Subterranean Homesick Briles

Not only has Art Briles made Baylor’s football program successful, he’s made it hip.
Illustration by Nicki Longoria

If you ever need to break the ice with Baylor football coach Art Briles, skip right past the topic of his record-setting offense (he won’t tell you any secrets anyway) and instead bring up another kind of record: Neil Young’s Harvest, for instance, or the most recent release by roots-soul singer-songwriter Amos Lee. Like most Texas football coaches, Briles, who led Baylor to its first-ever Big 12 championship last year, is all about football, faith, and family. In fact, his as-told-to autobiography, out this month, is called Beating Goliath: My Story of Football and Faith. But he’s also a lifelong music freak. “I escape through music and physical activity,” he says. “That’s it.”

Briles has been known to join his players in rapping Young Jeezy’s “Everythang” during practice and, like Johnny Manziel and Kliff Kingsbury, can quote—if not actually hang out with—Drake. The difference between them and him is that Briles is 58 years old and works at a Baptist university that, until 1996, banned dancing. But that’s the contradiction that makes him so interesting. Ever since Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman Trophy, Briles has not only made Baylor’s football program successful, he’s made it hip. 

Briles cultivated his taste for football strategy and eardrum-ringing concerts while playing for Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston. While he was there, he saw a who’s who of seventies legends such as Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson at Hofheinz Pavilion and other Houston music venues.

He still remembers hearing Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid” live for the first time and that Young shushed the crowd for talking: a kindred spirit in his obsessive devotion to craft. “He’s all about the music,” Briles says. “That’s all he cares about.”   

And yes, Briles, whose team has beaten the dreaded Longhorns three out of the last four times they’ve met, remains a fan of the Live Music Capital of the World, which he got to know when he coached at Georgetown High in 1986 and 1987. (During our conversation he recommended checking out a show at Stubb’s featuring the soul revivalist Charles Bradley.) He predicts that five years from now, Waco, which is expected to undergo a surge of urban redevelopment in the vicinity of Baylor’s new McLane Stadium (slated to officially open August 31), will resemble Austin in 1985: “a low, smooth chill.”  

That’s not Briles’s style as a coach, though. Sports Illustrated has compared Baylor’s quick-strike, high-scoring offense to the Ramones: fast and loud and groundbreaking. “I’m not a big Ramones follower,” Briles says. “But yeah, I’ve always tried, professionally, to live fearlessly. You gotta turn the volume up to ten. And if it doesn’t work out, then at least you had a good time while you was getting after it.”

Only ten? No This Is Spinal Tap reference?

“You can make it eleven,” he says, when prodded to channel his inner Nigel Tufnel. “I’m good with that.”

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