In the fall of 1995, a young basketball coach named Brandon Schneider walked into Allen Fieldhouse to watch Roy Williams run his team through an early-season practice.
Schneider, in his early 20s, was just months removed from graduation at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. A psychology major, he had eschewed a graduate degree or a corporate gig to chase a dream in coaching, the family profession. Heeding the advice of his father, a long-time women’s basketball coach in Texas, Schneider accepted an assistant coaching job at Division II Emporia State.
The salary: $14,000.
After a few months in Kansas, Schneider figured it was time to take the pilgrimage to Lawrence, where he could inspect Williams’ vaunted secondary break and jot down ideas and notes. As an admitted “basketball junkie”, Schneider could also soak in the history of Allen Fieldhouse.
“Before I even stepped on the court, I began to feel it,” Schneider said. “The goose-bumps; the hair on the back of your neck. There’s a wave of something special about this place.”
These words came on Tuesday morning, when Schneider, now in his early 40s, was introduced as the next women’s basketball coach at Kansas. Standing inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room, in front of a crowd of assembled media, family and friends, Schneider chose to begin his tenure by recalling his first taste of KU basketball.
“As I drove back to Emporia,” Schneider said, thinking back nearly 20 years, “any career goals and aspirations that I had — those were altered.”
It took nearly two decades, of course, but Schneider believes he is now at home at Kansas. After a 12-year tenure as the head coach at Emporia State, followed by five years as the head coach at Stephen F. Austin, Schneider replaces Bonnie Henrickson, who was fired last month after 11 seasons on the job. According to KU officials, Schneider will sign a five-year contract that is worth $300,000 annually plus incentives for Big 12 success.
The marriage between coach and program appears to be a good fit. Schneider comes to Kansas with a glossy resume and a lifetime of experience in the women’s game. His father, Bob, spent more than 25 years as the head women’s coach at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, and Schneider grew up on the sidelines, watching his father break down film and diagram plays on an old chalkboard.
“He was always right there,” said Bob Schneider, who sat in the front row of the press conference with his wife Barbara.
Schneider would become the head women’s coach at Emporia State at the age of 26. (The funny story being that the star of his first team was a 27-year-old from Lithuania.) He would win a Division II NCAA title in 2010. And he would spend five years at Stephen F. Austin, leading the Ladyjacks to their first two Southland Conference titles in program history. In all, Schneider has compiled a 401-138 record in 17 seasons.
The success at multiple stops attracted Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger, of course, but so did the local ties and the family pedigree. On Tuesday, Schneider opened his press conference by acknowledging his wife, Ali, their two young boys, and the role his family played on his coaching career.
“Our formula,” Schneider said, looking over toward his dad, “I learned from that man who won over 1,000 games. (It) has been successful long before I ever started coaching. And that’s a formula that we will stick to, and we don’t waver from.”
The formula will have to translate to a Kansas women’s program that has never approached the heights and history of the men’s program that shares this same building. Henrickson, who replaced long-time coach Marian Washington in 2004, took the Jayhawks to just two NCAA Tournaments in 11 seasons and finished just 62-122 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks were competitive under Henrickson, and they did advance to back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2012 and 2013, but Zenger wanted more after consecutive losing seasons.
“We all know the importance of basketball at the University of Kansas,” Zenger said on Tuesday. “And with that in mind, we sought to find the best person to elevate our women’s basketball program to a higher level of competitiveness.”
Schneider offered few tangible promises on Tuesday, but he hit on all the usual notes for an introductory press conference. He said his program would compete to recruit the best players from the state of Kansas — and elsewhere. (“We’re going to recruit the planet,” he said.) He said he favored an uptempo style, citing that his teams have regularly scored more than 75 points per game. He also recalled a conversation with Zenger during the interview process. In Schneider’s view, there are five things a program must have to compete at a national level: A good conference, location, facilities, resources, and a coaching staff that can recruit and develop talent.
“When we were speaking,” Schneider said, “I felt like this institution had four of them. And at the time, there wasn’t a coach, so it was missing the fifth.”
Can Schneider be that missing piece? Zenger is confident that he can.
At the very least, Schneider appears to know exactly where he is. On Monday night, he says, he sat down with his two young sons — Cash, 5, and Cole, 3 — and delivered the news about his new job.
“Daddy’s gonna coach a new team,” Schneider said. “The Kansas Jayhawks.”
Then Cole spoke up: “Boys or girls?”
For one day, Schneider had an answer.
“The girls,” he said.