with co-champion TCU entering 2015 and should open the season inside the top 10, likely with the highest preseason ranking in school history. At No. 7, the 1957 team currently holds that mark.
"The first (title) was to show we could do it," Drango said. "The second was show it wasn’t a fluke. Going for a third one, that’s one of our goals and I don’t want to speak too soon, but it’s to prove we’re here to stay. We want to be one of the nation’s best programs."
Added Coleman: "Everyone’s coming after Baylor. Everyone’s talking about Baylor. It’s all about Baylor and when you play people, nobody wants to lose to Baylor so you get everyone’s best game."
The pieces are in place and Briles has continued to collect talent on the recruiting trail that’s made a third consecutive title a more than reasonable goal.
Alabama? Oregon? Ohio State? Don’t expect Briles to look to any national powers for a measure of how far his program has come in less than a decade.
"We want other people to look at us and compare themselves to us," Briles said.