'Personal touch' has helped MSU women build bigger following

March 17, 2017 9:46:45 AM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


Vic Schaefer knows how to work a court. 


Whether it is standing still with arms folded tightly across his chest or dancing on the sideline in front of the Mississippi State bench, Schaefer knows how to get his message across and to energize his players and his fans. 


Schaefer also knows how to work a room. 


If you needed proof, you only needed to see MSU's fifth-year women's basketball coach add his personal touch to nearly everyone sitting in the bar area of The Veranda on Wednesday night during a special hour-long radio broadcast of DawgTalk. Schaefer walked from the right of the room back around the bar to the left side and shook hands, hugged shoulders, and introduced himself and thanked as many people as he could in between his stints on the radio with MSU women's basketball play-by-play man Jason Crowder. 


Mark Scott and his wife, Debbie, were two of the MSU fans sitting at the bar who Schaefer thanked and talked to. The Scotts live in Winter Haven, Florida, for part of the year, but they also live at Ole Waverly in West Point, where Mark has golfed with Schaefer. Mark Scott noticed how Schaefer entered the restaurant and immediately set out to meet nearly everyone in the bar area. He said that personal touch has helped Schaefer build a program that is seventh in the nation in average attendance (6,793) and will play host to Troy at 1:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"I think Vic's winning attitude and his commitment to Mississippi State and the fans has played a great part in garnering the fan support," Scott said. "I think it is all about that." 


Mark and Debbie, who are members of the Rolling Bulldogs, a group of recreational vehicle owners who travel to MSU sporting events, are part of a choir Schaefer, his coaches, and his players have grown in five years. Crowds of a little more than 1,000 were common when Schaefer arrived in Starkville for the 2012-13 season. Since then, crowd sizes at the Hump have grown with the Bulldogs' number of wins. MSU has won more games each of the last four seasons -- 22, 27, 28, 29 -- and has set plenty of records along the way to earning a program-record third-straight NCAA tournament appearance.  


On Wednesday, Schaefer was recognized for his accomplishment when he was named a finalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year Award. Texas' Karen Aston, Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, and Oregon State's Scott Rueck also are on the list.  


The selection is another example of the work Schaefer, who also was a semifinalist in 2014-15, has invested in a program that set a single-season record for overall wins and victories in the Southeastern Conference (13) this season.  


The Scotts follow MSU's success from Florida and in Mississippi. It has been a revelation of sorts for Mark, who admits he never would have imagined he would know the names of all of the MSU women's basketball players. He said the grass roots work Schaefer and the players have done, including the time they take after games to talk to fans at home and on the road, has made it even easier to root for the Bulldogs. 


"You want to be around him and you want to be around his players," Scott said. "You want to pull for him." 


Mark said the work Schaefer has done is essential in a sport like women's basketball because fans usually don't gravitate toward it like they do football and baseball. Debbie said she has been surprised Mark, who she has known for more than 40 years, has developed such an interest in MSU women's basketball. She said Schaefer has developed similar relationships with countless others. 


"It is a huge statement for what Vic has done for this program," Debbie Scott said. 


The Scotts said the Bulldogs' mix of aggressive defense and willingness to take charges has helped them build a following. Debbie said she enjoys watching several of the players, including senior Dominique Dillingham, who has been one of the program leaders in charges taken. She said the fact she uses the players' first names so easily shows how Schaefer and the Bulldogs have made the fans and the people of Starkville feel like they are playing for them. 


The Scotts will be at the Hump this weekend to support the Bulldogs. They said they have a prior commitment, so they won't be able to make it to Oklahoma City if MSU advances to the Sweet 16. However, they said they are ready to travel to Dallas if Schaefer leads MSU to its first Final Four. 


Regardless of where MSU is playing, Schaefer will do his best to work the court and the surrounding area to make sure the Bulldogs have plenty of support. 


"I think Vic is probably unique in that he understands coaching the kids is one thing," Mark Scott said. "When you're a player, you probably want to see the stands full, so connecting with the fans is part of it, so you have to get the fans involved. Vic has done that with a lot of us. He has gotten us personally involved to go see the games, and we try to see as many as we can. 


"We want Mississippi State to do well and to do the best it can do, and Vic represents that. He wants Mississippi State to represent itself in the best possible light, and you have seen that in the last few years across the board." 


Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor. 


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.