MT VERNON, Texas — Mount Vernon Independent School District spent Memorial Day weekend facing backlash after announcing former Baylor football coach Art Briles would be the head coach of Mount Vernon High football.
The Mount Vernon ISD Board of Trustees said it approved a two-year contract with Briles at its special meeting Friday.
Briles was fired from the head football coaching job at Baylor in 2016 in wake of the program's sexual assault scandal.
Critics of the hire argued the school put more value in winning over integrity. Superintendent Jason McCullough said he did not agree with that opinion.
"Of course when we go out on Friday nights we want our football team to do the best they can and hopefully come out with a win," McCullough said. "But I can tell you... my priority was to find a coach who would come in who happens to be a man of faith, morals, integrity and character. That's the man who we were told he is."
McCullough said more consideration was put into the employment of Briles than any other hire and the vetting process pointed to an issue bigger than just one person.
Although Mount Vernon has received its fair share of criticism on social media, McCullough said every response he's received from people affiliated with the school, including female employees, has been positive.
"The only people who I've talked to that have come to me are female employees who've been excited about the hire," he said. "Student wise, I haven't had a student reach out to me personally. Each person I've talked to locally that has contacted me has been in support."
McCullough was asked if the district reached out to any alleged victims of sexual assault from Baylor before hiring Briles. He said it didn't because those names were not available to it.
In the press release announcing Briles' hire, the district mentioned it has a Title IX coordinator and training in place for all staff and administrators.
McCullough admitted the district isn't more prepared than a big, Divison I college for a Title IX situation, however, he said it has protocols in place.
"I don't know that I can say that we're more prepared, but I can say that we have a Title IX coordinator in place," he said. "We are working with our attorneys and making sure that they have training and that training takes place for our employees. It is something that we know we are going to have to be responsible for and we're ready to do it."
KCEN Channel 6 spoke to people in Mount Vernon about the community's reaction to the Briles hire. One woman told us the town is divided by the hiring, but that the vocal majority of Mount Vernon residents appear to be in support of the hiring.
"When I heard the new about Coach Briles being hired as the new head coach, I was extremely disappointed in the school board," Mount Vernon alumna Dana Cruse said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Jason McCullough, he has done some wonderful things for MVISD, and is truly a good man, but I feel that this was a severe lapse in judgement."
Another woman who graduated from Mount Vernon told Channel 6 over the phone she was unhappy with the hire.
"I feel angry and embarrassed," resident Lauren Lewis said. "I believe there are a lot of good people in this town that are working really hard to bring a lot of progress and forward momentum to Mount Vernon, and this feels like a big, ugly stain that we didn't ask for. No one else in North America would take him, and Mount Vernon was like 'Sure, we've got you here.'"
A Mount Vernon and Baylor graduate said the hire was a bad move.
"My concern is that this does not send the right message to the young men and women of Mount Vernon ISD," Mark Ramsay said.
Based on conversations with references and Briles himself, McCullough said he believes Briles has earned a second chance.
"I believe that our board is completely on board with this," he said. "I am as well. I believe our community is going to support this decision, and we are going to wrap our arms around this and I do not foresee us walking away from Art Briles."
Under his two-year contract, Briles will make $82,000 a year. He will not have to teach and will be able to bring his own staff. A separate athletic director will be hired at another time.
Briles is currently wrapping up his season coaching Guelfi Fierenze, an American football team in Florence, Italy. Guelfi Fierenze is in the playoffs, and Briles will be on campus at Mount Vernon High once their run is over.
McCullough said he believes his students, his school and community are prepared for the national attention that comes with the controversial hire.
"I believe that what people are going to see is that Mount Vernon is a special place to be, and it will stand behind the decision I made and our board made," he said.
Editor's note: Channel 6 always strives to be fully transparent in how we gather our content. We interviewed Superintendent Jason McCollough on two separate occasions Tuesday. The first interview consisted of questions we had submitted to McCollough ahead of the interview. As a station we believe no interview should be conducted in such a way that the subject of the interview knows questions ahead of time. So, station management chose not to share the responses to those questions. The quotes contained within this article were all obtained in a second interview in which McCollough had not been given the questions.
Other stories on KCENTV.com:
- Ex-Baylor football player Shawn Oakman found not guilty of sexual assault
- Art Briles not a candidate for the Waco High head coaching job
- Briles denies any knowledge of sexual assaults in open letter
- Lawyer: Baylor settles with woman who said rape was ignored
- Lawsuit: Baylor volleyball player gang raped by up to 8 football players