What used to be T-shirts and hats has become a stadium, a new training facility, and now a nutrition center for athletes.
That’s part of what I like to call changing a culture visually. When you talk about having success and doing great things, it can’t just be talk. Everybody talks about having success, but that doesn’t mean they know how to have success. They don’t understand what goes into it.
The point is this: If you want to visualize yourself as a champion, if you want to picture yourself being something great, if you want to have a place that top student-athletes consider a destination, you have to have something that is a symbol.
So when I got to Stephenville High School, one of my early ideas was to have all the fans—whether they were parents, administration, students, or just people from town—get T-shirts and hats to wear for the games. I wanted our players to look in the stands and see a band of people behind them cheering for them. It was a sign of unity and power for our players, and that was going to mean something to them.
Eventually, other folks in town came up with the idea of tin cans filled with nuts and bolts that they would shake during games to help create noise. It was partly for fun and eventually got to the point that it was even a little intimidating. The “Can Fans” became known around Texas, and the cans were our calling card. Now, I understand full well that the cans and the T-shirts and the hats and whatever else wouldn’t mean anything if we didn’t play well and win on the field.
But all those little things were part of an overall vision that you have to get people to believe in. Yes, the players at Stephenville had to believe in our training regimen. They had to believe in the things we were doing on offense. They had to believe in themselves. That belief becomes easier when the people around them start to believe in them, too.
At Baylor, if you look across the Brazos River and you don’t start to believe that something special is happening here these days, well, all I can say is that you probably couldn’t find a fish in an aquarium.
McLane Stadium is set to open in the 2014 season. It’s the crowning achievement of a six-year upgrade to the university’s athletic facilities. The 45,000-seat stadium is open at the south end, providing fans with a picturesque view of the Brazos and the campus beyond. The exterior of the stadium is all glass, providing further views of the city and beyond.
We didn’t want McLane Stadium to be too big because we didn’t want opposing schools buying up a bunch of tickets and causing us to lose home-field advantage. You have to remember that Baylor is relatively small (about thirteen thousand undergraduates) compared to the other schools in Texas, and one of only two private schools in the Big 12 Conference. (Texas Christian University is the other one.)
And when I say that McLane Stadium is an achievement, a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily understand unless they took a look at our old home field, Floyd Casey Stadium. Floyd Casey is a fine stadium, sitting in the middle of a patch of open space. It holds fifty thousand people, has some luxury boxes and an artificial turf field. For a place built in 1950, it has held up well.
While it served as Baylor’s home field for more than sixty years, there is one thing it is not. It’s not Baylor.
Floyd Casey is literally four miles from the Baylor campus. That may not seem like a long distance, but it created a complete disconnect between our program and the campus. We were not only the last school in Texas without a stadium on campus, we were one of the last in the country. I think UCLA and Pitt are the only other major college programs that don’t have stadiums on campus or directly adjoining the campus.
“What we had was a commuter program,” said Colin Shillinglaw, our assistant athletic director for football operations. “[The players would] get up in the morning and drive to the stadium to work out, do their own lifting and stuff. Then they’d go back to class. Then they’d drive back to the stadium for practice or whatever else they had to do with the team. Then they’d drive back to campus for tutoring and the rest of the day. You think, ‘Hey, it’s just four miles.’ But it adds up.
“The time is fifteen or twenty minutes round-trip, but then you have to park and you have to stop to get gas or you have to pick up a teammate or drop him somewhere. Maybe you have to wait for somebody because he’s not ready to go just yet. It’s just all these little things, and it was worse if you didn’t have your own car. One time, I figured out how much they were spending in gas a semester just going back and forth. It was not fair. It was absolutely working against us.”
To put this in perspective, let me explain it this way: I have lived in Texas all my life. I was fifty-two when I took the Baylor job, after having played or coached football in this state for more than four decades. I had been to Floyd Casey Stadium and Waco many times for football games. But not until after I was hired did I ever set foot on the Baylor campus.
Dary Stone, a member of the Baylor Board of Regent, explained that the stadium is part of the branding of the campus. You want people to come to Baylor and see what this great university is about. You don’t just want them to come to a football game and leave. You want them to walk around, see the buildings, and go to the bookstore. You want them to ask questions about who were all the great people who helped build the university. You want them to know about the school’s mission and its history. (Baylor is the oldest school in the Big 12 and the oldest major university in Texas.)
The bottom line is that in our first year at Baylor, we were selling a whole vision of faith. That’s all we had. We were explaining to people that if they believed in what we were doing and stuck with us, great things were going to happen. We were going to build new facilities. We were eventually going to have a stadium on campus. When we were threatened with realignment, we kept people going with the idea that we would get through that.
“Art Briles came in and took over the football program and had a great vision. He said this in our opening press conference, ‘Our first goal is to become a competitive, respectable football team, then we are going to go to bowl games, and then we are going to win a Big 12 championship,’” Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw said. “He just laid it out that simply. That’s what we were going to do. I’m sitting there listening to that interview, and he presented it in a very credible way, talked about how he was going to do it.
“Art just kind of laid it out there. He said a new stadium was a need, not a want. It wasn’t on Day One, but as we got going and things started to improve, he’d just toss it out there comfortably. Not a demand, but just a way of getting us to realize, ‘Yeah, we need to do this.’ Again, that’s the catalytic part of his personality. You can’t really think about that when you’re going 3–9 or 4–8, but then you start to build up the program and you get to the ten-win season, you have a Heisman Trophy winner, go to the Alamo Bowl, and the momentum hits a high point. There were a series of moments that went along with that little reminder that, ‘Hey, we need to get this done.’”
That’s great, but at the start, that’s all we had to sell at the time, a vision. If you start by selling reality, nobody is buying that. Because of the positive mentality of our coaches and the strength of what we had done in the past at Stephenville and Houston, we could get people interested in what we were doing. Still, I wanted guys who would walk down a path that hadn’t been walked down before. If you come to two paths and one of them is well traveled and the other is not, I want the guy who wanted to go down the path less traveled. I wanted guys who believed in themselves and had confidence in what they could do, not just what somebody else did or had done. So that was our sell.
We wanted mavericks. We wanted guys with no sheet on their bed rather than a silk sheet. I don’t mean that necessarily in the literal sense because there are a lot of guys who have everything you could ask for and are still tough, physical, dynamic leaders. What I’m saying is that I wanted tough guys. Guys who just had to fight and grind and work for everything they ever earned and believed in a vision. If we said we could get these things done, we wanted guys who believed that they could do it as well. It has nothing to do with socioeconomic background. It has to do with mentality. That’s what we sold, and those were the people we needed to get it done.
However, selling that vision required that we eventually move on from playing at Floyd Casey. To this day, as high school, college, and NFL coaches come to visit our program and see us in our still relatively new athletic department offices on the north part of campus for the first time, we get this comment over and over again: “Wow, this is Baylor? I’ve been coming here for twenty years and never knew this was Baylor. I thought Floyd Casey was where the campus was.”
The stadium just isn’t up-to-date. You have concrete bench seating in the east end zone, and while there are some luxury boxes, a large number of them are in the west end zone, which is not exactly prime seating for your high-end boosters.
Worse, the location of the stadium was also the location of our football offices and our practice field when I first got to Baylor. Again, it may only be four miles, but that’s ten or fifteen minutes lost every trip. It was an annoyance.
There was a disconnect between the program and the school. When you brought students and parents to Baylor to tour the facilities, there were two different reactions. They would get to campus and be impressed by everything they saw going on at the school. Then you would take them to the stadium and the football offices and it was like, “Okay, this is different.”
Our defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, went through the same issue when he coached at the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt shares Heinz Field with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the stadium was always considered the Steelers’ home field. The Panthers haven’t had a stadium on campus since after the 1999 season.
“No question, it’s an issue,” Bennett said. “People would perceive it as the Steelers’ field. We were guests at our stadium. We never felt that way because the locker rooms were taken care of the right way and the stadium always said ‘Pitt’ and the locker room all decked out in Panthers stuff. But Syracuse, Ohio State, the people we recruited against, that’s what they said. ‘They don’t even have their own stadium.’”
In the state of Texas—heck, just about anywhere in the country—that’s just not going to cut it. In the world of college football, facilities are essential. It’s an arms race, and the problem was we were walking around with a wooden knife and everybody else had bazookas. Now we’ve got something and we’re not hiding behind the couch anymore. We’re standing up and fighting an equal fight, which is the way it should be. That’s all you want—an equal chance. That’s all you can ask for. We’re on that level now.
I would certainly think our development as a program and our product on the field showed the necessity was there for us to take the next step. If you want to be a big boy, you’ve got to act like a big boy. The school wasn’t acting like we were a big boy when it came to the stadium or whoever we were playing. We step on the field on Saturdays now and the school expects us to beat the teams in our conference. We expect to beat the teams in our conference or whoever we’re playing.
If that’s the way it is, don’t pitch me four bullets with a six-shooter. If I’ve got six chambers, I want six bullets in there because we’re in a fight. We’re not getting shot in the back. We’re moving forward, we’re coming at somebody. It’s just like I tell our staff, “No is not the answer.” No is an easy answer. You can find somebody to say no. Let’s figure out a way to make it work. Let’s look past everything and figure out a way to make it work.
That’s the thing that I think helped more than anything else. It took some bold people with great vision. I was hardly the first person to realize this, but I did say it the loudest. Some people like to say that I got that stadium built. That’s not true. The truth is that Baylor alum and benefactor Drayton McLane is the man who had the idea for the stadium long ago. McLane grew up in Temple, Texas, about thirty-five miles from Waco. He graduated from Baylor in 1958, and then left the state to get his master’s degree in business from Michigan State.
That’s when McLane realized how important an on-campus stadium is to a university. He saw 75,000-seat Spartan Stadium in the middle of the school and realized what that did to campus life. Spartan Stadium might be more than ninety years old now (it was built in 1923), but it’s still a critical part of the school’s atmosphere.
“So much of the campus life turns on what happens at the stadium,” McLane said. “Here is this gigantic school with almost fifty thousand students and the stadium is a place where so many of them come together. It’s not just football games, it’s graduation and concerts and other major events. That’s a hub of that campus. I saw that when I got to Michigan State and realized that Baylor was missing that. You saw it year after year. Not only did we not have room for real tailgating when alums would come back to campus, we didn’t have the alums coming back to campus.
“We didn’t have our people reconnecting with the university. We didn’t have our students really connected to the football program. It was like the football wasn’t really part of the school.”
About twenty years ago, McLane started talking about putting a stadium on campus. In 2003, amid the chaos of the basketball scandal, McLane made sure that then-President Robert Sloan Jr. put the discussion of a stadium in the “Baylor 2012” plan that Sloan put together. The problem was that it was hard to get any momentum going for the stadium when the team was struggling so much.
Then, as we were starting to turn the program around in 2010, the talk of realignment also stalled the momentum. But once we got past the realignment talk and kept the Big 12 Conference together in 2011, that gave the school confidence to finally finish the project. In January 2012, McLane and Dary Stone met at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston and McLane signed the paperwork to make the primary donation for the stadium.
My role in this was to provide a tipping point to make it happen. McLane and I would get together and talk about the project all the time. As much as he wanted to do it, he needed me and the football team to be the engine to get other people behind the project.
I had been saying that an on-campus stadium was a need, particularly as we started moving forward in 2010. Still, it’s about building momentum, and 2011 was the season that pushed it over the top. As we played well, we not only convinced other teams in the Big 12 that it was worth keeping us in the conference, we convinced other donors beyond McLane that the program was going to be great. Not only did Baylor win ten games for the first time since 1980, we beat Oklahoma for the first time (doing it on a dramatic late touchdown pass by Robert Griffin III to Terrance Williams), and then Griffin won the Heisman.
It wasn’t long after that we were breaking ground on the new stadium in September 2012, putting it on the north bank of the Brazos, complete with a bridge for the students and band to cross from campus on the day of the game.
More importantly, the stadium sits right next to I-35, one of the busiest stretches of highway in Texas, if not the country. Forty-four million people drive I-35 every year, going either toward Dallas to the north or San Antonio to the south. That’s important in another way. One of the problems with Waco is that if you drive through it, there’s nothing that really catches the eye. If you drive through, you might not even notice that you’ve gone through Waco.
Until now, most people drove past Waco on the way to Dallas or Houston and didn’t think twice about Baylor. Now they’re going to see our gleaming new stadium rising above the highway and will have something in their mind to remember Baylor.
To me, that’s crucial because even though Waco hasn’t always had the greatest reputation, we can change that, and then take advantage of Waco’s greatest strength.
We are in the middle of everything. Twenty years ago, people used to say Waco was in the middle of nowhere. We’re just the opposite now. Waco is ninety minutes from Dallas, two hours from San Antonio, and less than two and a half hours to Houston. I joke with people that we’re basically South Dallas or North Houston. Heck, College Station and Austin are basically suburbs of Waco.
We’re the hub. Within a short drive of Waco is the vast majority of Texas’s population. There are very few student-athletes in Texas who would say that Baylor and Waco are too far away. About the only ones would be from El Paso.
The point is that we have come a long way since I got here in December 2007. We not only have the stadium in the last stages of construction as I write this book, but we have a new athletic department building, a new indoor practice facility, and a $12 million nutrition facility that’s also being built. Compare that to what we had at Floyd Casey and it’s not even close.
Again, it’s visual, visual, visual. When student-athletes come to Baylor now, the look on their faces is completely different. They know they are walking into a first-class facility. Now, part of me appreciates the kids who don’t care about stuff like that. That’s the old-school part of me who likes the guys who have attitude. Just like in the beginning, I still want mavericks.
But the reality is that all of your student-athletes are seeing what’s going on around the state. They see each of the other schools bringing in new facilities, and they think that will help them reach the next level. They are all envisioning an NFL future.
At Baylor, we’re selling the same vision, and it’s my job to sort out the tough guys from the guys who might cut and run when the going gets rough.
One way that you keep people from doing the cut-and-run maneuver is to give them a symbol to look up to every day. Like lots of programs, we have slogans all over our facilities. “Be the standard” is printed in six-foot letters on the west fence of our practice field. Those things help, but being able to look north from the practice field and see straight into the new stadium helps even more.
Our young men can look over there and understand how much the program is being upgraded. The ones who played on the rock-hard surface at Floyd Casey will realize what it’s like to be in a new place. Many of them will take a small piece of ownership in that new stadium, knowing they played a role in the momentum to get it built. Decades from now, those same young men may come back to Baylor and want to leave their own legacy by donating something to the school.
That’s what McLane did. That’s what John Eddie Williams did. That’s what other proactive people like Dary Stone, Jay Allison, Bob Simpson, Jim Turner, Walter Umphrey, Paul Foster, Clifton Robinson, and Bob Beauchamp have done. Williams is a high-powered attorney who played football at Baylor and went to law school at Baylor. He was part of the team that won the Southwest Conference for the first time in fifty years in 1974, under coach Grant Teaff. That’s one of the strongest parts of his connection to Baylor, that great memory. He donated money to have the field at McLane Stadium named after him. Umphrey and his wife, Sheila, donated the money for the bridge that crosses the Brazos to the stadium.
In the fall, our players, our students, our fans, and our band will cross that bridge as they go to the game. They will walk into a completely different experience from what we’ve had at Baylor. This is going to be first-class.
And once you’re in that first-class environment, the expectation will pick up. Again, this is all part of the visual. It’s like when you get invited to a great party at someone’s beautiful house. You don’t want to go there in cutoff jeans and a T-shirt. You want to dress up real nice and make an impression. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to leave an impression on people.
A little impression, too, if you know what I mean.
More importantly, McLane Stadium will help cement Baylor’s place in the Big 12 Conference, or whatever top conference we’re part of in the future. We’re not going to be viewed as a potential cast-off anymore, like we were in 2010 and early 2011. Instead of just holding on to maintain our place, we now have a vision of what we’re going to be for a long time into the future.
With this new stadium, with us going to bowl games in four straight years, with us winning our first Big 12 Conference title, with us having more players go to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014 than any other school in Texas, with us having more players drafted than all but two schools in the past five years … that’s the vision we’re putting out there.
It’s a whole different climate, a whole different attitude, and a whole different expectation. If we’re in the band, we’re not second fiddle. We found us a first chair right there and we’re primed up and ready to go. That’s the part that’s been really invigorating and inspirational, the fact that people have made a difference that has allowed our university to change its perception on a national level. That’s a big deal, that’s not easy to do, and that has happened here.
We’re not fighting to convince people to come to Baylor and commute to the football program. We’re making Baylor and Waco a destination. A destination millions of people see as they drive right by.
Copyright © 2014 by Art Briles and Don Yaeger
Foreword copyright © 2014 by Drayton McLane