STARKVILLE — The voice came out of nowhere.
Facing his “choir” during a Hail State Hoops luncheon last month, Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer couldn’t remember the last name of someone who works at Premier Ford and supplies his vehicle.
“Bill Russell,” rang a voice from the back of the Mize Pavilion lobby. A few heads turned to see who handed out the assist, but the individual was nowhere to be found.
That’s because there likely was another item to take care of or another person in the program to help.
Such is the role of Maryann Baker, director of operations for Schaefer’s program. From handling travel arrangements for the team, to setting up meetings for coaches, to picking out clothing and gear for the players, you name it and Baker does it. Her ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time allows the coaches and players to stay focused on making the program be the best it can be.
“There are so many things that go into moving a group our size around the country,” Schaefer said “To keep things organized and on schedule and on time and precise, it really takes somebody that is organized and skillful, and she does it well.”
Baker, who is in her fifth season in her position at MSU, declined to talk about herself for the story. But Baker was a member of the Texas A&M women’s basketball program that won a national title in 2011. She played for Schaefer and current MSU associate head coach Johnnie Harris at Texas A&M. MSU director of scouting/video coordinator Skylar Collins also played with Baker at Texas A&M, so there are plenty of people in Starkville who know Baker and understand how she does her job so well.
“She does it all,” Harris said. “She pretty much runs all of the operations of the program. It helps she has been around (Schaefer) forever and she knows what he wants and expects.
“Maryann is self-sufficient. He just tells her what to do and she goes and does it.”
Harris said Baker is a “leader” and a “winner” who is “self-motivated” and knows how to get jobs done right the first time. That isn’t surprising because Schaefer, Harris, and Collins said Baker was the same way as a player. They said she always knew the scouting report for Texas A&M’s opponents and that she would do her best, even when she was hurt, to help put her teammates in the right spots.
Schaefer said Baker is perfect in her role because she is a “fix-all person,” which is something he encourages his players to be.
Baker was that way as a player, too, earning the 2011 Big 12 Conference Sixth Man Award. She then went on to help the Aggies win a school-record 33 games en route to the national title.
Collins, who also was part of that national title team, said Baker can adjust and is good at setting a standard and holding everyone to it. She said that has helped her earn the respect of the players.
“As a teammate, she is basically like she is now,” Collins said. “This is just who she is. She is very intense, passionate. She only knows how to do things one way. It is the best way. You work the hardest at doing it. There is energy to do. It is never half-ass. That is the only way she knows how to operate.”
Collins said Baker takes pride in what she does, which enables her to work longer to make sure all of the details are covered because she knows she will hear about it if it isn’t done right.
“A lot of people are good at this job,” Collins said. “That is what makes her great.”
That hard work isn’t lost on the players. MSU senior guard Dominique Dillingham said Baker “means everything to this program.” She said Baker makes sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and that they have everything they need, even a practice plan or a whistle.
MSU sophomore center Teaira McCowan laughed when she and Dillingham were asked about Baker. She also snickered when Dillingham said Baker will have a practice plan or a whistle at the ready for Schaefer.
“Maryann is like the mother of everybody,” McCowan said. “She tells you what to do and you have to do. You might not want to do it, but you better not tell her that because it is not going to go good.”
McCowan’s comment might explain why #No filter was written on a piece of white tape and placed over the nameplate to the right of Baker’s office door in Mize Pavilion. Schaefer laughed when asked how Baker earned the nickname #No filter.
“She has been known to speak her mind,” Schaefer said, still laughing.
Schaefer admits he has tried to get Baker to become an assistant coach on his staff a couple of times. He said she has declined each time in part, he said, because he feels she enjoys what she is doing, which is why she is the best in the country at what she does.
Regardless of what she says or how she says it, there is no denying Baker is an essential part of what drives the program. Some, like Dillingham, refer to her as a “guardian angel.” Those who have known her a little longer, like Collins, say Baker has a way of doing things no one can figure out. She said sometimes Baker’s office might look like “controlled chaos,” but she said everything always gets done and nothing is left to chance because there is only one way Baker operates.
“She’s great at her job,” Harris said. “She is great about communicating with other people on coach Schaefer’s behalf, on behalf of all of us. She just knows what to do. She has a knack for it, and she is really good at it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.