Art Briles talked about winning games and championships when he became Baylor's coach six years ago.
Back then, the Bears hadn't managed a winning record in their first 12 seasons in the Big 12, and those sure seemed like lofty goals. They are a reality now, with the Big 12 champion Bears (11-1) headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play UCF on Jan. 1 in their first Bowl Championship Series game.
" You have the plan and the vision and you love to see it come to fruition. If it does, it makes you look like you knew what you were talking about," Briles said. "We don't feel like we're at the mountaintop, though. We're still striving to be a respectable program year in and year out. ... That'll never change."
Briles was the unanimous pick for the AP's Big 12 coach of the year award announced Tuesday. He got all 20 votes in balloting by media members who cover the Big 12 on a regular basis. With a 30-10 win over Texas on Saturday to close out 64 seasons at Floyd Casey Stadium before moving into a $260 million campus stadium next fall, the Bears clinched their first outright title in any league since the 1980 Southwest Conference championship. That team had Mike Singletary and Walter Abercrombie playing for coach Grant Teaff.
This is the first 11-win season in school history, and the sixth-ranked Bears are making four consecutive bowl appearances for the first time. They are 29-9 over a three-season span that began in 2011 with Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman Trophy.
When Briles arrived in Waco, the private school had won only 11 of its 96 Big 12 games — and were 35-101 overall in that span with four different coaches. The Bears were routinely at the bottom of the standings and were then mired in a 12-game conference losing streak, only a few seasons removed from a record 29 consecutive Big 12 losses.
During his introduction in November 2007, Briles talked about the Bears getting bowl eligible and winning a Big 12 title. The coach acknowledged then that "lip service is easy" but said he had a plan. And he still has never really looked back at what happened before he got there.
"To be honest, when you have someone with that much of a vision and determination for things, it's almost, whoa, that's too much," Bears quarterback Bryce Petty said after the Texas game. "But to be in the spot we're at with this team, I couldn't be more proud. ... I said it all along, this is a special team and it was going to take us places this year."
Petty was named the AP Big 12 offensive player of the year Monday, when the quarterback was joined on the All-Big 12 first-team offense by three teammates: offensive guard Cyril Richardson, Big 12 leading rusher Lache Seastrunk and top receiver Antwan Goodley. The Bears, with their fast-paced spread offense, are the FBS leader with 624.5 total yards and 53.3 points per game. They have four 70-point games and two other games with at least 63 points.
Briles, who turned 58 last week, has a 44-31 record at Baylor and last month got a new 10-year contract through the 2023 season. The Texas-born coach has spent his entire coaching career in his home state. He came to Baylor from Houston, where he was 34-28 from 2003-07. The Cougars were 0-11 two seasons before he arrived, but Briles led them the 2006 Conference USA championship and four bowl games.
"He's just a cool person," Goodley said. "He's just an amazing guy, and outstanding guy to be around. I love him as a coach."