Harvey Levine/FOS

Retracing Baylor’s Penn State Pipeline

How the Bears snapped up a pair of troubled former Nittany Lion defensive linemen and the mixed results that came of it.

Baylor has suspended head football coach Art Briles with the intent of firing him, a move stemming from the program’s handling of sexual assault allegations against several Bear players.

The action has no doubt caught the eyes of Penn State fans, who saw Briles’ program take in a pair of extremely talented defensive linemen after they had been kicked off the Nittany Lion football team.

Both went on to enjoy outstanding careers in Waco. One (Phil Taylor, shown above) parlayed that into a long NFL career, while the other (Shawn Oakman) now finds himself dealing with sexual assault accusations of his own.

We’ll approach things in chronological order here, to allow you to better understand how the one-time Nittany Lions ended up playing at a school some 1,500 miles away from University Park.

When he was hired at Baylor in December of 2007, Briles hired two assistants with Penn State ties.

One was defensive line coach Chris Achuff, a Bellefonte, Pa., native who had been a graduate assistant at PSU in 2002 and 2003 under Joe Paterno. Achuff worked with defensive line coach Larry Johnson while in Happy Valley. 

The other was defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, who had coached defensive backs for the Nittany Lions from 2001-07. And with that, Baylor’s Penn State pipeline was set.

It began with Taylor, a massive defensive tackle who never lived up to his potential at PSU due to multiple off-field issues. That included a 2007 on-campus fight in which he was originally charged with felony aggravated assault but eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct (fighting) and was sentenced to one year of probation. He was suspended from the team for the spring of 2008 and expelled from school for the two summer semesters that year.

In July of 2008, Paterno kicked him off the team permanently. No official reason was ever given, but reports surfaced that Taylor and fellow DT Chris Baker (who was also jettisoned from the program) were involved in an incident at a State College swimming pool. No charges came from the swimming pool situation.

Johnson — thanks to his relationships with Achuff and Norwood — put Taylor in touch with Baylor, and Taylor ended up transferring to the Bears late in the summer of 2008. He sat out the 2008 season under NCAA transfer rules. By the time he was a senior in 2010, Taylor recorded 45 tackles, seven tackles for loss and won second-team All-Big 12 notice.

He was the 21st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, going to the Cleveland Browns. From 2011 through 2014, he started 42 games for the Browns. He was cut prior to the 2015 season and did not sign with another team until Denver inked him to a contract this past February.

The move to Baylor was clearly a positive experience for Taylor, allowing him to put a somewhat troubled past in the rearview mirror and capitalize on his size and athletic ability.

Harvey Levine/FOS

It initially looked like Oakman (above) was headed for the same type of happy ending — and possibly better.

The 6-foot-9, 265-pounder out of Philadelphia redshirted at Penn State in 2011. In February of 2012, new PSU coach Bill O’Brien kicked Oakman off the team due to a “violation of team rules.” Oakman later admitted he was involved in an altercation with a female worker at an on-campus store after he tried to steal a sandwich. 

Oakman only faced summary offenses stemming from the incident, and eventually paid a fine to cover them. But program sources said he had previously violated team rules, which is why the incident in February of 2012 prompted O’Brien to dismiss him.

Oakman remained enrolled at Penn State through the summer of 2012. But his position coach with the Lions — Johnson — had made the transition from the Paterno to O’Brien staffs. And Johnson put him in touch with the Baylor staff.

Oakman transferred to the Bears in the fall of 2012, sat out the year required by the NCAA, and then saw his star explode.

During his junior season (2014), Oakman recorded 19.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, and won third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. Some analysts projected Oakman as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

But his star began to fade a bit in 2015, as he logged 14.5 tackles for loss and only 4.5 sacks. Already facing questions about how his towering physique would translate to the NFL, Oakman saw his draft stock completely evaporate when in mid-April he was charged with sexually assaulting a female Baylor student. Police say Oakman admitted having sex with the woman, but that he said it was consensual. The case is pending.

It was later learned that Oakman had been accused of sexual assault in 2013, but was never charged after the woman in question declined to press charges. He was also suspended for the 2015 season opener for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Oakman was not taken in the 2016 NFL Draft and has yet to land a free-agent deal with a team.

As of this writing, Achuff was still the defensive line coach at Baylor.

Norwood left the Bears in 2015 to become co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Tulsa.

Johnson applied for the head coaching job at Penn State when O’Brien left to take over the Houston Texans in January of 2014. When PSU's top job went to James Franklin, Johnson left the Nittany Lions and was later named defensive line coach at Ohio State.

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