The Texas Longhorns take another shot at a ranked opponent when they face Texas A&M in College Station on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Of course, the game is MUCH more significant than just that.
The Longhorns (5-1) and Aggies were rivals in the Southwest Conference and the Big 12 Conference, and the two teams will get the chance to renew that rivalry annually in all sports in the Southeastern Conference.
Longhorns head coach Vic Schaefer and Aggies head coach Gary Blair have been in the coaching game for a long time, and their careers have been intertwined for 30 years. It also marks their last regular-season meeting as head coaches, as Blair is retiring at the end of this season.
Schaefer, a native of Texas and a graduate of Texas A&M, knows the stakes.
“It’s A&M-Texas,” Schaefer said. “It doesn’t matter if it jacks or whatever. Each team wants to win and win badly.”
Schaefer and Blair go back to their days in the Southland Conference in the 1990s.
Back in 1990, Schaefer took over the women’s head-coaching position at Sam Houston after spending a couple of years as the assistant men’s coach at SHSU. At the time, Blair was the head coach at Stephen F. Austin. The rivalry back then was one-sided, as SFA lost four Southland Conference games in six years under Blair.
In 1993, Blair took the head-coaching job at Arkansas, and four years later he invited Schaefer to join him as an assistant coach. When Blair took the A&M job in 2003, he brought his now-associate head coach with him.
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Schaefer was Blair’s so-called ‘secretary of defense’ with the Aggies. The pair’s philosophies on defense is simpatico — plenty of full- and half-court pressure, an emphasis on creating turnovers and scoring off defense. That defense helped lead the Aggies to the 2011 national championship.
“It’s starts with pressure, pressure, pressure, ninety-four feet for forty minutes,” Blair said about what to expect from Texas. “No zone defense, man-to-man. You’d better be able to handle the ball and get into an offense.”
When Schaefer took the Mississippi State job in 2012, the pair went back to being rivals, and Schaefer built the Bulldogs into a power on the level of Blair’s Aggies. Schaefer led the Bulldogs to two straight NCAA Tournament championship games in 2017 and 2018 but lost both games.
The annual meetings between the pair have continued as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. But there’s a sense of finality to this meeting that Schaefer is still wrapping his head around. In fact, Schaefer admits it’s weird being on a different bench than Blair, nearly 10 years later.
“This will be the last time I’ll be on the court with coach (Blair),” Schaefer said on Wednesday. We won a lot of games together. It will be different for me. It’s always different for me when I play against him. I spent all of those years next to him, and it still doesn’t feel right being on the other end (of the court).”
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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