As rumors swirled that Florida State was planning to hire Kendal Briles as its new offensive coordinator, one female student saw university president John Thrasher on campus and asked to meet with him.
She had been sexually battered on campus, not far from where their paths crossed. And she had concerns about Briles, who was an assistant during Baylor’s sexual assault scandal.
“Ever since the day you became president of our university, you pledged to change the culture on our campus for the better,” the student wrote in a follow-up email to Thrasher. “For this reason, I am calling into question how the hiring of Kendal Briles will fit into your pledge.”
She wasn’t alone.
Emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public-records request show unease and even disgust among fans and alumni as FSU considered adding the former Baylor assistant. While the notes to Thrasher and interim athletic director David Coburn don’t speak for the entire fan base, they provide a window into how some Seminoles supporters viewed the move before his $1 million-a-year contract was finalized on Dec. 23.
“Since 2013, I have defended my school against those that say FSU doesn’t care about sexual assault, and was willing to look the other way when winning mattered,” one woman wrote to Thrasher.
“As a survivor of sexual assault on FSU’s campus, it makes me ill that such a hire is even rumored. I cannot and will not defend it. I refuse to support a program that would allow this kind of association on its campus and again with its football team. Please don’t break my heart by making me give up rooting for my school, and the young men striving so hard to make their better way while wearing the garnet and gold.”
The Times does not generally name victims of sexual assault.
Briles coached at Baylor under his father, Art Briles, when at least 19 players were accused of sexual or domestic assault. One of the Title IX lawsuits against the school alleged that the younger Briles asked a recruit: “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."
Baylor, a private university, hasn’t revealed details of what Briles or any other assistants did during the scandal. That lack of transparency concerned FSU alumni Paul and Leah Einboden, who endowed a nursing scholarship at FSU.
“He may or may not have known about … the horrific actions that took place at Baylor, but as a private institution, there isn’t enough transparency to know,” they wrote to Thrasher. “We feel that the vetting that FSU does cannot provide enough information to justify the potential downside.”
Others were more forceful with their displeasure, even though Briles had no reported transgressions during his 2017 season at Florida Atlantic or last year as Houston’s offensive coordinator.
Tara Lehan, a season ticket holder and former Richmond (Va.) Seminole Club president, told Coburn she would boycott the team. FSU fan Steven Cohen wrote that he was “disgusted” by the idea and hoped the ’Noles would not hire someone who will “once again tarnish the image of our university.”
“Simply put, we are — or should be — better than this…” FSU alumnus Steve Muscatello wrote to Thrasher. “I get that we play big time football and it's a big business — and I love watching the team every Saturday in the fall. But, in my opinion, I'd rather go 5-7 again next year without Briles than (maybe) win an extra game or two with him and take all the baggage that comes with him.”
Only two of the emails obtained by the Times had positive feedback. Both were sent by members of the board of trustees.
“Thank you for your efforts to get our program back on track,” trustee Jim W. Henderson wrote to Thrasher.
Chair Edward E. Burr chimed in a few hours later: “Optimistic this guy can help.”