Vic Schaefer has impressive credentials after a pair of national title game appearances at Mississippi State. He represents an upgrade over the departed Karen Aston but also is a male face in a women’s program that has been led by female faces for the past 44 seasons.
I really like Schaefer, a player’s coach who is no stranger to big moments. His Bulldogs famously ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak in the 2017 semifinals and came oh-so-close to winning it all a year later, losing at the buzzer to Notre Dame. He was 221-62 in Starkville and is on the rise in his profession.
The 2018 national coach of the year will get Texas back into national title contention, no question, and will recruit well, having walked these Lone Star streets as the head coach at Sam Houston State and as an assistant under Gary Blair at Texas A&M, where they won a natty together in 2011.
His new challenge is losing some senior experience, but he will build around some potential stars in 6-foot-5 double-double machine Charli Collier and guard Celeste Taylor, a rising two-way player who just completed her freshman year.
The fans should be excited about what’s about to happen on the court. As for the hire, the Texas athletic director might experience some fallout from hiring a man to lead the school’s most visible women’s program. With Schaefer’s arrival, only one of the traditional women’s team sports on campus — we’re talking about basketball, softball and soccer — is under the direction of a woman, and that’s Angela Kelly’s soccer team.
Softball’s Mike White has been magnificent in the two seasons since he replaced Connie Clark, though his second came to a premature end because of the coronavirus.
Schaefer figures to do the same post-Aston.
Maybe not all Texas basketball fans see gender, but some definitely do.
Should a man leading this program really matter in the long run? On the surface, no, but Texas is different because it was one of the pioneer programs of the Title IX gender equity movement. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was meant to level the playing field and guarantee that females would have equal access to education, scholarships, facilities, quality coaching and training.
It ended up having another effect because when all those federal greenbacks came flooding into those programs, it allowed schools to offer more lucrative salaries to coaching candidates, and that’s when men started landing plum gigs that had been largely awarded to women in the past.
Flash forward to today, when Schaefer, who was making about $1.5 million annually in Starkville, will probably approach $2 million per at Texas.
To be clear, the Title IX law doesn’t apply to coaches. Athletic directors are allowed to hire whomever they want, and Del Conte made a splash here. Still, there is history to consider. In 1976, when Texas women’s athletic director Donna Lopiano, a huge Title IX advocate to this day, removed women’s basketball coach Rodney Page to hire Jody Conradt, it put the university at the forefront of the movement.
In the ensuing decades, Conradt and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt — who was hired in Knoxville in 1974 — led a charge of legendary female coaches that included Kay Yow, Sylvia Hatchell, Muffet McGraw, Tara VanDerveer, Nell Fortner, C. Vivian Stringer, Marsha Sharp and, of late, Brenda Frese, Dawn Staley and Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, a Texas killer who just joined the late Kobe Bryant and seven others in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
McGraw, a two-time national champion who just completed her 33rd season at Notre Dame, is a passionate women’s rights advocate who famously said she would not hire a male assistant on her staff. She doubled down on those comments at the 2019 Final Four.
“When you look at men’s basketball, 99 percent of the jobs go to men; why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women?” she told reporters. “Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them. That’s the problem.”
I’m thinking CDC didn’t consult Muffet for this hire.
Before the gender equity law was passed, women held 90% of the head coaching jobs for all women’s teams, according to a 2019 article in Forbes. Now that number has dipped to 40%, according to the report.
However, basketball tells a different story, at least when it comes to the major conferences. In the traditional Power Five leagues — the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 — female head coaches hold a 42-21 edge in head coaching positions in hoops, not counting the vacancy just created at Mississippi State. The 10-team Big 12 happens to be the only conference in the Power Five with more male coaches (six) than female (four).
Of note, the Big East, which isn’t included in these numbers, has eight female head coaches and only two male.
As the money gets bigger, men will continue to make inroads into the women’s game, but I hope to see a day when women start getting head coaching jobs in men’s hoops. The NBA and NFL are already hiring female assistants, so that day will one day come, hopefully sooner than later.
For now, it’s Schaefer’s time. His arrival brings hope, but it has changed the face of the most prominent of women’s team sports on the Forty Acres.
Can’t help but wonder what Lopiano is thinking.