Not much pressure on the three new coaches in the Big 12. Two have to preserve the conference and one has to rebrand his university.
Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas’ Tom Herman look to have the same impact on their schools that Bob Stoops and Mack Brown did starting about two decades ago when they raised the conference to its greatest heights.
Baylor’s Matt Rhule becomes the front man for a school that is beginning to rebuild its reputation after a sexual-assault scandal.
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In their first wide audience appearances, at Big 12 Media Days, the coaches seemed to understand their tasks.
Rhule was the most impressive, and he had to be. In recruiting, speaking engagements and media ops, he must field questions and provide answers to the hideous story that never seems to end.
The latest: In May a volleyball player said she was raped by four football players in 2012, and the victim’s lawsuit said gang rapes “were considered a ‘bonding’ experience for team members.”
Also, former Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford, who oversaw sexual assault investigations at Baylor during 2014-16, recently told “60 Minutes Sports” that “hundreds” of women came forward with accusations of rape, stalking or assault.
Rhule, who led Temple to a pair of 10-victory seasons before taking over in Waco, met the issues head-on.
“That which we don’t acknowledge we’re doomed to repeat,” Rhule said. “I want to move forward always acknowledging the past.”
And, “we’re truly committed to getting the wrongs of the past corrected into a bright, new future.”
Sounds wonderful. That Baylor could ever have sunk to such a shocking and appalling culture, that leadership in coaching and administration could have been so callous, is a nightmare scenario.
Those previously in charge have been swept out and new leaders — Rhule, athletic director Mack Rhoads and new president Linda Livingstone — are in place and entrusted with repairing the school’s standing.
That’s a major job, one different than Riley, who is charged with maintaining glory, and Herman who is being asked to restore it.
The Sooners and Longhorns ruled the Big 12 in the first decade of the millennium when Stoops and Brown battled in the Cotton Bowl for the division and annually for recruits. One or the other played for the national championship six times in the decade, with each winning a title.
Neither has come that close since 2009 — no Big 12 school has. And while Oklahoma has remained at or near the top of the Big 12, Texas has fallen on hard times, with four losing seasons in the last six.
The program started slipping in Brown’s final years, and successor Charlie Strong couldn’t stop the slide. Herman cited turnover, in coaching and administration, but it’s more than that. Recruiting fell, especially after the league realigned and SEC schools started entering Texas in a bigger way, and the Longhorns could never seem to find a quarterback.
“Our job is to make sure what happened doesn’t happen (again),” said Herman, who went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston.
Riley, elevated from offensive coordinator, moved into the big office when Stoops stunningly announced his retirement last month. The Sooners don’t have Texas’ recent sagging history, but their appearance in the College Football Playoff for 2015 ended with a one-sided semifinal loss to Clemson, and they took themselves out of national contention early last season with two non-conferences losses.
Oklahoma returns a two-time Heisman finalist in quarterback Baker Mayfield and is the choice to win its third straight Big 12 championship.
Riley knows he had advantages, even in the program’s coaching transition.
“Not having to hire 10 new coaches, not having to get to know the new players and develop those relationships, people in the program, support staff,” Riley said. “We felt there was so much good going on with Oklahoma football that (Stoops) didn’t want to derail that. He wanted to continue that.”
Maybe even go one better and reach a national championship game. In Big 12 history, the Sooners and Texas have given the league its best chance.