By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
It seemed like an impossible task — finding a new coach in 2003 after one of the darkest periods in Baylor athletics history. Who would want to take over a decimated program plagued by tragedy, a depleted roster and NCAA restrictions left over by the previous staff?
And to think, if it weren’t for a couple of unsolicited phone calls between strangers and a fishing trip, Baylor wouldn’t have had a young, promising coach named Scott Drew on its radar.
“I’ll never forget, we met Coach Drew in an airport in [Chicago],” said Dr. Robert Sloan; who was the president of Baylor at the time. “We were on a private plane, and we flew around meeting several candidates, all in a very narrow process. And so we met him in an airport. He had a room reserved, and it was the most amazing thing.”
The search committee included Sloan, now the president of Houston Baptist; Jim Turner, the former Board of Regents chairman and CEO of the Dr Pepper Bottling Co.; and Bob Beaudine, a key figure in many coaching hires across college and professional basketball. The three entered the meeting room expecting the usual boring conference situation, but were surprised that it was anything but.
“He invites us into the room, and it’s decorated completely. He must have spent hours doing this, but it was completely decorated in Baylor colors, green and gold banners everywhere,” Sloan said. “So we go in, and he’s very excited, and his enthusiasm is high. He’s extremely positive about what can be done. He asked great questions, but mostly we asked him a little bit, and he just took off. And everything, in my memory, was wrapped around this vision of what we could do. He basically did a masterful job of helping us imagine the future — imagine a successful future.”
It was 2003, but Drew envisioned the future in which Baylor is living in now, presented cleverly in newspaper clippings that did not yet exist — clippings of Baylor winning games, making runs into the Sweet 16 and hoisting a national championship. It was a great vision for the Bears’ future. And it seemed too good to be true.
“I remember when we left, the search committee went back to the airplane, kind of our first reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness, that was really over the top,’” Sloan said. “The amazing thing was, as we sat down in the plane, as we discussed the different coaches that we interviewed, we came back to Scott Drew. And I tell them that I knew it was an imaginative exercise and very enthusiastic, but I thought, ‘I really believe, and I think he can do it.’ And everyone else felt the same way. We got so excited talking about Scott Drew.”
Drew’s infectious enthusiasm had convinced the search committee, and they offered him the job that same day, with Beaudine taking charge of the negotiations. The funny thing was, if it weren’t for a mutual love of fishing and basketball with former NBA basketball coach Tim Floyd, Drew would have never decided to throw his hat in the ring. In fact, it was probably the last place he would have thought he’d end up.
The Fishing Trip
A week before Baylor was plastered all over the national headlines after the murder of Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson. Former head coach David Bliss was under scrutiny for paying off Dennehy’s tuition and car downpayment, a clear violation of NCAA rules. The school was facing the repercussions and Bliss along with athletic director Tom Stanton were dismissed from their positions.
Floyd, who was then coaching the New Orleans Hornets, as they were known before becoming the Pelicans, found himself in a lake house in Southern Mississippi with Scott, Bryce and Homer Drew.
Bryce Drew was playing for Floyd in New Orleans at the time, having previously been on the coach’s squad in Chicago. But that fishing trip was the first time Floyd had met Scott, Bryce’s brother, who had just wrapped up a 20-win season in his first year as head coach for Valparaiso, previously coached by his father.
“We fished, hung out, and I went back to my office a week later and the scandal that was occurring at Baylor at the time was front and center of every newspaper,” Floyd said. “It was maybe the biggest scandal we’ve had in college athletics in the last 30, 40 years. And I kept reading that, and my feelings immediately went to the university president, Dr. Sloan.”
The Unsolicited Call
Floyd didn’t personally know Sloan, but the NBA coach’s father-in-law had been the vice president of Louisiana Tech for 35 years and had told him “more university presidents lost their jobs over athletics than any other reason.” Floyd decided to give Sloan a call, not intending to direct the president’s attention to Scott Drew, but to see if he could help him find a solution to the situation Baylor was in.
“I tell him that I might have some information that can help him with the scandal that’s going on,” Floyd said. “He needed to move the story from the front page of the paper by immediately starting to point toward the future and that he needed to hire a new coach tomorrow. And that coach had to be beyond reproach, have great character. He needed to have the mission of the university in mind, He needed to be a good person.”
Sloan asked Floyd who that person could be, and having just spent a weekend with the Drew family, Scott immediately came into Floyd’s mind.
“I just said, ‘You know, I just fished with a young man and his family last week for three days, and all I know is that every meal we ate, the family wanted to pray. Every other sentence had the word ‘God’ involved when they weren’t talking basketball. He just won 20 games in his first year at Valparaiso University.”
Baylor at the time was probably not a place a young coach with only one year of head coaching experience wanted to be. It certainly wasn’t somewhere Scott Drew imagined he’d be. Floyd said Drew was originally wary of looking into the job. How would he convince recruits to want to join a train wreck of a program? How would he compete with the stellar competition of the Big 12?
It took another phone call with his father and Floyd to convince Scott Baylor was an opportunity he needed to take.
And now the future that Scott Drew envisioned all those years ago in a Chicago airport might finally come to pass. After 18 years, Drew has completed one of the most impressive turnarounds in college basketball history. He’s tied for the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12, has a school-record 342 victories, including a 21-9 postseason record since 2009. He’s led the Bears into eight NCAA Tournament appearances, four Sweet 16s, two Elite Eight trips, Baylor’s first No. 1 national ranking in 2017, conference-record 23 wins in 2019-20, a five-week streak at No. 1 in 2020. He’s coached nine All-Americans in the last 13 seasons and six NBA Draft picks since 2012.
On Sunday, Baylor received its first No. 1 seed ever and will begin its journey in this year’s tournament, a national title in its sight. If it hadn’t been for an international pandemic, Drew and Baylor might already have that title. But nevertheless the Bears are one step closer to Drew’s vision.
“I saw it,” said Sloan. “Scott helped us imagine it all those years ago, and it could definitely happen.”