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Schafer plans to build Augie's future off its past
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Schafer plans to build Augie's future off its past

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In a blue sport jacket — that he insists will stay on during games — and a gold tie, Steve Schafer stood alone at center court inside the Carver Center sweatbox on Tuesday afternoon.

The 41-year-old was officially introduced by athletic director Mike Zaplski as the 16th head coach of the Augustana College men's basketball program.

He admitted he wasn't as comfortable as he looked standing behind a podium that had been placed in the middle of the basketball court at his collegiate alma mater.

And he hopes that solitude on the court is an anomaly.

Champing at the bit to get his players out there with him and get his Viking coaching career started, Schafer admitted he didn't necessarily like being singled out.

“As you guys get to know me, I don't love it up here,” said Schafer to the gathered media and Augie administrators on hand. “I like to put the focus on our staff and our players.”

Within that staff that lie some unique relationships.

Schafer got his coaching start when former Viking head man Grey Giovanine asked him to continue to be part of the program as a student-assistant when leg injuries cut short his Augie playing career.

Schafer's top assistant is Tom Jessee, the guy who recruited Schafer from Batavia High School and was his coach 23 years ago when he first came to Rock Island.

The new boss hopes to also reconnect with Steve Yount, who was head coach for Schafer's first two years.

Those ties and that history will be a guiding force for the future of the program.

At that same podium just under two months ago, Giovanine announced his retirement from the Viking bench after a historic 21-year run at the school. Giovanine insisted that night that he planned on being the Vikings' biggest supporter from afar, saying that the new guy didn't need his predecessor looking over his shoulder.

Well, Schafer has other ideas. Calling Giovanine “a mentor and great advocate,” the new coach will do some leaning on the old coach — the guy who provided his coaching concepts and philosophies.

“I invited Coach G to be here today,” said the new coach. “But I think he wanted me to have the spotlight.”

And that set the table for a transition that Schafer hopes is a smooth one for what the 2001 Augie graduate calls his “dream job.”

Praising what he calls the best staff in the NCAA Division III ranks with Jessee, Dallas Duwa and Alex Washington, Schafer hopes to benefit from Giovanine's greatness as well.

“Coach G is going to be very much a part of what happens next,” said Schafer, referencing a similar coaching situation that took place at Purdue. “I joked with him on the phone the other day that he was going to be my Gene Keady if I was Matt Painter. I want him next to me. I want him in the stands. I want him yelling at me for not doing something the right way.

“He's been my biggest mentor in my coaching career over the last 19 years, so I am very much looking forward to having him around and being visible. He's Augustana basketball if you ask me.”

This hiring also leaves Jesse in an unusual position of working for/with a guy he recruited out of high school.

“I'm proud of that. When he was a high school player, I was really fond of him and thought he was special and a special player,” said Jessee. “Going through the recruiting process, I knew he was a terrific kid with great character.”

Now, 19 years later, the two are reunited on the same bench.

“He has such a high, high character,” said Jessee of Schafer. “He's super enthusiastic and passionate. He's certainly a players coach, and the guys will love him. He's certainly a different personality than Coach Giovanine but was raised on this program … and should be a terrific addition.”

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