Yesterday, I had to travel from Rolla, MO to Crystal City, MO, south of St. Louis, MO. I took a short cut by exiting Interstate Highway 44 onto Highway 30. The route took me past St. Clair, MO High School. It brought back memories of my first year, 1980-81, as an assistant boys’ basketball coach at Sullivan, MO High School.
In 1981, Marshall Schaefferkoetter was our head coach and led the Eagles that March to the school’s first ever state final four. But, before getting to state, we had to defeat a very good Union team in the District tournament, held that year at St. Clair High School. We had beaten Union three times over the course of the regular season, but all three had been close, one in OT.
On the 15 minute ride north up Interstate 44 from Sullivan to St. Clair, Marshall was like a whore in church. He was always jittery and high strung for a game, but I had never seen him this nervous. Every couple of miles he would say to me, “we got to do something different.” I told him, “Marshall, we have beaten them three times; they have to do something different. Relax. We will be fine.”
When we arrived at St. Clair High School it was pitch dark. Instead of pulling up to the front of the gym Marshall ordered the bus driver to take us to the back of the parking lot and unload under a street light. “Oh, no,” I thought.
Marshall takes the team off the bus and into the parking lot. He says, “Now say that is the basket,” as he points to the street light, “here is what we are going to do.” He proceeds to put in a whole new defense in the parking lot one hour before a district game!
And it was the damn strangest thing I had ever seen. Marshall was firing like a machine gun and the players all had a WTF look on their faces. “If we hit a free throw we will pick up in ¾ court pressure and then fall back into a 2-3 zone. If they steal the ball on the right side we are box and 1 on Arand. If we shoot and miss then straight man to man. If we score in the paint”……… and on and on he went.
Predictably, when the game started we were manic on defense, totally confused. We had two guys playing zone, two guys playing MTM, one guy just chasing the ball and all five yelling at each other. The next time down the floor it would be some other discombobulated combination, a total mess. In short, it was a Chinese fire drill on steroids. Marshall just sat on the bench nodding his head.
Half way through the first quarter, incredibly, we are winning 8-0. Union had yet to even gotten a shot off at the basket. I told Marshall, “we got to get out of this defense; we don’t know what we are doing.” Out of the side of his mouth –on the bench he always spoke out of the side of his mouth – Marshall told me to, “shut up its working.”
And it was!
In basketball the defense dictates to the offense what type of offense to run. Union did not know what offense to run because they did not know what defense we were in because we didn’t know what defense we were in!
For years later, when I would bump into one of the Union coaches, they would bring up Marshall’s “UFO” defense, as they had so aptly labeled it.
For the entire course of my career as a head boys’ basketball coach our defensive philosophy was based on what I learned from Marshall that night. We were known as a team that was hard to prepare for because we employed a number of different defenses and we were constantly changing up our scheme, almost on every possession, to keep the offense off balance and out of a rhythm. “On defense, to be successful” I would say, “you must play fast, play hard and create chaos” - exactly what Marshall’s UFO defense did.
I have told the story of the UFO defense in coaches’ clinics and player development camps I have run with Jackie Stiles from Portland to Miami, from San Diego to Philadelphia. I share that in my early years as a coach I thought Marshall was crazy. The longer I was in coaching the more clearly I realized he indeed was crazy; crazy like a fox – there always being a method in his madness. It just took us mere mortals a while to figure out what it was.
I have never felt Marshall has gotten the credit he deserved as a coach. I don’t know if he is in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame or not, but if he is not, he should be.
It is now way past time for me to give my mentor his due. I have made a good living for a lot of years on a system that sprang from a seed planted 34 years ago by a “crazy” coach under a street light in a dark parking lot, one hour before a crucial district game. Belated much thanks, Marshall.