The Oklahoma Sooners’ 28-11 home win over the SMU Mustangs Saturday came with some unusual discussion afterwards. Controversial former Baylor Bears coach Art Briles, who was fired from that job in May 2016 around wide-ranging investigations into the school’s failure to handle sexual assault claims (including those involving football players), was on the field afterwards in Oklahoma gear.
Art Briles is here pic.twitter.com/HmDoaxjZQ9
— Parker Thune (@ParkerThune) September 10, 2023
Briles was there because his son-in-law, Jeff Lebby (also a former Baylor assistant), is now the Sooners’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (he’s seen above with Briles). But his presence drew lots of criticism from fans and media, given his role in the coverups at Baylor.
That’s not surprising, as there’s been similar backlash to Briles with most of the jobs he’s taken since the Bears fired him (jobs he has usually quickly left following backlash). However, him showing up on the field after a game is different than him actually taking a job with a team. And Lebby defended Briles’ presence afterwards, saying “He’s my father-in-law. That’s the grandfather to my two kids, so he was down with our entire family well after the game but he was down there with the entire family.”
That perhaps made it more surprising still when both Sooners’ head coach Brent Venables and athletic director Joe Castiglione both criticized this afterwards. That saw Venables saying “That’s being dealt with,” and Castiglione putting out a statement saying “That shouldn’t have happened” and claiming it broke “boundaries” they previously set. Here’s that statement:
“I was just as disappointed as many of our fans when I learned of the postgame situation tonight. It shouldn’t have happened and it was my expectation it never would, based on boundaries we previously set. I’ve addressed it with the appropriate staff.”
And here are Venables’ comments, via The OU Daily (the school’s independent student newspaper) sports editor Colton Sulley:
— Colton Sulley (@colton_sulley) September 10, 2023
Meanwhile, Sulley and Jason Batacao of The OU Daily note in their story that they tried to reach Briles for comment afterwards using listings of a phone tied to him, but didn’t get much in response:
The OU Daily called a number listed for Art Briles, matching the age and previous residences in Texas late Saturday.
When asked if it was Briles who picked up, the person said, “You’re calling this number, you should know.”
When asked if he could comment on Briles’ presence at OU’s game, he said:
“My presence at the game, what I thought about the game?”
When asked again if the person on the phone was Briles, the person hung up. The OU Daily texted the number after the call and received no response.
It is unusual to see this much discussion of a coach’s family member being on the field, especially them seemingly not having a formal role with the program. But Briles is an unusual case given the details that came out about his involvement in the Baylor saga, particularly the release of some of his texts. Other people from the Baylor program at that time, including AD Ian McCaw (now the AD at Liberty), Lebby, and Briles’ son Kendal (now the offensive coordinator at TCU), all were named in various lawsuits as well, but their specific involvement and responsibility was less clear. And while they still draw backlash for their Baylor actions, it’s not on the level as the backlash seen to Briles. It’s understandable why many are still upset with Briles and feel he shouldn’t be around college football.
What’s perhaps particularly interesting here is Castiglione’s comment that “it was my expectation it never would, based on boundaries we previously set.” Yes, it was obvious when hiring Lebby (in 2022, after he had a two-year stint as OC/QBs coach at Ole Miss) that he came with connections to Briles. And it’s interesting that from Castiglione’s comments, they set some level of Briles boundary with Lebby when bringing him in. That makes sense; the conversation around Briles being on the field in OU gear is certainly not what the Sooners hoped the discussion would be about after a season-opening win. And it sounds like Briles may not be appearing on the OU field in the future.