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Boys Basketball: Warriors' head coach Stanfield signs off

Scott Stanfield was whistled for his first technical foul Dec. 6, 2011. It was the first game of his head coaching career--a 60-58 victory over Pequot Lakes. It was also the last technical called on the Brainerd Warriors head boys basketball coac...

Brainerd Warrior boys basketball coach Scott Stanfield talks to his team during a game with St. Cloud Tech in January. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd Warrior boys basketball coach Scott Stanfield talks to his team during a game with St. Cloud Tech in January. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Scott Stanfield was whistled for his first technical foul Dec. 6, 2011.

It was the first game of his head coaching career-a 60-58 victory over Pequot Lakes.

It was also the last technical called on the Brainerd Warriors head boys basketball coach.

"I didn't deserve that one," he said. "I really didn't. Honest to God, I didn't. I think (the official) thought I said something other than what I said. I don't swear. I just don't and I think he thought I said a word and that's not what I said.

"I might have deserved one or two more at other times, though."

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It's just one example of the many things Stanfield and his coaching staff changed over the course of his seven-year tenure. The former Brainerd police officer started his coaching career as an assistant on Brainerd's 1995-96 team. After that year, Brainerd suffered through 15 lean years. In the years between Stanfield's first year as an assistant and his first as a head coach, Brainerd won just three playoff games, enjoyed just two winning seasons and compiled a combined 130-224 record.

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Scott Stanfield

  • Brainerd head coach: 2011-12 through 2017-18
  • Career record: 108-84 (.563)
  • Postseason: Central Lakes Conference champions (2012-13), Section 8-4A champions (2013)

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Then 2011 came and then-new activities director Charlie Campbell hired his first head coach in Stanfield.

But change was happening the year before. Former head coach Wade Haapajoki asked Stanfield to come back to the sidelines after stepping away for about six months. Stanfield coached the freshmen team.

"We started to change our mindset about what we wanted to do offensively," Stanfield said. "That was a real turning point. That summer before Wade left we really put a lot of our new offense in. That was the summer of 2011.

"With the kids we had coming, and who we still have coming, we just needed to play a more spread-type offense. We needed to spread the court and attack the rim more. We were running an offense that was really jamming the lane up and there was no room to penetrate the lane or be creative off the dribble. We really worked on opening the lane up and getting good cuts and motion through the lane and creating shots that were inside-out 3s and layups. We tinkered around with it that summer and just added to it each year.

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"The kids really liked playing in it so we knew we were on the right track."

Stanfield's first season, Brainerd finished the regular season 13-12 overall and 8-8 in the Central Lakes Conference. The Warriors were the No. 8 seed heading into the Section 8-4A quarterfinals and faced top-seeded Buffalo, which was just four years removed from its state title.

Two overtimes later, Brainerd pulled off an unprecedented 69-67 upset. It was Brainerd's first postseason victory in 10 years.

"That was a special year because we weren't overly talented," Stanfield said. "The kids really bought into what we were doing and the juniors below them had a lot of good players and they blended well together.

"That was really a fun year. What was most impressive about that year was we got our first section win, but we were an eighth seed and beat Buffalo a one seed. That's the first and only time that's happened in 4A basketball. There has been no other eight seed to beat a one seed and we dang near did it this year, too. That was really special. That was one of the most fun games we had because it was a double overtime game at Buffalo.

"So we felt good about what we were doing and where we were going."

The "we" in that comment was Stanfield and his assistant coaches Jeff Ramey, Keith Peterson and Brian Gustafson. Stanfield said the easiest part of his job was selecting those three guys to be his assistants.

The hard part was convincing his staff that his new offense was the way to go. From spreading the floor to launching 3-pointers from almost half court, it was an adjustment.

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"I don't know how many times I heard, 'Are you nuts? Why are you allowing them to do that?' I just told everyone to relax and that it would be OK," Stanfield said. "A lot of the criticism, to be honest, was from my own assistant coaches."

Enter the 2012-13 season. The Warriors opened the season with 14 straight victories before falling at Moorhead 95-93. Then Brainerd rattled off 11 more wins to finish the regular season 25-1 overall and 16-0 in the conference. Brainerd earned the No. 1 seed for the section tournament and eliminated Bemidji 83-48 and Buffalo 75-63.

The Warriors picked up their 14th-straight victory by topping Elk River 74-68 in the section final to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 1990-91. Those 28 wins are the most wins in program history.

"It was a perfect storm," Stanfield said. "I had worked with those kids a lot of summers and we knew each other. We knew for sure the style we wanted to play and they knew it, too. You could just see it. The buy-in was 1 through 18. We had parents that bought into what we were doing and to be honest it was very little work. It's a players' game and they loved playing and they were competitors. They liked to play like I like to coach. They got on people and never let up."

Brainerd's only other loss that season came to top-seeded, top-ranked and eventual state champion Apple Valley, 81-67, in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Target Center in Minneapolis. Apple Valley had a future Minnesota Timberwolves player on the roster by the name of Tyus Jones.

The Warriors held a halftime lead, but despite the loss, what most people talked about was Brainerd's players, the national anthem and the sea of blue and white in the stands.

"I am most proud of that," Stanfield said. "We hear that every year. I get a handful of emails from parents from different teams saying it's incredible the way your team respected the national anthem, their sportsmanship, the way they cleaned up the bench after the game. People are appreciative of that.

"We can't control talent. We are what we are. We don't have the most talent. We haven't had a college player other than Michael Russell. We line up for the anthem. We do what we're supposed to do. We do our starting lineups differently. We don't run out saluting and patting each other down and pointing into the crowd. That's not what we're about.

"We're about playing a high school basketball game. That's not what we were about and they all bought into that. We asked them if they wanted to change it and they said no. Those are the things we can control. The parents and community should be proud of that.

"Every year I get phone calls or emails from Vietnam veterans or Iraq veterans and they say it brings them to tears watching our kids and how they respect the flag. A lot of people don't know that."

That group made basketball in Brainerd cool again. Brainerd's freshman roster went from 15 players to 40. Numbers increased throughout the program. Attendance at games also increased.

The next season Brainerd finished the regular season 14-11 overall and 10-5 in the conference. The Warriors were the No. 6 seed and lost to Elk River in the section quarterfinals.

Brainerd fell to 12-15 the next season, but were 9-6 in the conference. The Warriors bounced back with a 20-8 record during the 2015-16 season. They were 10-6 in the conference and secured the No. 3 seed for the playoffs. Brainerd bounced St. Michael-Albertville 65-58 in the quarterfinals before falling to Elk River in the semifinals.

"Our schedule is better," Stanfield said. "People forget that. Even our 2012 team, we were 28-2 and we played a decent schedule, but we didn't play the type of schedule we've played in the last three years. We added Wayzata and Lakeville South and New Prague and Cambridge and other really good 4A teams. You have to play well to beat those teams and to even stay in the game and we did. We were in every game this year and the year before. We were in every game, maybe minus one against a really good Wayzata team, but all in all, we played those teams well.

"If we played our old schedule, we would probably have won 14, 15 games, but that's not what I wanted. I could care less about my wins and losses. I wanted to prepare our kids so when we go play Maple Grove in the section we can compete and maybe sneak one out and that's what happened."

Brainerd went 11-16 last year and finished this season 9-18, giving Stanfield a 108-84 career record. Stanfield told the team midway through this season that it would be his last. He cited parent pressure as the reason.

He said he leaves the position with no regrets.

"None. This is a reflection on my assistants, they bought into everything we wanted to do. They are really high-character people and represented Brainerd extremely well. I have no regrets. I have to laugh, it was Charlie's first year when he hired me and he was looking at me like, 'This guy is kind of crazy.' He was easy to work for. He was very supportive and the school was always supportive. I have no regrets at all, outside of wanting to extend the season. That can't always happen. This was a great experience."

Stanfield said he couldn't have had a better coaching staff. Despite being a football-first coach, Stanfield said Ramey is the best coach he ever coached with. He said Peterson had a mind like no other and was great in teaching the little things. He said Gustafson improved dramatically as a coach.

He called them all high-character, top-notch guys and gave an example.

"What's impressive is Gus took over our summer camp for little kids and we decided going in that we were going to give our salary back into that camp," Stanfield said. "Gus thought it was great, where other guys might not have been on board with that. So over the course of those seven years there is probably $6,000 to $8,000 that the coaches donated back into the program. A lot of that was Gus' time. That's the things these guys brought to the team and that's unusual in this day and age."

Stanfield hopes nothing but the best for his successor. He hopes a policy is put into place for parents and the new head coach to have a better, more civilized, dialogue. But despite all the recent press, Stanfield believes his old job is a good one.

"It's extremely difficult and time consuming, but at the same time just as rewarding," he said. "You're going to meet just the greatest kids and you're going to have connections with them for your lifetime because that's just the type of kids Brainerd raises.

"We have a lot of guys returning. The conference won't be as strong. They have a chance to build with some good talent. Charlie is a great athletic director to work with. I just hope the guy doesn't swear at me too much about the schedule being too tough."

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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