Coach Jim Grobe did not accomplish everything he set out to do at Baylor this year, he said.
But he also wasn’t hired to just win football games.
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Former coach Art Briles was fired in May after eight seasons and an investigation into his mishandling of sexual assault cases involving Baylor players. Enter Grobe, who had been retired from coaching for two years. He was brought in as a well-respected leader after coaching stops at Ohio and Wake Forest.
Grobe was named “acting head coach” three days after Briles was ousted, a seemingly thankless job, a temporary post at a school embroiled in scandal. After winning the first six games this season, the Bears have lost six straight.
“I wish we could have stayed more focused on football. Wish I’d been a better buffer, and I don’t want to lose football games, so I didn’t get done all I’d hoped,” Grobe said.
There was speculation as to whether Baylor would even accept a bowl invitation, but the Bears did and will face Boise State on Tuesday in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix (8:15 p.m., ESPN).
Grobe, 64, goes back into retirement after the game, and Baylor will have a new coach next season in Matt Rhule, who led Temple to back-to-back 10-win seasons the past two years.
“It just shows what kind of a guy coach Grobe is,” Baylor senior wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne said. “Not many people want to come in and have to help fix something they had nothing to do with. What he did was hold us accountable, be that figure that a lot of guys were looking for. He’s an incredible person. I love him to death. We’re able to function as a football team, which is why he came.”
With a fragile campus environment, and with Rhule not hired until Dec. 6, Baylor’s recruiting has been a massive struggle. The staff has focused on coaching, knowing none of them likely will return next season. The Bears have one known verbal commitment. By comparison, Boise State has at least 16. Grobe said the hiring of Rhule was a “a sense of relief.”
“Probably one of the most unique situations in college football that you’ll ever see,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I think (Grobe) did a heck of a job, and I think not many people would step up and be in the role he decided to be in. As far as a coach goes, you admire it and what he’s done there.”
When Baylor needed a head coach to help keep the program from falling off the tracks, it relied on the school’s all-time winningest coach, Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. Grobe, who went 110-115-1 from 1995-2013 at Ohio and Wake Forest, had previously run the AFCA’s ethics committee.
“It felt like a calling, to come and help after Grant called me,” Grobe said. “Coaches don’t want distractions, and it has affected us on the field for sure. But it’s been an honor. I’ve got 100 new sons.”
It was important for Baylor to find someone outside the program to lead the team. Briles, Athletic Director Ian McCaw and President Ken Starr were either fired or resigned this summer.
One player, running back Devin Chafin, was kicked off the team in June after ESPN uncovered a report of him assaulting a woman in 2014. Five other players have been investigated for cases involving violence against women, including Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu, who was convicted of sexual assault and served jail time last year.
“He didn’t have much to do, so I’m sure he liked the challenge,” senior linebacker Avaion Edwards said of Grobe. “He held things together. He knew what happened weren’t involving the guys on this team now. I think he helped show we have good people here.”
Though it has not been anything resembling a smooth ride — Baylor all-time leading rusher Shock Linwood has opted not to play in the Cactus Bowl to focus on his NFL future — Grobe has made sure those who remain try to maintain Baylor’s recent successes on the football field.
Harsin said he has not seen the Bears play less hard during the losing streak.
“I just had to keep them pulling on the same end of the rope,” Grobe said. “It’s been a tough go of it, but I’m looking forward to having one more game with these kids.”
- Teams: Boise State (10-2, 6-2 Mountain West) vs. Baylor (6-6, 3-6 Big 12)
- Time: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Chase Field, (40,400 capacity, grass, home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks), Phoenix
- TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, David Pollack, Molly McGrath)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM and KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Tickets: $40-$115, available at BroncoSports.com/tickets, by phone at 208-426-4737 or the Boise State ticket office.
- Vegas line: Boise State by 7 (over/under is 67)
- Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (31-8, third year; 38-13, fourth year overall); Baylor, Jim Grobe (6-6, first year; 116-121-1, 20th year overall)
- Bowl records: Boise State 11-5, Baylor 11-11
- Series record: First meeting
- Weather: Chase Field has a retractable roof, which is expected to be open for pre-game activities and closed for the game. Tuesday’s forecast calls for sun, highs in the mid-60s and lows in the mid-40s.