MOUNT VERNON, Texas - Art Briles was back at his roots Monday, coaching a high football team in Texas after a season in Italy and more than three years after the two-time Big 12 champion coach was fired by Baylor in the wake of a sexual assault scandal.
Briles is now coaching at Mount Vernon, a school just off Interstate 30 in East Texas between Dallas and the Arkansas line. He hasn't coached high school in 20 years, after winning four state championships in Stephenville.
While expressing his gratitude about being back in Texas, the 63-year-old Briles didn't discuss his time at Baylor or departure from the school.
At the first practice for the Mount Vernon Tigers, fans watched with anticipation for the new season and focused on the new man in charge.
“I didn’t think there would be this much support,” Briles said. “I know there are a lot of questions, too. I certainly understand.”
When Briles was named the new head coach at Mount Vernon, it was met with mixed feelings. He was fired from Baylor University in 2016 following the sexual assaults scandal. An investigation found that, during his tenure, at least 17 women had been sexually assaulted by 19 Baylor football players.
No college or pro team in America would hire Briles. He ended up coaching a pro-team in Italy until Mount Vernon ISD hired him.
“What they said he was involved in was not true,” said resident Tom Ramsay. “No one would pay him $15 million if they thought he was guilty. They would take him to court. He would be arrested.”
“Sometimes, you got to give people second chances. I believe in that,” said resident Anne Starkey. “I have lots of kids. Grandkids. I’m always out there yelling and supporting. If that coach does something wrong, he will have to talk to me.”
Fans who spoke to FOX 4 say Briles’ four state championships and 2013 Big 12 coach of the year makes him qualified. He says he's changed.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, we've all had experiences: good or bad. I think some of mine are pretty well documented. I've certainly learned from them,” Briles said. “I am a much different person than I was three years ago.”
Mount Vernon ISD hired a Dallas public relations firm to try to limit the post-practice press conference to Mount Vernon-only questions, but some still asked.
A written statement from his attorneys was released before Briles' post-practice availability that said the coach "understands and appreciates the public's interest in what happened at Baylor." His attorneys, however, said he couldn't talk about that because he is the defendant in a civil lawsuit.
“If you are asking about Baylor, that’s been addressed in the statement,” he said. "I'm not at liberty to say anything. I wish I could."