STARKVILLE — Maryann Baker knows a “grinder” when she sees one.
As a player at Texas A&M, Baker earned a reputation as a blue-collar worker who grew from a member of the scout team to a standout defensive player who helped the Aggies win a national championship in 2011.
Baker’s talents grew under the leadership of head coach Gary Blair and assistant coach Vic Schaefer. In that time, Baker had plenty of opportunities to see the commitment Schaefer brought to the program and how his preparation on defense helped the Aggies be so successful.
Baker sees the same qualities in Schaefer at Mississippi State. As the program’s director of operations, Baker has seen how hard Schaefer has worked to elevate MSU women’s basketball from a middle-of-the-road team in the Southeastern Conference to a program that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation (USA Today Coaches poll) this season.
“He is a grinder,” Baker said. “He wants to see every possible thing. He doesn’t want anything to be a surprise.”
The work on the latest scouting report began Monday night after MSU (29-4) learned it was a No. 2 seed and would play host to 15th-seeded Troy (22-10) at 1:30 p.m. today in the first round of the NCAA tournament. All of the coaches had their hands in preparing for Troy and the other teams — seventh-seeded DePaul and 10th-seeded Northern Iowa — that will be in Starkville, but Baker said there was no way Schaefer was going to sit by and not watch as much film as possible of the Trojans, the Sun Belt Conference tournament champions.
Baker said Schaefer was the same way at Texas A&M when he was in charge of the Aggies’ defense.
“As a player, there was never a game, a scout, a team meeting that went by that we didn’t hear that coach was up in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning,” Baker said. “We knew he knew what he was talking about, even if we didn’t know he was up there until 2 in the morning until he would tell us in the film session, or when we were on the court and we weren’t guarding it properly.”
Baker said Schaefer lived about 20 minutes away from his home when he coached at Texas A&M, so it was easier for him to stay in his office and catch a nap instead of going home.
At MSU, Schaefer also has a couch in his office in Mize Pavilion, so there have been plenty of nights when he has stayed late in the office to make sure the Bulldogs are prepared.
“He is definitely is a creature of habit,” Baker said. “He takes pride in his work. At A&M because of the way he and coach (Blair) worked together, every single scout was essentially his, at least on the defensive end.
“The other thing, too, is he doesn’t get much sleep. He is watching a couple of episodes of “Law and Order” or watching film, so his time is a little better spent in the grind of the season watching film and making sure he is prepared.”
Holly Schaefer, Vic’s wife, said her husband has been a stickler for the details for the last 30-plus years. She said she is accustomed to her husband’s “meticulous” manner that will have him watch every film every team has played over and over, even if it means losing sleep or taking several naps on the couch in his office at Mize Pavilion.
“In his mind, if he hasn’t covered every aspect of the game, he isn’t giving his kids every opportunity to win the game,” Holly said. “If they do something he isn’t prepared for, he feels like he hasn’t done his best.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself all the time. I know that. I get it. I understand it. That is just the way it is.”
Logan Schaefer, Vic’s son, also has gotten used to his father attacking all of the information he can find on an opponent. He smiles when he talks about the dark green folders his father keeps on opponents. He said his father will go back to that information, to recent games, talk to other coaches — anything to make sure he is prepared.
“He is very particular and detailed in everything he does,” Schaefer said. “That is kind of the way he has always done it. I think that is why he is such a good coach because he does it the right way the first time, and every time if he can.”
Vic Schaefer credits his father, Charles A. Schaefer, who was a colonel in the Army, and his mother, Amy Dorothy, for instilling the work ethic in him that has helped him enjoy a successful 30-plus year run as a basketball coach. He said he has learned it isn’t what you do but how you do it that separates you from everybody else. In a conversation a few years ago, Schaefer referenced longtime Tennessee women’s basketball assistant coach Al Brown as an example of why he works so hard. He said he remembers Brown coming to the SEC tournament every year with a box of files on every team. He said Brown, a longtime coach with Pat Summitt, would scout every team so he and the Lady Volunteers would be prepared. Schaefer said seeing Brown walk into the gym at 8 a.m. and walk out at 10 p.m. on days Tennessee had byes carried over to his days at Texas A&M and helped him realize he had to work just as hard.
“I could remember the schools in the Big 12 started complaining about me coming in there and being there all day and sitting at the scouting table, so they had to come up with some crazy rule I could only be down there for one game, and that was the teams we might play the next day,” Schaefer said. “I would have to move up into the stands for two days. That is the work ethic and the attention to detail you learn from a Pat Summitt and what she was doing with her staff, or an Al Brown, who walks into a gym and has a tremendous presence and has made that impact.”
Schaefer continues to use the lessons he learned from Brown and all of the coaches he worked for and with dating back to his first job at Milby High School in Texas. Holly Schaefer said it’s easy for Vic to do that because the goal is to put his players in position to be the best they can be.
“It is very rare that another team is going to do something he is not ready for,” Holly Schaefer said. “When he is ready for it, you know his kids are ready for it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.