Grambling State University erased the excitement from a much-needed “shot in the arm” and shot itself in the foot in no time.
Monday, as the controversy over the hiring of Art Briles came to a boil, the embattled former head coach of Baylor’s football team resigned as Grambling’s offensive coordinator.
Was this Briles’ choice? The university’s? Does it matter? It’s clear the school wasn’t proud of the move from the get-go.
Briles boasts an impressive on-the-field resume — two Big XII championships and a 65-37 record with the Bears. He transformed a gridiron afterthought into a contender. Football-wise, he’s a steal for most programs, especially one in the SWAC.
So, when one of the most historic football entities in the nation added that guy, you would have thought a concerted effort to gloat from the top of the tallest mountain would ensue — to let the world know Deion Sanders wasn’t the only thing to watch in the SWAC.
Instead, Grambling flew under the radar due to Briles’ off-the-field baggage. His last foray in the college game ended when he was fired from Baylor in 2016 following an investigation into how allegations of rapes and sexual assaults — involving members of the school’s football program — were handled by coaches and administrators.
Briles wasn’t the only person fired at Baylor, and he wasn’t penalized by the NCAA. The only pro or college organizations that aimed to help Briles resuscitate his career came in the Canadian and Italian football leagues.
Until this half-hearted attempt.
Grambling’s new head coach, Hue Jackson, took a chance on Briles, but there was no pomp, no circumstance — not even a press release or a story on Grambling’s website. Instead, the school let KTAL, Shreveport’s NBC affiliate and host of “G-Men Nation,” confirm rumors with an “exclusive interview” with Briles.
Whether or not the questions were discussed in advance, KTAL’s Sam Rothman did ask the tough ones, but Briles didn’t exactly hit the answers out of the park.
With the cat out of the bag, Grambling still didn’t seem too excited to tell the world about its new addition.
When Jackson was hired in December, Grambling proudly rolled out the red carpet and was happy to relay sentiments from Jackson’s former players and Grambling legends.
“It’s such an amazing day at Grambling,” school president Rick Gallot said at the introductory presser.
The past few days haven’t been so good.
Things went so far south, the living face of Grambling reconsidered his affiliation with the school.
“I’m not a fan at all. I’m very, very disappointed in Grambling, I really am,” Doug Williams told Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post. “I talked to (athletic director Trayvean Scott) a couple times. They knew where I stood, but they did it and if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine. I’m out.”
Two months ago, Williams called the Jackson hire a “shot in the arm.”
“It’s time for the family to surround him,” Williams, a former Tigers quarterback and head coach and current senior advisor to the Washington Commanders (former Redskins/Football Team), said.
It didn’t take long for the tide to turn in Lincoln Parish.
This wasn’t some random alum lashing out at his former school — it was Doug freaking Williams — a Grambling legend on the field/sideline, the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and a black man who worked his way into an NFL front office (that’s not easy). Oh, and he has a street named after him on campus.
If you build a Mount Rushmore of Grambling football, two spots are guaranteed: the late, great Eddie Robinson, and Williams. There are several worthy candidates to sort through for the other spots.
Should Briles have been hired? Opinions vary, but Grambling should’ve acknowledged the controversy and vehemently backed its hire from Day 1. New dog mascots get more public encouragement from their athletic programs than Briles received.
Jackson broke his silence and supported his OC with terms such as “forgiveness, redemption and enlightenment.” But this came on Monday, four days after the hire. Through his personal foundation.
Hours later, Briles was gone.
I’m on the “everyone deserves a second chance” bandwagon, but those chances are often most appropriate in different roles. For instance, a front-office gig or a television analyst would offer a better way for Briles to retake the national stage. His skills and expertise would be utilized and you avoid placing a man the NCAA said “did not report potential criminal conduct by a football student-athlete and did not personally look any further into the matter” in a similar position.
Briles may never repeat past errors, but Grambling’s move carried significant risk and they needed to own it. Instead, the school’s passiveness revealed an obvious reluctance from somewhere in the university’s structure to embrace Briles and his baggage.
So, why make the hire in the first place? It was risky business for a storied program that didn’t need the controversy.
One thing is obvious: The current administration doesn’t appear to be ready for prime time.