That night almost three years ago, Matt Rhule worked the room. Well, it was actually a private suite at Phoenix's Chase Field filled with Baylor administrators, friends and significant others watching the Cactus Bowl below.
Whatever was going on that night in Baylor's 31-12 win over Boise State represented some sort of end. The end of Jim Grobe's interim season filled with turmoil and turnover following a horrific scandal that was still sorting itself out.
Rhule, Baylor's new coach, couldn't have hobnobbed better with school officials. That night was also a beginning. At that moment, Rhule was regarded as some kind of savior.
Please don't overreact to the religious significance of a mere football coach's impact on a Baptist flagship. But it was Rhule himself who said it was a "calling" to lead Baylor, a program almost burned to the ground in that scandal.
"I absolutely believe that," Rhule reiterated this week. "I believe I was supposed to be here. I was prepared to come here to lead Baylor through this time. I told people all along [that] I believe I was called to come here until the day I retire or do something else."
That is the backdrop, then, for the biggest game at No. 13 Baylor since at least 2015, the last time the Bears started 9-0. At stake Saturday against No. 10 Oklahoma is -- in ascending order -- a shot at the Sugar Bowl, a Big 12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But the underlying angle is that Bears are here at all. Rhule told CBS Sports he had 45 scholarship players in Year 1. Not surprisingly, Baylor went 1-11.
The Bears remain in the midst of an NCAA investigation that has nothing to do with the Rhule regime but could result in serious sanctions.
"I don't worry about anything," Rhule said. "What's going to happen is going to happen. When I first came here, stuff was going on. It's literally three years later. … To me, I just completely concern myself [with football]."
That's all we can do in what may be a playoff elimination game. Rhule has delivered in a similar way he did in his last job, leading Temple to a 2016 AAC title. That championship came in his fourth and final year with the Owls. Baylor's turnaround has come in Year 3 with no end to the football excellence in sight.
Still, the school -- not the football program under Rhule -- has lost face, brand value and reputation. Lawsuits abound from a far-reaching sexual assault scandal. For a while, the school's very existence in the Big 12 was in question.
That NCAA investigation could be the first to have a case heard by an independent adjudicative authority. If wrongdoing is found, there is no appeal process to the penalties.
But football has survived. It always does in these situations, it seems. It did at Penn State. It did at Miami. It did at Ohio State.
Baylor just happened to find the right guy.
Under Rhule, football is thriving. Look at the quick turnaround. There is a reason he has interviewed at least twice with NFL teams since he has been at Baylor. Rhule knows ball. He is forthright. He knows how to put together a staff. Special teams coach Mike Siravo is responsible for a group that has blocked 14 kicks since the beginning of 2017.
Rhule had to be sensitive. When he took over, he was the third coach for some of his players.
Rhule freely admits that a lot of what he has accomplished wouldn't be possible without Art Briles' legacy. That's right, the defrocked former Baylor coach who was fired 3 ½ years ago. Rhule can recruit to a still-new stadium (McClane Stadium) made possible by Briles' excellence on the field. There is also an indoor facility and nutrition center.
"That's not that hard for me to talk about," Rhule said. "That's one of the reasons I came here. The previous staff had proved you can win here at a high level. They could recruit at a high level. The facilities. There's a reason 17 of 19 Baylor teams went to the postseason last year."
This inspirational season, the Bears became the second FBS program since 1937 to go from an 0-8 start to 8-0 two seasons later. UCF is the other in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Hobnobbing that night in Phoenix, Rhule had exactly one recruit. At that point, his first class was ranked 137th in the 247Sports Composite, below some FCS programs.
In that class, eventually, was the quarterback who will take on Oklahoma. Junior Charlie Brewer is from Austin, Texas, high school power Lake Travis, the same school that produced Baker Mayfield. Lake Travis also famously produced eight consecutive Division I signees at quarterback.
"To be honest with you, [Baylor] was my only option," said Brewer, now the third-leading passer in school history.
Contrary to Baylor and Big 12 tradition, Brewer leads an offense that sputters at times. The Bears have scored two touchdowns in the last eight quarters of regulation.
Also contrary to Baylor tradition, the Bears are second in the Big 12 in total defense. When senior middle linebacker Clay Johnston was lost for the season to a knee injury, up stepped sophomore Terrel Berard. He has 29 tackles over the last two games. Defensive end James Lynch (with 17 in his career) is half a sack away from Shawn Oakman's school record.
Baylor has been living on the edge, winning five of its games by eight points or less, two in overtime. Add it all up and Baylor is rolling with the nation's third-longest winning streak (11 games).
"I don't think we've fully played a complimentary game," Brewer said.
Ya think? That's what makes these Bears more huggable. They could upset the playoff establishment with a run to 13-0 that would likely include two wins over Oklahoma (one Saturday, another in the Big 12 Championship Game).
That would be justice, mostly because Baylor was a victim in 2014 of the CFP's biggest injustice. Because the Big 12 back then didn't have a championship game, that made it easier for the CFP Selection Committee to exclude TCU and Baylor from the top four. The Bears and Horned Frogs had tied for the league title.
"The credit goes to the players," Rhule said. "They didn't panic. They didn't transfer. They didn't quit. They stayed with it."
It seems Baylor's coach knows how to work a locker room, too.