OU signed on for Art Briles trouble when it hired Jeff Lebby

OU signed on for Art Briles trouble when it hired Jeff Lebby

The time for outrage was when Lebby was hired. Don’t want Briles associated with Sooner football? Don’t hire his son-in-law, who was part of the Baylor staff when the sexual assault coverup scandal occurred.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 12, 2023, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 12, 2023, 6:00am CDT

NORMAN — Art Briles put on an OU shirt Saturday, eventually stepped onto Owen Field and lit a wildfire.

The Man Without a Country had dared disembark from the high seas to which he had been banished.

The Man Without a Team had declared his allegiance.

Briles is not a Sooner, of course. He’s a Jeff Lebby fan. Briles was iPhoned chatting with his son-in-law, OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, on the grass after the Sooners’ victory over Southern Methodist.

Good eye by OUInsider.com’s Parker Thune, who snapped the photo. I’m not sure I would have recognized Briles. His hair has grayed. He sports a goatee. He’s wearing crimson. Looks like a separated-at-birth twin from the guy who resurrected Baylor football.

Briles was incognito all the way. If he was trying to be defiant by grandstanding at an OU game, he needs a new gameplan. 

Outrage soon ensued, in part because Briles’ leadership at Baylor was despicable and in part because outrage is in the water these days. We all drink it; most swallow.

Surely the idea that Briles supports the Sooners doesn’t startle anyone. Lebby married Briles’ daughter, and Briles helped pave the way for Lebby’s rapid ascension in the coaching industry.

Maybe this is the best time to break more news in the college football world. Briles also is partial to the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, whose offense is coordinated by one Kendal Briles, son of Art.

The outrage is well past deadline. The time for outrage was when Lebby was hired. Don’t want Briles associated with Sooner football? Don’t hire his son-in-law, who was part of the Baylor staff when the sexual assault coverup scandal occurred.

Twenty-one months ago, OU thoroughly investigated Lebby and the events at Baylor, and OU officials say all results were positive. So OU athletic director Joe Castiglione green-lighted the hiring of Lebby.

According to Castiglione, the Sooners had set boundaries for Briles, following Lebby’s hiring. A Sooner source said those boundaries included Briles steering clear of common-sense locations like practices, OU buildings, team hotels.

Makes sense. Anywhere that would give the appearance of Briles hanging around.

Awkward for Lebby? Sure. But that’s the price for working at OU.

So does standing on Owen Field after the game, even when the stadium is mostly-cleared and official festivities are over, make the list? Maybe. Probably.

But the outrage, which included calls for Lebby’s firing, is too much. Everyone literally knows Briles wasn’t representing OU. He’s not a fan of the Sooners. He’s a fan of the Sooners’ playcaller. Briles didn’t conduct a halftime interview on SoonerVision. Briles wasn’t a guest in the OU presidential suite. Briles wasn’t signing autographs on Campus Corner an hour before kickoff.

The outrage stems from this. We don’t like Art Briles. We didn’t like him all that much when his Bears were beating the Sooners and Cowboys, and that dislike turned to loathing when the Baylor scandal broke.

The NCAA chastised Briles for his “incurious interest” in a series of allegations against Baylor football players, numbering into the dozens. Briles and staff either ignored or hid a variety of sexual assault/domestic violence accusations.

“The head coach failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case,” an NCAA enforcement panel reported. “Furthermore, as a campus leader, the head coach is held to an even higher standard. He completely failed to meet this standard.”

I’m on the Briles-is-a-villain train. He lost his way, or never had it, in Waco, falling victim to the pursuit of winning. He’s not the first. He’s not the last.

Organizations from Canada’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats to Grambling State have tried hiring Briles and have been shouted down. Since Baylor, Briles has coached only in football outposts — the Italian League and Mount Vernon High School in East Texas.

Fine by me. I wouldn’t hire Briles, either.

But the outrage, the incessant need to exact a pound of flesh, is unnecessary. Art Briles is serving a life sentence.

Briles is a better football coach than 90 percent of the men holding Power Five Conference jobs. He will replace none of them. That’s $8 million a year, plus all those autumn Saturdays without a victory over Texas or Kansas State. We are powerless to punish Briles more.

But we can injure Lebby and maybe already have.

Lebby was succinct — and accurate — in his defense of Briles being on the field after the game.

“That’s my father-in-law,” Lebby said. “That’s the grandfather to my two kids. So he was down with our entire family after the game.”

Lebby over the weekend boldly changed his Instagram and Facebook photos to include Briles, though he walked back such brazenness Monday at his press conference, apologizing for the “distraction” and saying the issue wouldn’t “come up again.”

We’re all different. If I had seen Briles on the field after the game, I would have thought it interesting but not heinous. Again, Brent Venables signed up for Briles connections when he hired Lebby. I thought it was silly to think Briles wouldn’t be at an OU game.

What was Briles’ crime? 

Setting foot on the field, as if he desecrated holy ground? Would standing on Row 1, leaning over the wall to chat, have been better? 

Wearing crimson? Would Briles have been free and clear had he not sported the interlocking OU, as if those colors and those symbols are reserved for the righteous and the holy?

No. Briles’ crime was being there. Anywhere in the stadium. Lots of people don’t want him around.

But big-time college football is populated, in the stands and on the field and in the pressbox, by all kinds of people. Some of them are not nice. Some of them have done bad things.

Briles hasn’t exactly helped his cause. He’s shown little conciliation for what happened at Baylor. Heck, for all I know, if Briles had shown remorse from the beginning, he’d be the coach at Texas Tech right now, and the Red Raiders would be riding high.

But he didn’t and he’s not and he’s not going to be.

Briles wears more than an interlocking OU, in support of his son-in-law. He wears a scarlet letter, and it’s not coming off.

In America these days, we’re long on outrage and short on grace. That’s both sides of the political and social aisle. So Art Briles should best stay off the field, and if he’s going to keep coming to games, it’s best he go even more incognito.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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