No matter how many times he got to the men's NCAA Tournament, no matter how many stories were written about how he rescued Baylor from one of the worst scandals in the history of college sports and turned it into one of the nation’s best programs, there was always something about Scott Drew that made him a target for ridicule. 

Maybe it was the fact that his uber-athletic teams used to play a passive zone defense that too often made his program look lazy and foolish under the klieg lights of postseason play. Maybe it was the back-to-back tournament losses to Georgia State and Yale in 2015 and 2016 when Baylor got beat by inferior teams. Or maybe it’s that Drew comes across as one of the corniest people in college coaching, a cross between Midwestern nice and Texas televangelist who, when you meet him in person, almost seems too good to be true. 

But as of Monday night, here’s how Drew should be referenced from now until the end of time: Final Four coach, perhaps even a future Hall of Famer.

Baylor coach Scott Drew cut down the net after beating Arkansas on Monday. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

Because when you consider the entire body of work, Monday’s 81-72 win over Arkansas in the Elite Eight is not so much about the game itself or even what Baylor has accomplished this season. It’s about an 18-year journey from a program with little hope of achieving anything special to a powerhouse. It’s about turning a brand that had been associated with the worst of college athletics into something admirable. It’s about taking a situation with almost no advantages and becoming a symbol of stability and excellence in a tumultuous college basketball landscape. 

Simply put, Drew reaching the Final Four closes the circle on perhaps the greatest turnaround in college basketball history. And he deserves every bit of credit for making it happen. 

“What we did is history here,” Baylor guard MaCio Teague said. “Really happy for Coach Drew. He has come back from nothing in a basketball program. He spent a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program.”

And now here it is, playing on the final weekend of the season, with a real chance to win a national title. 

Who could have ever imagined that when Drew took the job in 2003? He inherited a program at the absolute bottom, trying to recover from the murder of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy by a teammate — and the subsequent revelations that former coach Dave Bliss had instructed players to falsely tell investigators Dennehy dealt drugs to pay for his tuition — rather than admit to the truth that Bliss had paid, in violation of NCAA rules. 

The subsequent penalties meant Baylor had to completely start over, and Drew — who had been a head coach for just one season at Valparaiso — bet his entire career on being able to resurrect the program. 

“I really believed in the vision of the school from the president and administrators at that time, and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said Monday night. “Once we got into the season … you realized it might be tougher than you originally thought. But the goal was to build a program that could consistently compete and have an opportunity to play in March.”

It’s been more than a decade since Drew started creating those opportunities for Baylor, reaching his first NCAA Tournament in 2008, his first Elite Eight in 2010 and growing from there to the point where the Bears are a March mainstay. 

But what’s happened to his program the last two years is something entirely different. Had the 2020 NCAA Tournament been played, Baylor would have likely been a No. 1 seed. This season, as disjointed and disrupted by COVID-19 as it has been, the Bears have been at the very top from beginning to end. 

That they have delivered so emphatically in this tournament, getting to the Final Four without any real late-game stress, should now be the defining narrative of Drew’s career. For the critics who said his teams underachieved in March or played soft when it mattered or weren’t well-coached under pressure, this should be an awakening. 

Drew’s relentless positivity and religiosity may be easy to lampoon when he loses in the first round. But when you step back and look at the entire journey, few coaches in the last 20 years have done a better job of getting a program ready to take advantage of this moment. 

“I think he connects because he cares about us,” Teague said. “When I first got here, I was like, unsure of the guy. When you get recruited, college basketball players can tell you, these coaches can switch up when you get to school. They tell you the good stuff, and I mean he wasn’t catering to me as much. I was 21 years old when I got here, and I didn’t want him to cater to me, but I was kind of iffy about him. But as time went on, I truly understood it.

"He truly cares about his players. He tries to keep the connection and pull you aside to build a rapport with you, because on the floor, we’re the leaders on the team — we’re an extension of him. He tries to build a trust and a relationship, and he really cares and tries to put people in the best situation possible, and that’s why he connects with people. He truly cares about us.”

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