(Editor's Note: Michael Wardlaw, the Mississippi State beat writer for the Starkville Daily News, sat down with new Lady Bulldog basketball coach Vic Schaefer last week and discussed his philosophy of building a winning program. This story, along with one published last week, gives insight into Schaefer plans.)
Make no mistake about it, Vic Schaefer didn’t become Mississippi State’s head coach for women’s basketball to simply have a good team.
The 27-year coaching veteran knows what the Lady Bulldogs are searching for is a solid program and he has a plan to deliver.
“There's a big difference between teams and programs," Schaefer said. "Teams come and go, programs are here to stay. Our first step is to make it a top-25 program, then take that to a top-10 program, where year-in and year-out we're picked in the top four in the SEC, we're picked in the top 20 in the country, and we're going to have a top-25 recruiting class. That’s just the way it is. It's how things are done.”
Since his first day on campus, everything he’s done has been with building a program in mind, and while he would like for it to happen all at once, he understands there’s a process that must take place in order to turn things around.
“It doesn't happen overnight," Schaefer said. "There's so many little things that go into that and have to be in place. It's our job to put them in place, and that's what we're doing right now."
Schaefer has hired a staff that believes in his plan and they’re now facing the challenge of changing the inner-workings of the program.
“We've got some processes in place that are a little archaic, for lack of a better word,” said Schaefer. “There's just things that haven't been done in the 21st century. There's a way to do things and they haven't been done that way. I think that's been the big challenge for me, just knowing that we've got some things that we need to change and do a little differently, because you know what? They're doing them that way to the left of me, to the right of me, to the south of me, and to the north of me. We need to be doing it that way, too.”
As any good coach knows, a coach is only as good as the players he brings into the program and recruiting is something Schaefer takes a great deal of pride in.
“I think the consistency comes from your classes of young players, as freshmen, developing them,” Schaefer said. “When you sign a kid,
you have an obligation to that young person to develop them. We're always trying to find the next great player, and we're always trying to better the next class. That's our job.”
If you’re looking for the Lady Bulldogs to take a shortcut and recruit junior college players for a quick fix, well you’ll be sorely disappointed.
“You can't go and invest so heavily in the junior college ranks," Schaefer said. "That's not been a philosophy of ours. We typically build our program with freshmen."
Schaefer is not opposed to signing a junior college player if they can come in and start right away, but he see a bottom line.
"You don't want to go and sign some junior college player that started 60, 70, 80 games in their career, bring them to Mississippi State, and now they're not better than anybody we've got here." Schaefer said. "Now they're sitting on the bench because they're going to be disgruntled and unhappy if that's the case. I don't need to go sign a good role player as a junior.”
In April, the coaching staff travelled the country for the five days they were allowed to recruit.
Like MSU football coach Dan Mullen, Schaefer feels it is important to recruit Mississippi as he spent two of those five days exclusively in the state.
“It was really a unique experience and a great experience for us in how well-received we were by both the high school coaches as well as the recruits,” he said. “Our reception's been very good. I think you'd find across the country people know who we are, they know what we're about, they know how we do things, and I think there's a level of respect in the coaching fraternity. People know that we'll get it done.”
While the Magnolia State is a priority, Schaefer explained he will not turn his back on his connections nationwide.
“We'll look outside the box in a lot of different directions,” he said. “We're not far from Atlanta. We certainly have a lot of roots in the Texas area, and we'll certainly continue to cultivate that area.
“I don't think you turn your back and walk away from the people that have been very good to you over the course of your career. I think they know if we chose to be here at Mississippi State, Mississippi State must be a great place, and it is. That being said, I think we have the attention of a lot of folks across the country with our staff and being here in Starkville.”
As for the players he’s looking for, Schaefer may be a defensive-minded coach, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for offensive-minded players.
“We've got 12 points a game coming back (so) you're doggone right I'm looking for somebody that can score,” Schaefer said. “That's an area that we're looking for, but there is a type of player, a build, not just athletic but the makeup of a player that we need.
“We've got to change that makeup of our team. We've got to get some size, some length. That's one of the areas that we talk about in recruiting quite a bit is recruiting those types of players that can help us play the way we want to play.”
As a first-year head coach at Mississippi State, Schaefer doesn’t have a track record with the Lady Bulldogs to show recruits, but that doesn’t concern him. He knows his career reputation will help kick start the process in Starkville.
“The big thing is they're coming here because of who we are, what we've done in the past (at Texas A&M), and the type of program that we've been associated with,” Schaefer said. “They know my involvement in that program over the years, and so that's been No. 1. No. 2, they're coming because of my staff.
“A lot of these kids and their coaches know my staff and have a great deal of respect for them. Again, they know if we're here at Mississippi State, there must be something here special that drew us so they want to see it, and then once they get here, they're just blown away.”