A week ago, Vic Schaefer wasn’t thinking about leaving Mississippi State, where he has spent the last eight seasons nurturing the women’s basketball program to elite status.
But everything changes when a whirlwind courtship is successful.
This past Sunday – just two days after announcing that coach Karen Aston’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, and one day out of interviews with Schaefer – the Texas Longhorns announced he was their new head women’s basketball coach.
“He’s incredible,” Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said in a press conference Monday. “Everything about him is what we were looking for in a coach.”
Texas will look to Schaefer to breathe life into a once-top tier program, and it brings the 59-year-old back to his home state and closer to family. But for what seems to be a match made in heaven, it happened very fast.
Del Conte said that the process to hire Schaefer began Friday morning after he had a conversation with Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who guided the Longhorns to a National Championship in 1986, and is now a special assistant in athletics.
Del Conte said Schaefer was his top candidate, but he simply asked Conradt for her suggestions.
“I asked who we should talk to and she said, ‘I don’t know if you can get him, but if you can get Vic Schaefer, you go get him,’” Del Conte said.
Though the department had already hired a search firm, he opted to call Mississippi State Athletics himself after consulting with three of his senior associate athletics directors. The next morning, Texas sent a chartered plane to pick up Schaefer and his family and bring them to Austin for interviews. Del Conte was optimistic when they landed.
“I saw he’d brought the whole family when they got off the plane, and I thought, ‘we’ve got a shot,’” he said. “I was excited.”
Schaefer said that once back in Starkville Saturday night, he talked with his family and then “slept on it.” By late Sunday morning he had made his decision, and Del Conte tweeted the news shortly thereafter.
“I’m excited to be returning home to the great state of Texas,” Schaefer said. “It’s a place where I’ve spent 45 years of my life, and to be with a university that has so much tradition, both academically and athletically – and particularly in women’s basketball.”
“My job now is to restore this program to the national prominence that it once had. I take that responsibility seriously, and I’m excited about the opportunity. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”
Del Conte made no bones about the fact that Schaefer, a former head coach at Sam Houston State and an assistant coach at Texas A&M, was on a candidate list of one.
“That’s a targeted search. You go get the very best you can get, and you focus on that,” Del Conte said. “He fit everything we want. He was born in Austin….he built a program from the ground up.”
Schaefer said taking the job was “a calling.”
“I’ve always looked at my coaching decisions as callings,” he said. “I believe God has you in a place where he wants you, and He’s got a role for you to fulfill when you’re there.”
“When I came to Mississippi State eight years ago, I had a lot of people asking me, ‘what in the world are you doing?’ I felt like it was a calling, it was a place we could win championships. When I went to Austin to meet with them, I had the same feeling. Once you get in and sit down, sit across from people and look in their eyes, see their vision, it’s what you want to be a part of.”
Schaefer turned the Bulldogs from Southeastern Conference bottom-feeders to contenders by his third year. He guided his teams to the 2017 and 2018 National Championship games. At Texas A&M, where he was an assistant to Gary Blair for 15 seasons, he helped with a similar renaissance. Schaefer said he has “the blueprint” for success in fostering skilled teams that play aggressively.
“It’s not what we do, but how we do it that separates us from the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s the accountability, the technique. It’s the little things you’re coaching and teaching young people.”
Schaefer said it is attention to detail that puts fans in the stands, and it was what grew the fan base in Starkville to capacity crowds at every home game.
“(Fans) want to see (defense), and kids who honor the game and play it the right way,” he said. “I think that’s probably what’s missing in Austin, is an identity for that program. And that’s my job is to restore that.”
Schaefer said he had already spoken to starting forward Charli Collier and starting guard Celeste Taylor, and considers them great anchors for the team. But the current coronavirus pandemic means that the timetable for meeting players and conducting practices is still unknown.
“Our true capability (will be hard to gauge) because we can’t do individual workouts this spring,” Schaefer said. “Summer is so iffy right now, but I know all classes will be online. I’m hopeful we can get these kids to campus so we can work them out individually.”
A competitive coach, Schaefer is known for his fire on the sidelines and the care he shows to athletes. He said stepping away from the Bulldogs is hard.
“It’s a tough decision,” Schaefer said. “I’m leaving a really good team. Some have ranked it No. 3 in the country going into next year. I’m leaving some tremendous young ladies and families.”
“It’s extremely difficult because I’m an emotional guy. You all know I coach with a lot of passion, a lot of emotion. And that’s the way I feel about my kids, as well. It’s an emotional decision. This has been an incredible eight years at Mississippi State. There’s a real love affair here. It’s been incredible to be a part of that.”
He wants to create the same kinds of bonds with fans in Austin that he and his athletes did in Starkville.
“We want to make our product something families want to be a part of,” Schaefer said. “We don’t go right to our locker room after games. It takes us 45 minutes sometimes because we want to interact with fans. That’s how you build a fan base.”
At the same time, he wants the Longhorns to be a tough draw for opponents.
“We’re about creating an atmosphere for (the opponent) that makes them uncomfortable,” Schaeffer said. “We’re 94 feet of not much fun for you, and a lot of un for us. And that’s a great atmosphere for our fans.”
He plans to bring that “blue collar approach” to Texas.
“If people come to see us play one time, they’ll never miss another game,” Schaeffer said.