Baylor players, coaches continue to defend Briles after Cactus Bowl win

PHOENIX -- Baylor players, grinning widely, gave their one-year, interim coach Jim Grobe the customary ice-and-Gatorade shower after the Bears upset Boise State 31-12 in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on Tuesday night.

"It was kind of fun getting dumped," Grobe said.

It was a happy ending to a horrific season, one in which a six-game losing streak that followed a 6-0 start was secondary to the off-field tumult, which began when coach Art Briles was fired in May amid an investigation of the school's and football program's handling of sexual-assault cases.

Now Grobe walks away and new coach Matt Rhule, who rebuilt Temple, takes over with what is almost certain to be an entirely new coaching staff.

"I don't think [new athletic director Mack Rhoades] could have hired a better guy than Matt Rhule," Grobe said. "We've got a great nucleus coming back for Matt to work with."

There was both joy and defiance among the Baylor coaches and players after the victory. Game MVP KD Cannon, who caught 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, mentioned Briles in his postgame remarks. Coaches who defended Briles with a controversial Twitter hashtag -- #TRUTHDONTLIE -- continued to defend him and their efforts on his behalf.

"Art Briles is as fine a man as I've ever been around and I've done this 40 years," defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "We didn't have Title IX in place. It was a systematic failure."

Many at Baylor point a finger at the media, believing a complicated situation with many gray areas and nuances was painted over in accusatory black.

When asked about what surprised him most about his year at Baylor, Grobe inserted more than a few pauses into his reply.

"I probably didn't expect the caustic attitude of the press," Grobe said. "That caught me off guard a little bit. I came in thinking when Baylor -- right or wrong -- to let Art go, the president resigning, the athletic director resigning, I kind of thought people would say, 'Good for Baylor. They had this problem and they took strong action.' That's what I assumed."

Injured star quarterback Seth Russell seconded Grobe about how the football program has been portrayed. When asked about what he'd want people to know about Baylor, Russell didn't pause.

"They need to know it's not what the media puts it as," Russell said. "They see us as a bunch of bad guys."

Grobe admitted that "the wheels came off" at midseason, and that the game for a while became a drudgery to his players, who were burdened by open hostility on the road as well as the negative national perception.

That, Grobe said, is why winning the final game felt so good.

"Our guys looked like kids out there playing," he said. "That was a lot of fun."

The Baylor team that won two Big 12 titles under Briles will look much different next year. The players who are coming back allowed themselves some optimism after a bowl victory gave them a winning record for the season.

"This is a huge win for this program," freshman quarterback Zach Smith said. "It's going to translate to next year."