Running on adrenaline after a grueling 16-hour day, Scott Drew and his young coaching staff often gathered at his office at the Ferrell Center for a little late-night celebration.
Matt Driscoll cranked up “One Shining Moment” and Paul Mills, Jerome Tang and Mark Morefield began dancing around the room. Any commitment was worth celebrating. Even a hint of a talented player considering the Bears was good news they all wanted to share with each other.
It didn’t matter that Baylor was still a long way from reaching its first NCAA basketball tournament under Drew in 2008 or very far removed from the 2003 scandal that led to Drew being named one of the youngest Division I head coaches at the tender age of 32.
Drew and his staff were young, idyllic and remarkably energetic, and couldn’t wait for the next day to break to start all over again.
“We didn’t really understand the mountain we were going to climb,” Mills said. “But you have to understand we were all really young. I thought we were going to win a conference championship, and we went 1-15 (in 2005). But we really believed in what we were doing and were super energetic in putting in the work to make it happen. We thought we were going to conquer the world.”
They did make it happen: Drew and his staff built one of the most successful men’s basketball programs in the Big 12 with two Elite Eight appearances, two Sweet 16 berths, and four other NCAA tournament appearances to their credit in the last 12 seasons. The Bears won the NIT championship in 2013 after a finals berth in 2009.
The Bears’ success has led to Division I head coaching jobs for Drew’s assistants as Driscoll is beginning his 11th season at North Florida, Mills is starting his third year at Oral Roberts, and Grant McCasland is beginning his third season at North Texas following a one-year stint at Arkansas State.
Additionally, Morefield has led the Mary Hardin-Baylor women’s basketball program to success at the NCAA Division III level since taking over in 2015.
While losing gifted assistant coaches is always painful, Drew has enjoyed watching them take what they learned at Baylor and applying those principles to build their own programs.
“They’re great role models as coaches and even better people,” Drew said. “A lot of lives have been touched by them. Coaches always want to see coaches on their staff reach their goals and dreams, and cheer for them. It’s been a huge blessing having quality men in the coaching profession and seeing them help young people.”
While Drew’s former assistants are no longer on hand for those late-night celebrations at the Ferrell Center, they’re still as close as brothers. They keep in constant contact by phone and often discuss basketball strategy.
“I feel like Coach (Drew) calls me more now than when I worked for him,” said McCasland, a Baylor assistant from 2011-16. “We talk a lot about strategy. Coach and I ask each other about things we’re doing, and we give each other ideas. We’ve done a lot of things Coach has emphasized. I’ve never met a more helpful person.”
The conversations often turn to family. Drew and his former assistants are all past 40 now, and they’ve all watched each other’s children grow up. Their faith is always central in their lives.
“Because of his faith and his family, Coach Drew has helped me greatly in an area that I was the most weak,” Driscoll said. “He helped me put God at the forefront of everything. When you do that, you recognize the balance you need with your family. He’s changed my life and forever I’ll be grateful.”
Drew and his staff needed all the faith they could conjure up in the early years. They took over a program that was in the national news for all the wrong reasons after Carlton Dotson was arrested for the murder of Baylor teammate Patrick Dennehy in the summer of 2003.
Dave Bliss was fired after trying to cover up NCAA rules violations, leading Baylor to hire Drew, who had one year of head coaching experience at Valparaiso under his belt. He only had seven scholarship players who were nicknamed the “leftovers” after talents like John Lucas III, Kenny Taylor and Lawrence Roberts left the program.
To most observers, rebuilding a scandal-wrecked Baylor basketball program seemed like an impossible task. But Drew and his staff saw it as a great opportunity, and attacked recruiting with zeal.
“We were thankful for the opportunity, and we wanted to prove ourselves and show Baylor didn’t make a mistake by hiring a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings,” Mills said. “We enjoyed the job, and there was a level of youthful idealism that permeated through that office. We were unrealistic. But our energy and lack of reality helped us.”
Drew gave his assistant coaches a lot of responsibility and was always open to their ideas, whether it was recruiting, scouting or game planning. Drew’s assistants always had a voice.
“Scott’s leadership approach is empowerment,” Mills said. “He empowers assistants to have the freedom to accomplish what we set out to do. He always said, ‘If I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t be here.’ It was never a boss-employee relationship. I never felt like it was dictatorial. I never thought I was working for Scott, but I was working with Scott.”
Every little victory was a cause for celebration. Signing Australian guard Aaron Bruce in Drew’s second year on the job was a major breakthrough. The Bears hit the trifecta in 2005 when they brought in guards Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat and forward Kevin Rogers, proving they could recruit Texas high schools at a high level.
Every day became a contest among the coaches of who could work the hardest. They fed off each other’s energy, and everybody benefited from their collective sense of optimism.
“We worked 16 to 18-hour days because of what we took over,” Driscoll said. “Coach Drew was so engaged from the moment he walked into his office to the moment he walked out. He was always on his headset and always on his email. We may have not been this or that, but we were going to recruit the best players we could, so they could come in and pave the road.”
Signing McDonald’s All-American point guard Tweety Carter out of Reserve, La., was another big breakthrough. When Baylor had an opportunity to sign high-scoring guard LaceDarius Dunn out of West Monroe High School the following year in 2007, Driscoll questioned whether jealousy would develop between the two Louisiana high school stars.
“I remember telling Coach we can’t take Lace because those dudes are going to get jealous and they’re not going to play,” Driscoll said. “He said ‘Trust me, if there’s one thing I know is players want to play with players, and the better they are, the better they’re going to look.’”
Teaming the Louisiana duo with Jerrells, Dugat, Rogers and Bruce, the Bears made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years in 2008. On Selection Sunday, high drama permeated the Ferrell Center as CBS waited until the last minute to announce Baylor made the tournament.
Coaches, players and fans erupted with unrestrained joy when “Baylor” flashed across the screen.
With the Bears reaching the NIT finals in 2009, Driscoll knew Drew was building a program that was on its way to a great deal of success. But when Driscoll got the opportunity to take over a North Florida program that was transitioning into Division I in 2009, he knew he couldn’t pass it up.
Driscoll felt he was prepared to make the transition to head coach after helping Baylor rise from rock bottom in 2003 to a force in the Big 12 and on the national scene. Like Drew, Driscoll made sure to hire assistants who were just as driven as he was at the Jacksonville, Fla., university.
“My thought was to forget about how bad it was coming in, this is a great university playing in a great league,” Driscoll said. “When I hired my staff, I made sure I hired smart guys who could help strengthen my weaknesses, not yes men. You’ve got to continue to cultivate your coaches and really understand those people really have a voice.”
Much like his experience at Baylor, it took Driscoll a few years to build his North Florida program. But the Ospreys delivered back-to-back 20-win seasons and a pair of Atlantic Sun Conference championships in 2015 and 2016. They also won their first Atlantic Sun tournament title in 2015 to earn the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance.
North Florida has consistently finished in the top half of the Atlantic Sun as the Ospreys have compiled a 92-74 conference record during Driscoll’s 10 seasons. Though he hasn’t coached at Baylor since 2009, Driscoll still seeks out Drew for advice.
“We run things by each other and go over new NCAA bylaws and rules and things that come up in our lives,” Driscoll said. “We run ideas by each other about recruiting. We talk a lot of motivational life changing stories. We pray for each other, and we’re really a family. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one is glorified, we’re all glorified.”
Watching players he helped recruit, Driscoll was excited to see the Bears reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2012. Both years, the Bears’ season ended against the eventual national champion as Duke won the 2010 title and Kentucky the 2012 championship.
Amid the success, there were also some low times as the Bears’ men’s basketball program was placed on three years NCAA probation in 2012 after an investigation turned up impermissible telephone calls and text messages sent to prep recruits by Baylor coaches.
But the probation didn’t include a postseason ban, and the Bears stayed on track as they won the 2013 NIT before reeling off a school-record four straight NCAA tournament appearances, including Sweet 16 berths in 2014 and 2017.
After serving his first six years as coordinator of men’s basketball operations, Mills was promoted to assistant coach following Driscoll’s departure in 2009. With 14 years on Drew’s staff, Mills felt he was ready to become Oral Roberts’ head coach in 2017.
Taking over a major rebuilding job, Mills has gone 22-42 in his first two seasons. But after some solid recruiting classes, Mills believes the Golden Eagles are on the verge of turning the corner.
“When I left Baylor, Scott shared with me the two most important things I will do as a head coach are recruiting and scheduling,” Mills said. “I had to be in this seat to understand exactly what scheduling meant. He has aided me in that process. Not a day goes by when I don’t talk to somebody on that (Baylor) staff, and sometimes several times a day.”
Among Drew’s assistants, nobody has had deeper Baylor roots than McCasland. He was a walk-on guard for the Bears in the late 1990s before starting his college coaching career as Texas Tech’s director of operations in 1999.
By 2004, he was Midland College’s head coach as he began a highly successful five-year run at the junior college level that was capped by an appearance in the NJCAA championship game in 2009.
That led to a two-year stint at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls where McCasland compiled a 56-12 record and made consecutive NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances.
After taking over as Abilene Christian’s head coach for two months in 2011, McCasland couldn’t turn down a chance to return to his alma mater following Morefield’s departure.
“He loved Baylor and played here,” Drew said. “When we scrimmaged against Midwestern State, his team was always well prepared and well coached. Similar to Coach Driscoll, he was good with people and was able to get a lot done. He and Coach Driscoll and Coach Mills all can motivate and lead a team.”
Following his five-year stint on Drew’s staff, McCasland got his shot to become a Division I head coach in 2016 at Arkansas State. He guided the Red Wolves to a 20-12 record in 2016-17, a 10-win improvement from their previous season.
It was déjà vu when McCasland took over at North Texas the following year as the Mean Green made a 12-game improvement in a 20-18 season that culminated in a College Basketball Invitational championship. Following last year’s 21-12 record, North Texas is poised for more success next season.
Though McCasland already had seven years of college head coaching experience when he joined Drew’s staff, he walked away five years later knowing he’d learned a lot more about operating a Division I program.
“When you’re a head coach for seven seasons, you think you got it figured out,” McCasland said. “But I learned more than I ever thought I could. You’re running a company at that level, but Scott did it in such a way that it was like a family. I realized you’ve got to operate at a high level and really care about the people you’re around.”
During his time at Baylor, McCasland learned the importance of developing players and adapting teams to their particular skills. He also saw the importance of being flexible when injuries hit. He was amazed how Drew led the Bears to 20 wins and the second round of the NCAA tournament last season as starters Tristan Clark, Makai Mason and King McClure dealt with injuries.
“It was miraculous in a lot of ways,” McCasland said. “To retool your offense in the middle of league play and turn it around and spread the floor is unbelievable. But that’s Coach. He always finds a way, and is relentless in his pursuit.”
Like Driscoll and Mills, McCasland often consults Drew for advice, especially in the complexities of the zone defense.
“Obviously, I think he’s a genius at the zone,” McCasland said. “His ability to change defenses, and how to put people in the right position to play zone, and what it takes to win taught me a lot from a basketball standpoint.”
While Drew is happy his assistants have gone on to head coaching jobs, he also feels thankful that he’s kept Tang as an assistant for 16 years.
“Because of his love for Baylor, Coach Tang has been very selective and has chosen not to pursue several opportunities,” Drew said. “We’re blessed to have him. But I’ll be very excited when he chooses to take that step.”
Mills sometimes thinks back to those chaotic early days when a bunch of young coaches started rebuilding a train wreck of a basketball program that few coaches would have dared to touch. They were naïve but full of energy and optimism, and built a program that’s successful and respected across the country.
“During my second year, we won one conference game,” Mills said. “By my last year at Baylor in 2017, we reached No. 1 in the country. I saw the full pendulum. Fortunately being at Baylor for 14 years on Scott’s staff, I was able to see a blueprint for building a program, and now I’ve applied those principles.”