by Ed Beach, Drury
Men’s basketball coach Steve Hesser announces his retirement from Drury University, having put his imprint on the record books and culture at one of the nation’s top NCAA-II programs.
Hesser departs as the all-time leader in career wins at DU, amassing a 354-145 career record after 17 seasons at the helm. His .709 winning percentage is the best mark in program history for any coach with more than one season in the role. Hesser is the program’s second-longest serving head coach. In 2019, he surpassed the legendary A.L. Weiser as the all-time leader in career wins at DU. Weiser went 316-256 in his 31 years guiding Drury’s program.
Hesser has a 213-91 record in conference play and has guided the Panthers to nine regular season conference titles, three league championships, 10 NCAA-II tournament appearances, and two Elite Eight appearances. The Panthers finished this season by reaching the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament title game.
While his career win total and winning percentage are among the top 10 active coaches in NCAA-II, Hesser’s crowning achievement came in 2013 when he led the Panthers to the NCAA-II national championship with a thrilling 74-73 win over Metro State in the title game in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the NABC Division II National Coach of the Year that season as the Panthers finished the year 31-4, 16-2 in the GLVC and were conference champions.
A national search for Drury’s next head coach will begin immediately.
“Coach Hesser has done an excellent job both on and off the court, inspiring student-athletes to do their best,” says Drury President Dr. Tim Cloyd. “He’s carried forth and built upon Drury’s incredible basketball legacy. I am grateful for all that he has done for our athletics program, for our players and for Drury.”
“There are many to thank for the incredible journey at Drury University, starting with Dr. Edsel Matthews who gave me the opportunity to be the head coach,” Hesser says. “I would also like to thank all of the players and assistant coaches for their contributions in making Drury a high-level basketball program over the last 17 years. I sincerely appreciate the support of the faculty and administration in helping our student-athletes succeed. I have loved my time as a member of the Drury family. The university, players, coaches, faculty and fans will always have a special place in my heart.”
In June 2020, coach Hesser was named to the Impactful Men’s Basketball Head Coaches list by Silver Waves Media and was one of only 50 at the NCAA-II and NAIA level to receive such honors. The prior 2019-20 season saw the Panthers win at least 20 games for the third-straight year, and it was the 12th 20-win campaign in Hesser’s time at DU. During the strange season that was the 2020-21 campaign, Hesser’s team battled through COVID-19 quarantines and finished on an improbable note, as the resurgent and short-handed Panthers nailed down two gritty GLVC tournament wins as underdogs before coming up just short in the title game.
In addition to winning on the court, Hesser’s teams have excelled in the classroom. His 2019-20 student-athletes posted a team grade-point-average of 3.56, earning the program a GLVC Team Academic Award – an honor the team has won consistently during Hesser’s tenure as coach.
“Coach Hesser has been a leader on and off the court throughout his storied career,” says Drury Athletic Director Corey Bray. “His teams’ many academic and athletic accomplishments demonstrate his commitment to producing student-athletes who are truly more than champions, and who are ready to succeed after college in both their life and career.”
“Steve Hesser is one of the top coaches in the nation,” says Dr. Edsel Matthews, longtime former athletic director at Drury and, prior to that, Springfield Public Schools. Matthews hired Hesser at both Glendale and Drury. “Steve has been the winningest coach in Drury history, topped off with a national championship and being named national coach of the year. He did this while graduating over 90 percent of his players, and he will certainly be missed.”
“Steve Hesser has left his mark on both the basketball program and Drury University,” says Tom Stout, member of the Board of Trustees. “It has been a steady progression of great moments. Anyone who was in Atlanta on April 7, 2013 will never forget that day. That feeling carried on to October of that year at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University. Drury led Duke by five at halftime and continued to lead five minutes into the second half. What an awesome achievement for a Division-II program! As impressive as these accomplishments were, they are not Steve’s greatest moments. His record of graduating players and sending them out into the real world to be outstanding members of their communities are the real testament to his leadership. I have been watching Drury basketball since 1964, and Steve is, without a doubt, the best basketball coach ever to walk on the floor at Weiser Gymnasium and the O’Reilly Family Event Center. Drury is very fortunate to have had Steve as an integral part of the university for the last 17 years.”
Hesser became the 19th head coach in Drury men’s basketball history after successful stints as a high school coach in Oklahoma and Missouri. Before his arrival on Drury’s campus, coach Hesser spent six years as head coach at Glendale High School and compiled a 97-39 mark with the Falcons. At Glendale, he won an Ozark Conference title in 2001 and got his team to the Class 5 sectional in 2003.
In Oklahoma, Hesser put together a record of 262-142 with stops in Pauls Valley (1980-84), Bartlesville (1985-92) and Stillwater (1993-99). He coached future major league baseball player and St. Louis Cardinal Matt Holliday at Stillwater HS, and went 87-62 while winning four conference titles and made two state tournament appearances. Hesser’s Bartlesville teams won Oklahoma Class 6A state championships in 1989, 1991 and 1992 and were the state runner-up in 1988.
Hesser was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014, the Bartlesville Area Sports of Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
As a student-athlete, Hesser was a two-sport standout at Stillwater High School, excelling in both basketball and football. He started his college playing career in both sports at New Mexico Military Academy before moving on to finish his college education, and playing days, at the University of Central Oklahoma.
After his playing career was ultimately cut short by a leg injury, Hesser finished his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State, and he earned a Master’s degree in secondary education from Oklahoma University in 1985.
Hesser and his wife, Patti, have one son, Tyler, a daughter-in-law Stephanie, and two grandchildren.
AWARDS & HONORS
- Impactful Men’s Basketball Head Coaches List, 2020 (Silver Waves Media)
- Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 2014
- NABC NCAA-II Midwest Region Coach of the Year, 2014
- NABC NCAA-II National Coach of the Year, 2013
- Bartlesville, Okla. Area Sports Hall of Fame, 2011
- Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 2007
(photo courtesy Scott Puryear)