Rice's David Bailiff: Hurricane Harvey 'an adult lesson' for players
Rice coach David Bailiff sees hope just ahead for his team. Finally, 11 of his players are sleeping in their own beds.
"They're off their teammates' couches," he said.
A month after Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston, southeast Texas and Louisiana, dropping 51.88 inches of rain, leaving 70 dead and causing between $70-90 billion in losses, Bailiff, his staff and players are rebuilding their lives.
And, by the way, playing a largely uninterrupted football season that brings the team to Heinz Field on Saturday to play Pitt.
A total of 11 players "lost everything," and 22 lost their cars, Bailiff said. The hurricane impacted everyone, especially:
• Tight ends coach David Sloan, who still hasn't returned to his home.
• A Houston car dealer, who told Bailiff 1 million cars were flooded.
• Coaches' families, some of whom found refuge in churches.
Bailiff said one player missed practice Tuesday because he was working with FEMA's relief effort.
"If it's practice or FEMA, you need to choose FEMA because you have to take care of the people first," the coach said.
"It's just street after street after street. But we're getting better every day."
Football has become a safe haven for his players, who are learning a hard life's lesson at a young age, Bailiff said.
"We've spent a lot of time talking about it," he said. "We all thought college was hard, and then we talk to them about when you graduate from college and have a family that real life is much harder than college.
"They are getting an adult lesson at a very young age and that they have to do their best to compartmentalize it when they're over here (at the football facility).
"Make this their fun time where they're not thinking about the school or the hurricane or what their losses were."
The team was in Sydney, Australia, playing Stanford in its opener (a 62-7 loss Aug. 26) when the hurricane struck Houston. After the game, they couldn't return to campus, instead spending five days in nearby Fort Worth on the TCU campus.
Football became unimportant.
"We didn't do any football-related work for three days so they could take care of their human needs," Bailiff said. "One day we went and volunteered in the neighborhoods and helped people clean their homes out."
Remarkably, the Owls (1-3) won their first game after the hurricane, a 31-14 victory at UTEP. The game at Houston the following week was especially poignant, with players from both teams meeting at midfield to shake hands in a display of solidarity. Rice lost 38-3.
Back home last week against Florida International, the Owls were on the 9-yard line, trailing 13-7 late in the game, but couldn't score. Injuries have crippled the offense, which has scored only two touchdowns in three losses.
"I still expect this to be a good season," said Bailiff, who's in his 11th season as Rice's coach. "We've had some distractions, but we're a good football team. I think it's pretty remarkable how well they're doing."
Bailiff said the hardest part is the need to follow NCAA rules that do not permit student-athletes to receive gifts beyond their scholarships.
"The regular students could have access to funds," he said. "People give them money to rebuild their lives.
"There is still some frustration (among players) in how slow help is coming to them. But a lot of that is just NCAA rules."
Conference USA has started a fund for the team, and Bailiff said that will help.
With the second-smallest enrollment in the FBS (3,708), Rice's campus has come together.
"Everybody has chipped in, all hands on deck," linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee, the C-USA preseason defensive player of the year, told the El Paso Times. "We're all together. We've all bonded together."
"It wasn't just this campus that came together," Bailiff said. "It was the entire city of Houston, really southeast Texas that was affected.
"People in Beaumont were trying to help those in Houston, and they turned around and tried to help Beaumont. Beaumont didn't have water for a while. They were sending all the surplus water to Beaumont.
"It was people helping people. You see the best come out in people at the worst times."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.