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March 28, 2017
RICK NIXON: Good morning and welcome to today's Women's Final Four head coaches media teleconference. For the next several minutes you have the opportunity to visit with the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Vic Schaefer. Mississippi State is making its first appearance in the Women's Final Four and will be headed to Dallas here today.
With that, to get things started today, I'll bring in Coach Schaefer. If you would say a few words, what it means for you and your program to be coming to Dallas for this year's Final Four.
COACH SCHAEFER: We're very excited, humbled and honored to have an opportunity to continue to play. We feel like we've come out of a tremendous region. We've had four very tough opponents. I'm really proud of my kids. They have been tough and resilient through the entire two-week process, as well as the entire season.
Just are excited to continue to play. I've got some kids from Texas that I get to bring back home for this great event. Again, just appreciate all the hard work, commitment and dedication it takes to do something like this. This is my third Final Four professionally as a coach. I know the commitment that it takes from an administration, to players, to assistant coaches.
As the head coach, I'm really appreciative and just thankful to be a part of this.
RICK NIXON: Thanks so much. We'll start taking questions.
Q. Vic, I wanted to ask, on UConn's broadcast last night, he talked about a meeting you had in Houston. I guess it was more of a chance meeting. You never got to go up there like you maybe had planned. Can you talk about that meeting, what y'all talked about. He said he doesn't take any credit for what you guys accomplished.
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I think even more than that meeting that was by chance in September during recruiting, he and I got to spend about a day and a half together in Colorado Springs last summer recruiting.
It was really great for me to just talk to him about, you know, the game and, in particular, offense. Again, for some reason, I've kind of been known throughout my career as the defensive guy.
Offensively just talked to him a little bit about that particular side of the game. He shared some stories with me about him early in his career, what kind of brought him to where he is. I think they're so multi-dimensional offensively. Of course, all his players are multi-dimensional, can do so many things.
Again, until you've watched them and played them, I have a true, real appreciation for them defensively. They score so many points, their defense gets overlooked. Just like last night, they made Oregon miserable. Defensively, they were just in passing lanes, refusing to let them make passes. They took the three-point line, chased them off of that.
Because they are so prolific point-wise, a lot of times people don't pay attention to that. But their defense is really, really good.
Our conversation, more me picking his brain about, Hey, how did you get to this point where you're just so doggone good offensively? Kind of like being around somebody that's 100. If you're 100 years old, I want to know what you're eating for breakfast, I want to know what time you're eating breakfast, what you're eating for lunch.
I was pretty specific in trying to get some information out of him. It was great. He was super.
Q. One of the things he talked about, clearly he talked about your team is a lot different than last year when you played, and he said he doesn't have to convince his team of that because they saw what you have done in this tournament, what you did against Baylor. What about your team? Is there something you have to convince them that you're a different team than the team that played UConn last year?
COACH SCHAEFER: I think my team realizes that. I think we're a year older, a year wiser. So I think from that standpoint, our kids believe we're different.
Now, the fact of the matter is, UConn may not have the same personnel, but they're still the same, you know, dominating UConn program. They're a well-oiled machine. They have tremendous chemistry.
Even though the numbers or the names may change, the program itself just keeps rolling. So I think our kids understand that. At the same time, we know we can't really get caught up in the whole UConn thing. We've got to do what we do. We've got to be more concerned, I think, about Mississippi State than we do about anything else.
I think that's probably where we've kind of evolved maybe even from a year ago. We're going to be more concerned about us, making sure we're doing what we want to do, how we want to do it, instead of being so consumed with everything about our opponent. That can get overwhelming, quite frankly.
Q. Coach, Coach Auriemma mentioned something about recruiting, how he and his coaching staff go after players who want to be coached, who want to live up to the responsibility of playing for Connecticut, the expectations that go along with it. The kids that you've brought in as seniors, who have kind of laid the foundation, how do they epitomize that kind of mindset or mentality to help get you guys where you've gotten?
COACH SCHAEFER: I think they're exactly that. I think they're accountable. I think they came here with an idea of setting a precedent and being a part of something special, about being the pioneers to come in here and really create, you know, something that's never been done.
So I give those kids all the credit. Those four seniors, they'll go down in history as the all-time winningest program to date, all-time winningest class to date in the history of the program, and four of the greatest players to ever play here.
They deserve a lot of credit, obviously, for where we are today, the turnaround of how we've accomplished this in such a short period of time.
Don't want to take anything away from Coach Fanning. She had some great teams here during her time, had some really good players, including LaToya Thomas and Tan White. There was a couple years there in the last two that weren't real good, but certainly she had some really good teams here. We certainly don't want to diminish that fact.
Q. Geno talked about that fact that he doesn't think kids have changed in the sense that they still want to be pushed. In your sense of recruiting, I know you approach it the same way you approach a scout for a new opponent, what is the process like to try to find maybe the intangibles that a player has or the makeup that they have to find out that they want to be coached, they want to live up to a standard, they want to be a pioneer?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I think there's a lot that goes into recruiting. It's not just walking into a gym and watching somebody play. We're reading the stat sheet, seeing how many points, rebounds, assists they have.
I told you the story before. We sit at a table all the time and talk about recruiting. We talk about, Where is the next McDonald's All-American, the top 50 player, next Gatorade Player of the Year. I want to know where the next Dominique Dillingham is, somebody I recruited for her toughness, for her competitive spirit, for her fire. Didn't recruit her for her jump shot.
The kid has been a three-and-a-half year starter for us. When you do your homework as a coach, you have to recruit kids that fit your style, that fit how you want to play. You know what, they got to fit how you want to prepare.
I think coaches find out all the time sometimes these great players that have all these gaudy stats in high school, they don't want to come work. You've got to earn your right to win. You've got to earn your right to win the game. That comes with effort.
Sometimes, you know, it comes too easy for kids at a young age. At this level nothing comes easy. You've got to want to work. If you don't, it really can be a struggle, especially at this level.
Q. Coach Schaefer, last year when you hired Carly Thibault as the assistant coach, what did you see that you liked in her? What has she brought to the table this year, during the run through the tournament?
COACH SCHAEFER: Yeah, you know, Carly came highly recommended from a number of people. Anybody that knows me, when I've had to replace an assistant, I really take my time. I'm not one to rush into anything.
In calling people across the country, from coast-to-coast, her name came up quite a bit. Of course, I've known Mike a long time, not real well, but known of him. He and I have crossed paths occasionally and talked.
What she's brought to our program is really, at a young age, she is -- I'm trying to think of the word. She's mature beyond her years, if that's the right way to say it. Her knowledge of the game is really off the chart. Her preparation skills are really off the chart. Her attention to detail, as my entire staff, those are things that were important to me when I was an assistant.
I had a saying when I was an assistant, I wasn't paid to be wrong. I didn't never want to be wrong to Coach Blair. So my assistants are the same way. That's what I want. That's what I need.
I think if you're going to be successful at this level, you better surround yourself with really good people. I'm smart enough to know I can't do it by myself.
Carly has really fit in well here with my staff, with our players, with this university. But her work ethic, her attention to detail has really been pleasing for someone, who is, quite frankly, as young as her, not quite had the experience. But, man, she is off the chart. She's been a home run for me.
Q. Vic, two questions for you. First, I was looking at a story the other day about the dynamic you and Blair, your daughter, have. When you mentioned a seventh grade game where you stepped in there, how have you sort of done that balance? Kim coached her daughter. We've had other coaches that have done that. How have you kept that balance of when you're a dad and when you're a coach?
COACH SCHAEFER: I'm wondering before I answer, has there ever been a father-daughter in the Final Four? I'm just curious, coach and daughter.
You know, the balance has been real easy. I give her all the credit, and her teammates credit. They've been great throughout this whole process.
I think for us, most of the time when we see each other at school, it's always coach and player. My kids grew up having dinner at the dinner table every night. We sat down together. We talked about the day. We didn't let people go sit in front of the TV or go up to their room and eat. We always had family time.
Because of our location, where we live, close to campus, where she lives, close to campus, we still have those dinners a lot of times, usually on a Monday night, on our off days. We still have that with her and her twin brother, Logan, who is a student here.
I can tell you, as a father, I'm miserable with an empty nest (laughter). I can tell you, I don't like going home to that at all. But it's really been unique and special. Obviously, she's earned her way. She's been a big contributor throughout her career, but really down the stretch she's had some big minutes for us, made some big shots.
Q. Can you reflect a little bit on the path of your career. It's sort of different than a lot of people do, probably different than your three counterparts in the Final Four. You were a head coach, then you went about a 15-year period being an assistant coach, then became a head coach again. Can you talk about what was the reason for why you did it that way. How did you change as a head coach from the first time you did it to now?
COACH SCHAEFER: That first opportunity in 1990 was at a university that I dearly love, got my master's from. When you got that job in 1990, I had never coached women's basketball. I had no contacts in the game. I got that job a month after signing date, there were three kids on the team. I was a green tomato as a head coach, so to speak.
I had to go out and recruit. I signed four players out of a newspaper in Houston, Houston Chronicle. Then few junior college players nobody wanted. That was my first recruiting class there.
Went through some lean years to start with. But by the fifth year, we were 18-10. I was blessed to be Coach the of Year in the Southland. Coach Blair told me a year after that, I think I'm going to lose Tom Collen. Think about coming to Arkansas.
I'm like, Man, I'm just getting this turned around, really happy. It didn't happen. Tom didn't leave. Next year same thing, same place, at the junior college national tournament in Tyler, Texas. He told me the same thing again, I think I'm going to lose Tom, think about coming to Arkansas.
Again, I had a young team, we were really good, going to be really good the next few years. We loved Huntsville. But it did happen. The truth of the matter is, we just had the twins. They were a year old. We were $25,000 in debt. I was making $35,000 a year as a head coach at Sam Houston State. I had to do it for my family.
Coach offered to double my salary, give me a courtesy car, $1,000 in Reebok apparel, if I remember it right (laughter). That's kind of what pulled me to Arkansas, as well as being able to go work with him.
Obviously we had six great years there. Went to the Final Four in '98.
Then in 2003, we got to Texas A&M. That's another story. I really wasn't going with him. I was going to be the next head coach at New Mexico State.
Long story for another day, but ended up turning that down, took the associate head coaching job with him at A&M in '03. Eight years later we win the national championship.
I've had a pretty incredible career. Had a lot of success with Coach. I think a lot of people questioned five years ago what I was doing, why would I do it here.
I think what we've shown the country is what I believed when I came here; that this is a place that wants to win, they're committed to winning. It's a tremendous university. We have great facilities. It can be done. It just needed somebody to come in here with a blueprint and a formula. We had that. We had done it at Arkansas. We had done it at A&M. We just brought the blueprint with us here and have put it into place.
Q. Vic, I wonder how you approach trying to game plan against UConn. Kelly Graves of Oregon talked about trying to eliminate catch-and-shoot threes, pick your poison, if they're going to make 17- or 15-footers against us, we're going to have to live with that and do our best. When you're looking at them defensively to try to attack them, what do you see in terms of what you can do?
COACH SCHAEFER: I don't want to give away the game plan. I think obviously they can do it all. I think that's what Kelly was basically saying. If he felt like he had to give up something, he was willing to give up the 17-footers, that's what he was willing to give up.
I'm sitting here right now, was watching film before the phone call. Number one, what do we do well? Number two, what do they do well? How is that going to look when you meet head on?
You try to figure out, Okay, is what we do well better than what they do well better? Whatever which one wins out, you've got to deal with that.
So with them, you know, they're just a well-oiled machine. I mean, that's the only way to put it. They are a machine. Geno is a great coach. Not only do they have great players, I mean, we talk about being attached all the time, chemistry. They are. I mean, that's why they're so good.
I think one thing we've got to do is we got to score. I mean, it's not going to be a 50-48 game. That's where we've been different in the last two and a half weeks. We've kind of maybe not focused so much on trying to hold everybody scoreless, we focus more on, Okay, here is how we can attack and score a little bit.
If you look at our scores in the NCAA tournament, we've been able to score some points. I think that's what's different about our team right now. That was part of the reason for the change in the lineups. We had some kids that were hot. They needed to be on the floor.
Q. Coach, you talk about this being your fourth Final Four in your professional career. Now that you've done it as a head coach, does it feel different than when you were an assistant? Is it comparable?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, it's my third. It is a little different in that there's a lot more responsibility than just trying to develop a defensive game plan. So there's not enough time in the day. The fact of the matter is this: I've got to spend the bulk of my time with my kids and my staff, trying to get them ready, you know, for Friday night.
But there's so many other things that are happening that drag you and need your time. That's where having a great staff comes into play, which I have.
But the time demands are really, really difficult, to be honest with you. At the same time, I'm not complaining, obviously. I couldn't be prouder. It's a good problem to have. No doubt about it.
Q. Vic, going back to Sam Houston State, how does an assistant boys' basketball coach end up as the head basketball coach at Sam Houston State? What did you learn from that first experience of running a program that you carry with you?
COACH SCHAEFER: That's a great question.
You know, in 1985, I got my first job coming out of college. I was the freshman boys' coach at Milby High School in Houston, HISD. That's the first year they took the ninth graders to campus. At that time, the ninth and eighth graders were off campus. I was the first freshman boys' coach at Milby High School, for coach Boyce Honea, who is a legendary high school coach in the state of Texas. A tremendous man, he's in the Hall of Fame. Grew up with his son in my teenage years.
From there, I coached AAU in the summer. I had some really good AAU teams. After that second summer, I tried to apply everywhere to get into the college game. Gary Moss was the new head coach at Sam Houston State. He hired me as a GA. I quit my job as a freshman coach, drove to Huntsville, became a GA there for two years.
In the middle of the second year there, I lost my dad real suddenly. Not only did I lose him, but Coach Moss got fired in the middle of his season. So we finished out the season there.
I went back and got my old freshman boys' high school job back at Milby. We went 32-2, won the city of Houston championship. I moved back home just to keep an eye on my mother. When you lose somebody that you've been waking up next to for 43 years, it can be a bit of a shock. I wanted to make sure she was okay. Moved back to Houston, got my old job back.
In the spring of '90, Sam Houston State called and said, Hey, are you interested in the women's job? They had just hired a coach, Debbie, her last name escapes me, from Missouri. She had been there one year and left after that one year.
I said, No, I'm not interested.
Anyway, that conversation happened three more times. Finally the last conversation happened on a Monday morning. After I hung up saying, No, I wasn't interested, we were in the PE office out in gym out back, Coach Honea said, Who was that?
That was Sam Houston State. They want to know if I want to come up and interview for the women's job.
He said, Why don't you do that? I'll cover your classes. He said, It will be a great experience.
I said, Coach, I don't want that job.
He said, Just go interview, it will be good experience for you.
I said, Coach, I have to go today because the deadline is at 12 noon. If they don't have my rÃ©sumÃ© by then, it's too late.
I believe they already made up their mind who they wanted to hire. I went up there and interviewed, got the job. That's kind of how it all happened.
That was a program that, you know, had just gone Division I. They were still trying to live in the NIA budget days, yet try to be in Division I. So it was really difficult.
I remember my budget was $36,000 total. That was recruiting, travel, team travel, paying for officials, postage for recruiting, telephone, the whole nine yards. It's crazy.
That's kind of how it all began.
Q. Did you learn anything as a coach during those years that you carry with you today, how to run a program?
COACH SCHAEFER: Yeah. Not only that, but, man, I went against some really good coaches. Obviously Gary Blair was at Stephen F. Austin at the time. Stephen F., Texas and Texas Tech were the only three schools in the state that were really committed to women's basketball at that time. Across the country, there was only another handful.
I had to live going against Stephen F. Austin every year at least twice.
No, you learn, look, first of all, it's different coaching guys from girls. That was a piece that I had to learn early on. The best advice and the -- I share this at every clinic I speak at. It's probably the biggest key to my career. I got it from my wife early in our relationship. It's simply this: if they don't like you, they're not going to play hard for you.
That doesn't mean you have to be their best friend. But the bottom line is, if they don't like you, and probably you could add if they don't trust you, they're not going to play hard for you.
I think that's been a really big, big turning point for me. It's helped me throughout my career. I'm thankful for that from Holly.
But just how to learn to run a program on a shoestring budget. I mean, you talk about penny-pinching. I can remember calling restaurants saying, Hey, I'm going to bring my team in. Would you give us free iced tea, lemonade, if I bring my team in there. Save $2 times 20, $40. Throughout the year, it's a way to penny-pinch nickels and dimes. That's what you did.
I can remember going into Black-eyed Pea restaurant and telling them, You can't order on the right side of the menu, you have to stay on the left. Everything at the restaurant was too expensive at the Black-eyed Pea.
You learn a lot. You have a great appreciation for so many things at this level because you've been through the bus league, you've been through the barbecue circuit, hey, we can't have that for dinner, we can't eat there. Hey, make sure you clean your plate, appreciate what we have, those kinds of things.
Q. Coach, I want to reference your statement that you just made about your past career, perseverance is definitely paying off. I want to say I'm very happy for your team. I want to reference the 5'5" point guard who scored 41 points in the last game. You also talked about players trusting you, liking you. After reading her story about her stepfather passing, then she also showed a great appreciation for you, her will to win, the 41 points, in my opinion, says a lot about how your girls feel about you. She referenced you as a father figure. I want to say you are right on point when you say if they don't like you, they won't play hard for you. Those girls really show how much they like you. My next question is, is there anybody on Connecticut's team that you feel can contain her, Morgan William?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, first of all, thank you for the kind comments. Again, not every day is peaches and cream. I'm sure there's some practices they don't walk off the floor in love with their coach. That's part of it. I think kids want structure, they want discipline.
Again, my kids are loved by my entire staff, our entire community here. I treat 'em and try to love 'em like my own. That can include sometimes a soft hand in the back to love 'em, and a firm hand in the back when they stub their toe. But that's what we do as parents. That's how we try to treat our student-athletes.
As far as Morgan William goes, I mean, Morgan obviously had a great ballgame the other night. She is very difficult to deal with. I don't know, I'm sure they'll have a great plan for her. When she's locked in like she was the other night, she's very difficult to handle.
Obviously she typically isn't someone we depend on to get 41. But, again, that's how unique and special our team is right now. You've got to prepare for a number of different weapons offensively that we have.
Victoria obviously has been a big offensive piece for us throughout the season. Then you roll out Blair in the NCAA tournament. She gets 39, 21, 18 in the first two rounds. Now you're thinking, Okay, that kid. Breanna Richardson is an explosive, dynamic player. Dominique Dillingham has added so much to our offense with her game.
You can go on and on. Obviously Teaira McCowan and Chinwe, my two-headed monster down there, they have been fantastic all year long, averaging double-double between the two of them.
With Morgan, she obviously is an explosive guard. I'm quite confident they're not just going to let her play HORSE on Friday night. Hopefully we're not going to let them play HORSE either. I think we've got more kids that can do the same thing she did. It's just a matter of finding who is hot. That night it was Morgan William.
Q. With Connecticut's bigs, they have a tendency to get into foul trouble. What is your strategy to make sure they do get in foul trouble?
COACH SCHAEFER: Well, I certainly think obviously we're going to do what we do. We've been scoring a lot of points offensively. We've been doing it a number of different ways.
When you have a short turnaround like we all have, I think there's just so much you can plan for and do.
Offensively we've really expanded I think. We're doing a number of different things. Obviously our bigs are a big part of what we do. We're going to continue to try to, you know, run some stuff for our bigs, as we try to run some stuff for our guards.
Obviously our bigs are our aircraft carriers, as I like to call them. They've been carrying us. Teaira had a big game against Washington. She's had some big games throughout the season, 25 against Florida earlier in the year. Both her and Chinwe have been explosive for us down there. We just have to see how the games going, what people are giving us.
Those two have been seeing a lot of double-teams. When they're doubled, they have to be able to make good decisions, not turn the ball over, get it to people who are open. That's what they did against DePaul. That's what allowed Blair to have the game she had.
We always try to adjust. It will be dictated by what UConn does.
Q. Vic, from your standpoint, even with all the success you've had the last couple years in the SEC, the confidence building, the tournament run this year, can one game like Baylor, such an emotional win against a high-caliber program, can that be kind of a springboard for momentum, confidence, whatever else, within a team?
COACH SCHAEFER: I certainly think so. We've grown a lot since last year's debacle up in Bridgeport. That's a humbling experience, going through that. I think our team has really grown from that, really been part of why we've had the season we've had.
When you go beat a team like Baylor that's just loaded, I mean loaded from top to bottom with great players. Of course, Kim is a tremendous coach. Her and her staff do an unbelievable job. When you beat a program like that, it really I think, again, says a lot about my kids.
That's who they are. That's who they've been all year. They've been that tough, physical, aggressive, resilient bunch. We had to go through all those things on Sunday against Baylor. They are so talented and so, so good.
But our kids just fought. You can't help but come out of a ballgame like that, playing against a team like Baylor, with continued confidence. But I don't think you can beat a team like Baylor without going into that game with some confidence, with an edge about you, knowing you've played three really good teams in the NCAA tournament, you've come out of the Southeastern Conference, where you played for two conference championships within a week, that you had a chance to win a conference championship in the last week outright.
So I think all that goes into it. But certainly I think it was a tremendous accomplishment over a tremendous basketball program.
Q. You've been around the women's game for a long time, some very good programs. You've seen teams go on great runs. What separates UConn, being able to sustain for such a long period of time? Is it getting great talent? Is there more to that equation that you see with UConn?
COACH SCHAEFER: I think there's a lot in their equation. Again, we have a saying in our locker room: It's not what we do but how we do it that separates us from the rest of the country. I think that's UConn. I think Coach Auriemma and his staff, it's not what they do -- there's lots of programs that have lots of great players. But they not only have obviously some really good players, as he said last night on TV, but it's what they do with those kids. It's the development of those kids. It's the retention of those kids. It's the accountability that you have with kids.
I think they're cutting edge. I think they have a way they want things done. They're going to stand firm and hold kids accountable to that. It's a formula that's been so successful for them for so many years.
Again, I think their plan, if you want to call it that, their strategy, their philosophy, I think it just dictates and makes you be successful. As coaches, we all can learn from that.
That's why I wanted to spend time with him this summer. I've been doing it a long time, 32 years. But I don't know it all. I know they've had so much success. So when I get a chance to sit down with a Hall of Famer like that, pick his brain, and he is willing to let me do that, I mean, what a blessing.
I'm really appreciative of him for doing that with me. So you know what, it's made us better. No question about it, it's made me a better coach. It's certainly made our team better.
RICK NIXON: Coach Schaefer, again, thanks for being with us. Safe travels to Dallas. We'll see you soon.
COACH SCHAEFER: Thank y'all so much. Appreciate you. Go Dogs.
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