Eighteen years before leading Baylor to the third Final Four in program history, Scott Drew sat down with his father, former Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew, and broke down the positives and negatives of taking on the greatest coaching challenge in the modern history of college basketball.
That debate came a decade after the conversation that started Scott Drew's career: Drew, home for Christmas during his senior year at Butler, said he wanted to get into coaching; that's great, Homer Drew replied, but you're on track for your law degree, so get that first so you have a backup plan. No, I'd like to reverse that, his son said.
Scott Drew began as a graduate assistant at Valparaiso, moved up to a full-time assistant position, developed a reputation as one of college basketball's top recruiters, replaced Homer as Valparaiso's head coach, won the regular-season conference championship and then, in the summer of 2003, had to decide whether accepting the open position at Baylor would make or break his blossoming career.
Valparaiso was where Drew "had his comfort zone," said Homer Drew, a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. "He had helped build the program and sustain our program. And now this opportunity came. It was also a great opportunity because there was only one way to go, and that was up."
There was enough wrong at Baylor to scare off any coaching candidate, even one with limited experience as a head coach and no experience at the major-conference level. But as the Bears prepare for the biggest weekend in program history, reflecting on Drew's path to accepting the challenge reveals the traits and mindset that has the 50-year-old son of a coaching legend building his own equally impressive legacy.
"I prayed about it. I felt led to come here," he said. "I really believed in the vision of the school, from the president and the administrators during that time and what they wanted Baylor to continue to grow and become. And I wanted to be a part of that."
Drew chose most challenging path
Baylor coach Scott Drew cut down the net after beating Arkansas on Monday. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
Baylor was reeling that summer from the murder of sophomore Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson, which led to an NCAA investigation that unearthed numerous infractions and forced the resignation of head coach Dave Bliss.
After the university self-imposed three years of probation and scholarship limitations, the subsequent NCAA penalties issued in 2004 extended the probationary period through 2010, barred the Bears from non-conference play for the 2005-06 season and installed even more stringent recruiting penalties, leaving the program in shambles.
And then there was the matter of timing: Baylor's opening came two months before the start of preseason practices and three months before the Bears' season opener.
"In my lifetime, anyway, it’s the most difficult, the most challenging, the most devastating thing that can happen to a program, what Baylor went through," Homer Drew said.
But the opening was in the Power Five, the first significant selling point for a young coach already envisioning his path from Valparaiso to one of the major conferences. Despite any understandable misgivings about the state of the program, that factor alone sparked Drew's interest.
Meeting in a conference room inside Chicago's Midway Airport with members of Baylor's hiring committee, including former school president Robert Sloan, Drew used mocked-up news stories detailing the Bears' development into a national power as a way to sell his blueprint for the program's rebuild, especially in how he'd approach recruiting.
The meeting marked the beginning of a relationship with the university that has outlasted multiple athletics directors and school administrators and weathered another major scandal, this one involving rampant allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at members of Baylor's football program and the athletics department at large.
It was during that gathering and subsequent conversations that university officials offered their own enticement: Drew would be given time to build the program amid the NCAA penalties, the severity of which at that point remained unknown. In a 26-page contract, Drew agreed to a six-year deal that wouldn't kick in until after the penalties had expired.
"What that did is give Scott time to build a program," Homer Drew said. "You knew the first few years were going to be very difficult in recruiting and challenging. But he was ready. He was excited."
'I admire him. … The rest now is history'
Baylor coach Scott Drew talks with his team during the second half of their 2020 game against Oklahoma State at Ferrell Center. (Photo: Raymond Carlin III, USA TODAY Sports)
And he knew it could be done. Drew had been given an up-close look at his father's own rebuild, which began in 1988 against factors his son would recognize 15 years later, if on a smaller scale against less daunting circumstances. Valparaiso is a dead-end job, then-Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps had told Homer Drew.
He'd win only 36 games in his first five seasons, including three consecutive years of 20 or more losses, as the university wavered over a possible transition down to Division III with a predictable impact on recruiting efforts.
But with the 1993-94 season, Drew's first year on staff, Valparaiso began a streak of eight 20-win seasons and six NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years, including a memorable run into the Sweet 16 in 1998.
"I saw how and what they were able to do and accomplish," Scott Drew said. "You can take blueprints from that. Obviously, any time you’re with someone who is successful and you’ve seen how they’ve been successful, you’re going to use that, try to duplicate it. I thought at Baylor University we could do the exact same thing, being a Christian school, an academics school, a family-oriented school."
It was never easy. Baylor won eight games in Drew's debut season and nine the next. The Bears would win just four games in 2005-06 against the conference-only schedule. The 2006-07 team would win 15 games but post the same record in Big 12 play.
Since the following year, Baylor has made nine NCAA Tournament appearances, representing all but one of the program's tournament bids in the modern era, with five trips to the Sweet 16, three berths in the Elite Eight and this year's spot in the Final Four. In 2017, Drew led the Bears to the first No. 1 ranking in program history.
The 2019-20 team won a conference-record 23 straight games against Big 12 competition. After that streak was snapped, the Bears embarked on an 18-game winning streak that ranks fourth in league history.
This year's team became the first since UNLV in 1990-91 to win its first 17 games by eight or more points and claimed Baylor's first conference championship since 1950. The Bears and Big 12 rival Kansas are the only Power Five programs to win 18 or more games in every season since 2008.
Baylor heads into Saturday's national semifinal against Houston (5:14 p.m. ET, CBS) favored to advance into the championship game against the winner of the second semifinal between Gonzaga and UCLA (8:34 p.m. ET, CBS).
In the end, the decision to embrace the challenge posed in the summer of 2003 was born out of an unshakable confidence since proved to be remarkably accurate: Drew believed he could win at Baylor, and that he could win big.
"It’s always been his dream to be able to coach at a Power Five, and another big dream was to get to the Final Four," Homer Drew said. "I admire him because he had a really tough road those first three and four years. Of course, the rest now is history."
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
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