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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bob Lutz: Makes sense for Gamecocks to pursue Marshall; makes sense for Marshall to stay put


I think Gregg Marshall has one of the best college basketball coaching jobs in America. But I’m biased, having been fed a heavy dose of Wichita State basketball my entire life.

Marshall knows he has a great job. He doesn’t have to worry about support, he’s paid handsomely, he has opened up recruiting avenues seldom seen here before and he has gotten the Shockers to only their second NCAA Tournament since 1988, with the strong likelihood of more to come.

Marshall’s success is also the reason these are thrilling but also antsy times for Shocker fans. On Tuesday, Darrin Horn was fired after four years as coach at South Carolina, where he made $1.1 million.

Horn was hired in 2008 after five bang-up seasons at Western Kentucky, which he led to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 and a 29-7 record in 2007-08. His credentials were impeccable. But even with Horn, nothing changed at South Carolina.

Apathy rose, attendance dropped and Horn was axed.

Whereas Wichita State is a good coaching job, South Carolina is not. The Gamecocks have won one NCAA game since 1973. They won NIT championships in 2005 and 2006, but were below .500 in the SEC both seasons. South Carolina has had one winning season in the past six and an 18,000-seat arena sits mostly quiet on game nights.

Meanwhile, Koch Arena rocks to its rafters with frenzied fans who would gladly give Marshall the keys to the kingdom.

In some aspects, he already has them. Marshall makes a base salary of $900,000. A yearly contribution to an annuity, on which he can draw from every three years, raises his pay to more than $1 million, not including incentives.

WSU has stepped up to the plate to keep Marshall, and the coach is a power hitter.

Yet there are sure to be other schools that believe Marshall is the cure to their ills. There were last year, after Wichita State won the NIT. A deep run into the NCAAs could cause athletic directors to get into a bidding war for Marshall’s services.

And then there’s South Carolina. It’s Marshall’s home state and the place in which he coached for nine seasons at Winthrop. He’s a Carolina guy, but he’s even more about winning.

When asked if he was sorry to see the South Carolina job come open two days before the Shockers play VCU in the NCAA Tournament, Marshall reacted like he always does when asked about other jobs.

“I really didn’t have much of a reaction,’’ he said. “This is my 14th year and in the previous 13 there have probably been 10 years when things like this have popped up. I’m kind of used to it; things like this don’t faze me at all. I’ve still got work to do with this basketball team and hopefully we’re still playing after this weekend.’’

There are no hidden messages in those words, no tip of Marshall’s hand. If he’s thinking about South Carolina, he’s doing a whale of an acting job hiding it.

Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton, who presumably would be the first to know if Marshall is contacted by others schools, said he takes it as a great thing for Shocker basketball that the coach is hot property.

The opposite surely wouldn’t be good, Sexton said.

Who knows whether South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman, who has to be a little gun-shy after hiring Horn, is going to make a move for Marshall. The assumption is that he will. The good money is that he should.

The danger for Shocker fans is that Hyman, who is going to want to do everything he can this time to hire the right guy, will come calling with bags full of money. Considering what Marshall makes at WSU, I’m thinking he won’t even open the door for less than $2 million per year.

Can South Carolina spend that kind of money for a basketball coach? Can the Gamecocks afford not to?

Hyman will play Horn, who was making $1.1 million annually, $2.4 million to buy out the final three years of his contract. The buy-out clause in Marshall’s contract, should he decide to leave, is $325,000.

South Carolina is either going to get really serious about basketball this time or not. And the guess here is that the Gamecocks’ fan base, shrinking as it is, is going to demand a push for Marshall.

South Carolina would be crazy not to. Marshall is a proven winner, almost a guaranteed winner.

He has that “it” thing going for him. What Horn did at Western Kentucky is similar to what Marshall has done at Wichita State, but Marshall has a better chance of taking that success to the next level.

The Gamecocks, of course, care about football first and spring football second. But baseball is big in Columbia and the women’s basketball program has been successful.

Hyman undoubtedly wants to prove that he can find the right man to lead South Carolina basketball. After one failure, his resolve will be high.

Marshall leaving WSU for South Carolina is plausible. But it’s going to take one heck of a full-court press by Hyman and the Gamecocks’ administration to make it happen, because Marshall has the ball firmly in his hands.

Check Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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