College star sentenced: Sam Ukwuachu
Published: August 22, 2015
College star sentenced: Sam Ukwuachu, If we’re to believe Art Briles was unaware of Sam Ukwuachu’s violent history before allowing him to transfer to Baylor, where he subsequently assaulted a female student, it’s still an indictment of the way Briles does business.
If we’re to believe Chris Petersen, it’s something much worse.
Either way, Baylor needs the fortitude to seek the truth, something it apparently lacked when investigating the assault of one of its own students.
And if the truth is that Briles is lying, then he needs to go.
This sordid story, incredibly, came out of nowhere Friday, a day after a jury found Ukwuachu guilty of second-degree assault. If that’s all it had been, it would have been bad enough. But what we’ve learned is that Ukwuachu had been kicked off the Boise State football team after punching and choking his girlfriend.
Then after Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor, and attacked a member of the soccer team in his apartment, both the university and Waco police failed the victim.
And what, exactly, is Briles’ culpability?
He tells reporters he had no idea why Petersen, then the coach at Boise State and now at Washington, kicked the defensive end from Pearland, Texas off the team, other than he was depressed and needed to go home.
Petersen’s version is that once he learned Ukwuachu wanted to transfer to Baylor, he picked up the phone and called Briles.
“In that conversation,” Petersen said in a statement to ESPN, “I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”
What we have here is one coach saying, “Hey, nobody told me he was a bad kid,” and the other saying, “Oh, no you don’t.”
You don’t often see a head coach from a prominent program contradicting the take of another one, but reputations and credibility are at stake.
Briles is famous in the coaching fraternity for accepting transfers who’d been in trouble at their former schools and winning with them. But taking guys who couldn’t make curfew or study hall or smoked too much weed is one thing.
A history of violence against women? Intolerable.
How do we know?
Briles says so.
“Nobody is going to do that,” he told reporters Friday. “Bring somebody in with a prior conviction or really an allegation. “Like I said, we made our decision on the knowledge we had two years ago.”
Only that’s not what Chris Petersen says. Or what Ukwuachu told Rivals.com.
“The Baylor coaches knew everything and were really supportive so I appreciate that,” Ukwuachu said in 2013 after his transfer became official.
“They wanted to give me the chance, and they will support me better.” Five months after making that statement, Ukwuachu attacked a student known in court records as Jane Doe.
After she came forward with her charges, the student, who has since transferred to another school, was repeatedly failed. First, by university officials, whose investigation was so thin that the judge in Ukwuachu’s trial sustained the prosecution’s motion that the defense couldn’t bring it up.
Waco police didn’t pursue charges, either. You can make your own assumptions about why a small college in a small city might not want to do anything to tarnish the image of college football’s Cinderella.
The other failure was in allowing Ukwuachu on the Waco campus at all. If Briles didn’t know his history, as he says, he should have. Freshmen who put up numbers like 4.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss don’t get kicked off teams simply because they’re depressed or homesick.
A coach must go through a vetting process with any player he recruits, because he has a duty to the campus and community he represents. Even Barry Switzer conceded in the days before he was run off at Oklahoma that he was responsible for the players who ultimately cost him his job.
For the record, this isn’t even the first Baylor player convicted of sexual assault under Briles. In January, 2014, Tevin Elliott, a defensive end out of Mount Pleasant, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for twice assaulting a former Baylor student in 2012. During that trial, two other women testified that Elliott assaulted them. A fourth alleged victim was not called to testify.
If nothing else, Briles’ conscience should have been raised considerably by Elliott’s arrest and conviction. He should have been more sensitive to the risks involved. Because if he really didn’t have a clue about Ukwuachu’s history, he was certainly aware of the charges from the Baylor student in 2013.
Yet as recently as June, Phil Bennett, Briles’ defensive coordinator, told a group of boosters in Fort Worth that he expected Ukwuachu on the field this fall.
It’s not enough that Ukwuachu never played a down for Baylor, because what we know is that he was welcome there. And if not for his conviction, he’d be playing there.
He won’t do that now, but the story is far from over. What we need to know now, in the parlance of another era, is what Briles knew, and when he knew it.
Even if he’s telling the truth, he should have known better.
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