Former Texas A&M assistant coach Vic Schaefer taking over as the Texas women’s head basketball coach has some Aggies wondering what happens when veteran A&M coach Gary Blair decides to head to the golf course permanently.
“We know we need to have a plan, and we’ll do that in the appropriate time,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said Tuesday in a Zoom teleconference.
The 74-year-old Blair just finished his 17th season at A&M and has one more left on his contract. He received a three-year extension in April 2017 through the 2020-21 season that pays him approximately $1 million annually.
Many thought Blair eventually would be replaced by Schaefer, who was an assistant for 15 seasons under Blair along with being an Aggie graduate (class of 1984). But the 59-year-old Schaefer had a good enough run at Mississippi State to earn him a lucrative deal from Texas. He went 221-62 in eight seasons with the Bulldogs highlighted by back-to-back national runner-up finishes in 2017 and ’18.
Bjork hasn’t talked to Blair about the future since the Aggies lost 67-66 to Arkansas in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament on March 6 in Greenville, South Carolina. The NCAA tournament was then canceled because of the coronavirus, leaving Bjork pretty much confined to working from home where he conducts multiple teleconferences daily.
“I have not seen Gary on Zoom,” Bjork said. “We’ll have a chance to have those conversations here in the coming weeks and months, and you know, Gary is a national championship coach.”
In his first eight seasons at A&M, Blair built the Big 12 Conference’s worst program into the 2011 national champion. He’s the longest tenured coach in program history and is the winningest at 405-167, dwarfing Lynn Hickey who ranks second in both victories and seasons with a 154-128 record in 10 seasons (1984-94). Blair has led the Aggies to 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
One of Blair’s most memorable moments this season was his 800th career victory against Houston on Dec. 15, 2019.
“He really signifies Aggie women’s basketball, and he’s done a terrific job as our leader and I’ve loved our relationship,” Bjork said. “He’s a great guy. He’s great to talk to. Winning that 800th game was so important to him and his legacy, and so we want to celebrate him.”
Bjork has dealt with coaching legends leaving the game, including Ole Miss men’s tennis coach Billy Chadwick who retired in 2014 after 35 seasons with the Rebels. Bjork replaced Chadwick with associate head coach Toby Hansson, who had been with the program since 2007.
Bjork hasn’t had to deal with a coaching change since coming to A&M. He was hired in late May but didn’t start work until July 8 as former football coach R.C. Slocum served as interim AD.
“Gary deserves the best,” Bjork said. “We want the best for him. But we also know that our program can win a national championship. We have a lot to offer in the marketplace, and when the time is right, we will hire a dynamic, terrific coach for sure.”
If there’s a positive in Schaefer’s return to the Lone Star State, it’s that the Aggies won’t have to play him annually. Schaefer stretched his winning streak against his alma mater to seven straight with a 69-57 victory over A&M on Feb. 9 in Starkville, Mississippi.
The Aggies, though, will have to recruit against Schaefer, whose signees from Texas while at Mississippi State included Brenham’s Teaira McCowan, a consensus All-American as a senior in 2019. MSU’s incoming class includes Pearland forward DeYona Gaston, who was ranked the nation’s 95th recruit by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.
“Vic was already recruiting in the state of Texas,” Bjork said. “I don’t know if anything changes other than the colors that he’s wearing. He’s got to wear that burnt orange now. I don’t think anything really changes from that perspective. We have to recruit at a high level. You’ve got Baylor doing what they’re doing right up the road, so I don’t know if anything really changes from that perspective. I think it’s better not playing him like we were in the SEC. So maybe we’d rather recruit against him than play him every year.”
Blair honored by national group
The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association included Blair in its 2020 Victory Club on Tuesday morning. The organization annually recognizes member head coaches who reach milestone victories of 200, 300, 400 or more attained during the season. Blair is 813-329 overall and ranked fifth in victories by active NCAA Division I coaches and 11th all-time.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was honored for her 600th victory. Tennessee coach Kellie Harper, who came from Missouri State, won her 300th. Northwestern’s Joe McKeown, a good friend of Blair who typically plays in his charity golf tournament, won his 700th.