Wichita State Shockers

February 21, 2012

Ron Morris: Wichita State's Gregg Marshall sitting pretty

DAVIDSON, N.C. — There are a couple of problems with speculation that Gregg Marshall will be South Carolina’s next men’s basketball coach.

First, it is premature. Darrin Horn remains coach and is likely to continue in that capacity at USC through next season, and perhaps beyond.

The other is that Marshall might have a better job at Wichita State.

Marshall returned to the Carolinas on Saturday as part of ESPN’s Bracketbusters package. He paced the Wichita State sideline like he did at Winthrop, impeccably attired as always in a black suit, white shirt and yellow necktie.

He used the trip to Davidson to show off his outstanding basketball team, recruit and catch up with old friends. Marshall, a USC fan growing up in Greenwood, remains beloved in the Charlotte/Rock Hill area, but nothing like he is at Wichita State.

Marshall could run for mayor of Wichita these days. Heck, he is on his way to joining a who’s who list that includes the likes of Annette Bening, Wyatt Earp, Don Johnson, Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers, all of whom passed through the city of 370,000 on the Kansas plains.

You gain that elite status when your Wichita State basketball team wins. That is because basketball is king in Wichita. There is no football program at Wichita State. The baseball program has played on the national stage off and on for decades.

Yet nothing quite compares to basketball.

“He embraces everybody who is interested in basketball,” said John Markwell, 65, a longtime Wichita State booster and fan. “So, the city of Wichita just loves this coach.”

Wichita State annually sells 8,500 season tickets (USC sold 5,900 this season) for games at 10,506-seat Charles Koch Arena. The Shockers have played 114 consecutive home games to crowds of at least 10,000.

The fan base supports the team through difficult times, and is downright manic over Wichita State basketball these days. The Shockers have climbed to No. 24 in the national rankings, are virtually assured of an NCAA tournament bid and were picked this week by Sports Illustrated to reach the Final Four.

On top of that, Marshall earns a seven-figure salary under a contract that essentially runs for nine years. He lives in a comfortable house on the Crestview Country Club course in Wichita and says he has been granted every request from an athletics department that wants to keep him happy and employed there.

Considering all that, you can better understand why Marshall might have found his destination job when he left Winthrop five years ago. Marshall, of course, will not comment on anything pertaining to USC’s coaching position, but he speaks volumes when he addresses the prospect of any job offer from a power conference school.

“Why go to one of these BCS (school) jobs and have to bang your head against the wall and have to rebuild for the same or less money?” Marshall said.

Marshall was playing golf in Linville, N.C., in the spring of 2007 when he received a cell phone call from Doug Elgin, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. Marshall and Elgin had developed a connection over the years when Marshall’s Winthrop teams were participating in the NCAA tournament and Elgin served on the tournament committee.

Elgin had made the same call a couple of years earlier to inquire of Marshall’s interest in the coaching vacancy at Drake. That was a short conversation after Marshall said he did not know where Drake was located.

The call on the golf course carried a more serious tone.

“Gregg, you need to look at this job,” Elgin recalled saying. “They’ve got an athletic director/president tandem that’s as good as any in the country. They sell out their home games before the season starts. It’s a basketball school.”

By the end of the conversation, Elgin popped the big question to Marshall.

“What would it take for you to leave (Winthrop)?” Elgin said.

Marshall had just been offered a new, 10-year contract at Winthrop that would pay $400,000 annually. As a way to make Marshall a lifer at the Rock Hill school, the proposed contract also called to name the court at Winthrop Coliseum in his honor.

“That meant it was ironclad,” said Marshall, torn between wanting to continue building on the success of seven NCAA tournament appearances in nine seasons at Winthrop or pursuing his dream of coaching at a major-college program. “That was hard. That was tough. I sat there and contemplated it.”

Marshall turned down an offer earlier that spring from a Big East school that would have paid $750,000. So, he told Elgin of that offer, and the figure became the starting point for negotiations at Wichita State, which countered with $800,000.

The Shockers went 11-20 in Marshall’s first season, one in which he “figured out I wasn’t as smart a coach as I thought I was.” He was smart enough, though, to bring in an outstanding recruiting class.

Back-to-back records of 17-10 and 25-10 served as foundation builders for his program and led to a 29-8 mark and an NIT championship a season ago.

Afterward, Marshall was wooed by N.C. State and rewarded by Wichita State for staying put. A new, seven-year extension of his contract through 2018 will pay him $900,000 this year and an additional $125,000 for every year he remains at Wichita State. Also included is $224,000 in incentive bonuses. The contract renews for two additional years every two years.

The contract also calls for Wichita State to fly a private plane to all road games when necessary and allows Marshall and his staff a minimum of six recruiting trips per year on a private plane.

His current team features four senior starters with a point guard (Joe Ragland) and a 7-foot center (Garrett Stutz) who could play on any power-conference team. The win against Davidson on Saturday pushed Wichita State’s record to 24-4. The Shockers have clinched a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title, and any kind of run in the NCAA tournament is liable to move Marshall’s name further into the national spotlight.

Elgin has served for the past 23 years as commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference, a league he said is the “cradle of college basketball coaches.” Tubby Smith (Minnesota), Steve Alford (New Mexico), Mark Turgeon (Maryland) and Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt) are a few who have passed through the MVC to major-college programs.

So, Elgin hears every spring from head hunters and athletics directors about the eligibility and acumen of his league coaches. He offers advice to those coaches on what kind of program to seek.

The questions he asks include: What is the position of the school and the program in that conference? Can the program be a contender? Does it have a strong fan base? What about the leadership at the institution? The facilities? The compensation?

“Every one of those gets a checkmark in Gregg’s book, I’m sure, because (Wichita State) is just a great situation,” Elgin said. “It really is.”

Elgin said Marshall can be selective about the next step of his coaching career, if there is one. Any move would have to be to a program that can top Wichita State. Only a few programs would meet that standard, and USC probably is not one of them.

Besides, Darrin Horn remains the coach there.

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