MOUNT VERNON, Texas (AP) — An East Texas school superintendent defended the decision to hire Art Briles to lead a high school program and the vetting process for the two-time Big 12 champion coach fired by Baylor three years ago amid a sexual assault scandal.
Mount Vernon ISD Superintendent Jason McCullough said Tuesday in an interview with several television reporters that the district in the small community "vetted coach Briles to the best of our ability" and believed that the process "was one that our community would be proud of, and one that we know that we did our job with."
When asked if that process included talking to any of the victims or NCAA officials, McCullough said the district had not.
The superintendent said in a later written statement the district conducted "an extensive due diligence process" that included reviewing reports, as well speaking with former supervisors, independent references and Briles.
"We believe that Coach Briles was sincere in expressing remorse over what occurred at Baylor while he was employed there," McCullough said in the statement in which he pointed out he had one daughter and two granddaughters. "(We) would never hire anyone if we did not feel confident they would adhere to high standards of conduct and student safety."
Briles has been with a professional team in Italy since last year. He had been unable to get a coaching job in the United States since he was fired after an external investigation revealed in May 2016 that Baylor had for years mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations by students, including some against football players.
Southern Mississippi coach Jay Hopson wanted to hire Briles as offensive coordinator in February, but the school's athletic director quashed the idea. He was hired as an assistant by Hamilton in the Canadian Football League in 2017, but after public backlash the Tiger-Cats quickly rescinded the move.
Mount Vernon announced the hiring of Briles on Friday evening going into the Memorial Day holiday weekend, on the same night as the high school graduation ceremony in the town of less than 3,000 residents that is about 100 miles east of Dallas. The district's board of trustees approved a two-year contract for Briles.
McCullough said he was looking for a man of faith with morals, integrity and character, and that was how the 63-year-old Briles was described by people they spoke to during their process.
"That's the man we expect to come in and invest in our players, and our students and our community," McCullough told reporters Tuesday.
The Pepper Hamilton firm's investigation at Baylor found at least 17 women who reported being sexually assaulted by 19 football players.
Briles has insisted he did not cover up reports of assaults by players, and that he encouraged women involved in the alleged incidents to go to the police.
Baylor is still waiting for the outcome of an NCAA investigation into the school's conduct.
Before coaching in college, Briles won four Texas high school state championships at Stephenville in the 1990s, the last in 1999 before joining Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Briles was head coach at the University of Houston from 2003-2007, then went to Baylor.