'He's got a good soul, good heart': What Josh Gordon's college coach has said about him
Through the ups and downs of wide receiver Josh Gordon’s football career, former Baylor football coach Art Briles could have abandoned hope on several occasions.
But Briles — who suspended Gordon twice, once indefinitely, at Baylor — has been vocal in support of his ex-player beyond their days together in Texas.
Here’s what Briles has said over the course of Gordon’s tumultuous NFL career:
‘He’s got a good soul, good heart’
In July 2012, Gordon was selected as part of the league’s supplemental draft — an opportunity for players who were ineligible for the college football season and had missed the deadline to declare for the traditional NFL Draft to still earn an opportunity to compete in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns won the bid for Gordon, who was considered one of the top prospects at the time.
“I think opening day, he’ll be a starter,” Briles told Ohio.com shortly after Gordon joined the Browns. “He’s that kind of talent.”
Because the supplemental draft takes place in July, Gordon missed OTAs and minicamp, but Briles still expressed confidence in the 6-foot-3 wideout to assimilate Cleveland’s playbook quickly during training camp and preseason.
“He just happens to be intellectually gifted enough that he’s going to pick stuff up in a hurry,” Briles said. “Missing OTAs and all that, that’s not going to have any effect on whether or not he’s starting opening day — not if you like winning games.”
Briles called Gordon “a great guy” with a “good soul” and a “good heart.” His heaping praise also tabbed Gordon as “very, very intelligent” and “very articulate.”
“He’s not a guy that you have to groom or that you have to get to play above his head,” Briles said. “His athletic ability along with intelligence and along with his desire and competitive nature is going to make him a great pro.”
As for Gordon’s on-field problems with substance abuse? Briles, at the time, said it wasn’t a concern of his, the team’s, or Gordon’s.
“I’m not concerned about that, I don’t think Cleveland’s concerned about it, and Josh isn’t concerned about it,” he said. “If all we’re going to do is talk about what went wrong with somebody at one point in their life, not just him, but in general, then we’re going to spend time talking about a lot of people.”
Briles indicated Gordon’s room for growth was exponential.
“If he’s standing in the room and you’re looking at the ceiling, there’s not one there when you’re talking about his ability,” he said.
‘He still has a great future ahead’
Briles was correct in that Gordon started the Browns’ season opener. He also went on to play all 16 games his rookie year, recording 50 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns. The 2013 season was even better for Gordon, who hauled in 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. His outstanding numbers earned him a Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro honors.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick even took note of Gordon’s talent, calling him a “complete player” ahead of the Patriots’ matchup against the Browns in December 2013. (Gordon put up 151 receiving yards and scored a touchdown that impressed both Belichick and then-defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.)
“He’s a very explosive player,” Belichick said at the time. “He’s a complete player that can run fast, catch — big target — and make a lot of yards on his own after the catch with his speed, size, and running ability. He makes a significant amount of yardage after he’s got the ball in his hands, but he also makes a lot of yardage down the field, too. He’s a really hard guy to defend because they do so many things with him and you have to defend him at all three levels of the defense.”
Things took a turn, however, as Gordon was suspended for 10 games in 2014.
“Everybody’s different in the world, and that’s what makes it so unique,” Briles said on Sirius XM NFL Radio in July 2014. “Everybody’s got special talents and gifts. Josh certainly has a tremendous amount of physical talent and intellectual gifts. We all just hope and pray that he’ll be able to get through everything and finally reach his full potential.”
Though Gordon’s transgression was by no means his first, Briles maintained optimism for the coming years.
“The thing about Josh that’s so unique is he’s still young,” he said. “He just turned 23. His future is ahead. He’s going to be judged by everything that’s happened, but he still has a great future ahead and that’s the way he needs to approach the situation. When you’re in our family, you’re always in, so we’ll do whatever we can do to help him be successful in his life.
“He’s going to be judged by everything that’s happened, but he still has a great future ahead. That’s the way he needs to approach this situation.”
‘Hopefully, he’s on the right track now’
Gordon’s former teammate, and Briles’s former player, quarterback Robert Griffin III signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Browns in March 2016.
“There is a natural connection between RG3 and JG,” Briles told cleveland.com after Griffin’s deal became official. “When you’re talking about a quarterback-receiver relationship at the highest level of the game you need a really strong bond and those guys have it. I think it’s going to be great for them.”
Briles was looking forward to the tandem coming together, saying the duo had to potential to be one of the best of the league — if they both are able to stay healthy and “on top of their games.” Briles said Griffin would only help Gordon’s situation.
“If you drew a picture of an ideal NFL receiver it would be Josh,” he said. “Hopefully, he’s on the right track now. … Sometimes, it takes two to make one person special.”
Their reunion was foiled, however, as Gordon didn’t play a game during the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to another suspension.
Briles is now the coach of Guelfi Firenze, a football team in Florence, Italy.