With their top two quarterbacks sidelined by injuries Baylor head coach Art Briles and son Kendal Briles had to be creative to allow Baylor to defeat talented North Carolina in the Rusell Athletic Bowl played live on ESPN in Orlando last night Thursday, December 29. The incredible father-son coaching combination altered their record-setting passing attack to a powerful running game en route to a 49-38 upset of No. 10 ranked North Carolina. To completely transform an offensive strategy for one game to this extent is perhaps unprecedented in the history of college football.
Under the brilliant direction of the Briles family, the Bears set an alltime, bowl record of 756 offensive yards for one game. They also set a record of most rushing yards with 645. Former Burkburnett High School star running back Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson combined for 460 yards between them in the new offense which might best be described as a hybrid wildcat and old-fashioned single wing attack. Five different players took snaps from center including three running backs, a wide receiver and third string quarterback Chris Johnson to ignite the original offense which the Tar Heels could not stop.
But Johnson shared “quarterback” chores with running backs Jefferson, Chafin and Terence Williams and wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne. North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora was extremely complimentary of the creative offense devised by Briles and his son Kendal, who was promoted to offensive co-ordinator this year. Fedora said, “They did some things they haven’t done before. They ran Wildcat and just every form of quarterback play you could possibly run. There aren’t many teams in the country that can go down to their third string quarterback and still win 10 games,” according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
Dad Art allowed son Kendal to bask in the post victory glory by turning over the press conference to him. In response to a question Kendal modestly paid a tribute to the players who compiled 50 victories in the last five years at the Waco school. Baylor was the doormat of the Big 12 before the Briles duo showed up and turned things around including two Big 12 championships before this year. He complimented the players for the great job they’ve done overcoming incredible adversity this year.
The Bears were 8-0 and No. 2 in the nation before a rash of injuries to their four best players dropped the final record to 10-3. Starting quarterback Seth Rusell, freshman phenom signal caller Jarrett Stidham, Biletnikoff Award winning receiver Corey Coleman and star running back Shock Linwood all missed the bowl game with injuries. But the coaches Briles wouldn’t let the team quit despite the mounting injuries.
Perhaps the chemistry between Art and Kendal can be traced to the close relationship the Baylor head coach had with his dad who coached him at Rule High School, in northern Texas. Under his father’s direction, Art played quarterback and led Rule to a Class B state championship game in 1973 against Big Sandy which they lost. Big Sandy was led by future Oklahoma Sooner David Overstreet and NFL Coach Lovie Smith in that game. Art then received a scholarship to the University of Houston where he was an outstanding player. Perhaps the defining moment in his life came when both his parents were killed in an automobile crash on their way to watch him play for the Cougars. Houston head coach Bill Yeoman took young Art aside after the game and broke the devastating news to him.
Art could’ve allowed that adversity to destroy him. But he dug deep inside himself and persevered with his life to be where he is now. Perhaps that experience of facing adversity in his personal life allowed him to teach his son and players how to deal with adversity this season. We will never know if this Baylor team would’ve been good enough to contend for a national championship this year without the epidemic of injuries which ravaged but didn’t destroy this team.
The older Briles went on to earn a master’s degree in education at Abilene Christian University before beginning his coaching career. Briles is a Christian and has discussed the role his faith had had in influencing his coaching. Perhaps it has been his faith that has helped him overcome adversity which would crush a lesser person throughout his life.
One thing is certain. Kendal has inherited the brilliant coaching genes Art inherited from his dad. The coaches for Baylor wouldn’t let this team quit.