August 31st, the Baylor Bears will open up McLane Stadium. This is a big step for an emerging program. Funny to think or say that about a program that is coming off of a Big 12 championship season when just five years ago, the Bears hadn't even gone to a bowl game in 15 years. This program had not taken steps or leaps, but more likely a high speed train out of the gutter and back to respectability under Coach Art Briles.
What Coach Briles has done for the Bears program is arguably one of the best rebuilding jobs in major college football. In the last three years, the Bears have won 29 games. Before Briles got to Waco, it took 10 years, and three different coaches to win 29 games (1998 – 2007). Last year, the Bears won 11 games, which was actually the same amount that I personally saw as a student during the 2000-2003 seasons.
But the transformation of this program truly began the day that Art Briles stepped foot onto campus. Yes, talk of an on-campus stadium had been rumored for a while, but no real progress was made simply due to the lack of results on the field. Former Coach Guy Morriss begged and pleaded for the financial assistance that Briles is taking full advantage of.
Without those demands met though, Briles was still able to recruit a Heisman winning quarterback and 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft, get 17 other players drafted into the NFL, and take the program to three and then four straight bowl games for the first time in program history. Before the Bears even announced the stadium, they had a bowl game under their belt (ending a 15 year drought).
With the mere promise of a new on-campus stadium, Briles built the Baylor program into a Big 1 champion and BCS bowl game participant. What can Briles do with the actual bricks, mortar and columns in place and being used? That is the big question for Baylor fans.
Rather than the popular “rising phoenix” or “big-time program announcement” that most are claiming this stadium will do, I think of it more as a turbo boost. The bulk of the work has been done, but not all of it. Now comes the fine-tuning of the details that could bring even greater results.
Last year proved that the Bears had enough high end talent to compete with the big boys. Where they were hurt is the depth behind those stars was not strong enough to keep the team running at top speed. Injuries are a fact of the game, and those injuries hit the Bears hard at a few key positions, including some of their best players.While the stadium is a "big step" in terms of profile and stature, how big of an effect will it have on the Bears? Most of the leg work is done, the big steps have been taken for the Bears and Art Briles. Will this stadium help them with the final lunge towards the finish line of a National Championship? That is the only thing left in front of the Bears.