The criticism started rolling in Sunday night after the National Championship game was even over: why didn’t Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer put Morgan William in for the entirety of the fourth quarter? The star and savior of the Bulldogs’ last two games, the 5-5 point guard watched the last 10 minutes of the title match up from the bench.
The third reporter question to Schaefer in the post-game news conference that night addressed that question. The coach said it was because she and other players “didn’t have the energy level we needed,” due largely to their takedown of No. 1 UConn in Friday’s semifinal. That didn’t seem to satisfy the masses, as criticism continued. Last night ESPN published a piececriticizing Schaefer and his decision with the qualifier that “coaches are subject to public scrutiny.”
In the purest sense, that’s correct: public figures are subject to public scrutiny, and everyone on Earth makes mistakes from time to time. But maybe it’s because I’ve been to so many high school basketball games and have heard too many ill-advised, completely-off-the-mark parents scream at the coach, but it’s not appropriate to grill Schaefer for his game time decisions. It’s disrespectful and pompous.
The man has 17 years of college coaching experience that includes plenty of NCAA Tournament appearances. He was SEC coach of the year in 2015. He just took his team to the Final Four for the first time in school history. He clearly knows what he’s doing.
Schaefer spent many years working for coach Gary Blair, who is one of the most level-headed leaders in the game. Schaefer also displays that kind of balance. He truly loves and cares about the young people who play for him, and it shows.
After Mississippi State’s Elite 8 win against Baylor, Schaefer hugged William while she cried. After their upset of UConn, Schaefer hugged William while he cried. He’s said that members of his team are like daughters to him, and that’s how he treats them. I could see it on the bench in December when the Bulldogs came to play in USC’s holiday tournament. I saw it in the press room after those games. I read about it last week when Schaefer said William was his daughter’s best friend, and that she was at his home more than any other player.
I could see it in the Bulldog locker room after Friday’s upset win, as players and coaches shared an intimate celebration of a monumental moment. It was apparent in post-game interviews when Schaefer said he had to “go feed his kids” and take care of them. The closeness between the staff and the athletes has been quite evident.
A large number of people automatically assume others have ulterior motives for what they do, which became evident when I tweeted Schaefer’s “energy level” comment a few seconds after he said it; the reaction was negative. It seemed like everyone across the country knew William’s energy level better than her coach did. Were fans assuming Shaefer wanted his team to lose? Why wouldn’t they believe him when he said that others seemed to have a hotter hand than William, so he left them in?
According to the ESPN piece, William herself repeatedly deflected questions about her playing time in the Championship game, deferring to Schaefer’s judgement. Too bad others can’t do that. But especially today, people aren’t good at minding their own business.
No one knows what goes on inside a team unless they’re on it. No one knows what goes into the decisions of others unless that person reveals their thought processes. It’s pretty simple.
Leave Vic Schaefer alone. He’s doing a great job. And his decisions are no one’s business but his.