Beyond The Boxscore
No regrets, tons of love: Art Briles still thinking of the University of Houston
It's no surprise that Baylor coach Art Briles showed up for his first Texas Bowl press conference in Houston wearing a simple white, tie-less shirt, while his opponent (Illinois Ron Zook) came decked out in a full suit.
Briles is feeling relaxed. In many ways, he's home, back where he played his college ball, back in the town where he received his first college head coaching chance. Besides, he's a Rule, Texas boy. Why feign stuffy?
"If you've got a green and gold belt buckle on, you don't have to let your shirttail out anymore," Briles said, citing Baylor's first bowl berth in 16 years. "You can let people see it."
Briles chuckled at his own corn. "You all miss that kind of stuff don't you?" Briles laughed. "You don't get that from (current University of Houston coach) Kevin (Sumlin)."
Baylor's coach paused as one of the reporters described Sumlin's guarded demeanor. "He's a lot smarter than me," Briles said.
One might argue that Briles proved his own point when he made a golf club analogy minutes later when he talked about his decision to leave the University of Houston for Baylor, coincidentally right before the 2007 Texas Bowl that UH played in.
"The way I looked at it is I had 10-15 years left of coaching, if everything worked out," the 55-year-old Briles said. "You never know what could happen in this business. If you're going to get one swing with a golf club, do you want to hit a custom-made one or one pulled out of the back of the rack?"
Briles tried to take back the analogy five minutes after he told it, asking the TV guys in the group not to use the video. But anyone who listened to Briles talk throughout the session at Reliant Stadium, could tell the coach holds no ill feelings toward Houston, the school that in many ways made him. Instead, he still seems almost obsessed with the Cougars and their program. Or at least, extremely interested.
There's certainly still love for the one he left behind.
"I go back to 1974 at UH (his first year as a student there)," Briles said earlier when asked how closely he follows the Cougars these days. "I coached at that school. Some of my closest friends are still in Houston. There's a ton of good people (at UH). All three of my kids graduated from there. Asking me that is like asking me when my daughter's birthday is.
"When you care, you know."
Briles passion for UH — even more his love for Houston, the city as a whole — is quickly turning into the story of a Texas Bowl with a Big 12-Big Ten Dec. 29 pairing that Texas Bowl executive director Heather Houston called "our best matchup yet." The Baylor coach didn't try to downplay the fact that his program making its bowl return in Houston will be a huge recruiting boon (this was first raised in a CultureMap story). Instead, Briles seized on the idea.
"It will definitely help us," Briles said. "We're always going to recruit Texas first. Ninety five percent of our guys are from Texas. And Houston is, I think, the most heavily recruited city in the U.S."
Zook tried to get in on the recruiting Texas bandwagon as well. Even cautious coaches aren't stupid.
"It's an opening for us to get into the state," Zook said. "Our offensive line coach (Joe Gilbert) came from the University of Houston. No one is going to argue with the number of players coming out of this Houston area."
Sure, a ton of points figured to be scored in this game between Baylor and Illinois teams that both do their best work on the offensive side of the ball. But, the points scored with high school recruits and their families could be worth even more in the long run.
Briles has his own program-changing quarterback Robert Griffin because he effectively hid the dual threat from other programs. At least, if you hear Briles tell it.
"When I saw him his junior year of high school run a 35.34 (in the 300-meter hurdles)," Briles said in recalling his love at first speed moment. "That was only one second from the national record. You can't teach speed like that. Then we had him come to our football camp and watching him throw the football, you could see he had something special.
"This was one of those guys you try to hide from other programs. You hope they don't discover him."
Griffin found Baylor because of Briles. And it's easy to see why. Homespun, direct and anything but robotic, Briles harks back to an earlier age of coaches.
He waited years for his shot at college coaching, found his way into the Big 12, even if it was at Baylor, a football program that always seemed to have a but behind it. Some close friends told him he'd be crazy to take that job. Maybe he still is. One bowl berth doesn't guarantee another.
But Art Briles is going to take his swing. And a lot of Houston will be watching.