Wichita State needed to make history to keep its history-making men’s basketball coach.
Coach Gregg Marshall turned down a chance to fly to Tuscaloosa, Ala., with his family and give Alabama’s vacant coaching position a close look when he reached an oral agreement to remain at WSU on Wednesday. WSU will pay him approximately $3 million, continuing his seven-year rollover contract, a figure that few considered realistic a few days ago.
“That’s quite a commitment on their part,” Marshall said. “A show of faith and appreciation; faith for what we’re going to do and appreciation for what we’ve done.”
The salary, when the contract is signed, will likely make him one of the top 10 highest-paid coaches in the country, a significant statement for a program that resides outside the five conferences considered the wealthiest and most powerful. His salary peers work at places such as Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
Marshall ranked No. 24, according to USA Today’s data base of salaries, entering the season. Moving him up the scale seems to put WSU in a different category of job. It limits the already shrinking number of attractive schools capable of matching Marshall’s comfort level and the school’s passion for basketball by bumping WSU into a more exclusive salary range.
“It’s a huge step,” said Myles Solomon, Marshall’s attorney. “It was never an issue of them not trying to do things. It was always about how far they could go. This is kind of an unprecedented number for a school that is not in the (top five conferences).”
After an initial offer early in the week, WSU needed to get closer to Alabama’s offer of around $4.2 million (reports of $4.9 were incorrect) for six years. The community responded. Business leaders and big boosters, with Charles Koch playing a lead role, organized, donated and lobbied to raise Marshall’s salary from its current base of $1.85 million.
“It’s a hard push to do because it was a significant financial stretch,” WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said. “But it was an easy push to do, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Alabama set the stage when its desire to throw big money — $3-4 million — leaked out in the days before Wichita State’s NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame. Solomon, who has represented Marshall for nine years, read the reports and expected Alabama to set the number out of reach for Wichita State.
“The fact that Wichita State was able to get there for Gregg was definitely a step beyond … something that I don’t think anyone could have ever expected before now,” Solomon said.
Alabama athletic director Bill Battle and another representative of the school flew to Wichita on Monday and spent around eight hours pitching Marshall. The family couldn’t visit Tuscaloosa until Friday because of school commitments, giving WSU time to organize and respond. The tension continued until Wednesday evening when, after reports of the trip to Tuscaloosa surfaced, Marshall agreed to the deal and Shockers fans rejoiced.
“It was a lot of back and forth,” Marshall said. “We were basically contemplating if we were going to get on a plane and look at what sounds like a tremendous opportunity at the University of Alabama. The gentlemen that we met with on Monday were classy, successful, intelligent and really were easy to like. That tugged on heartstrings.”
Monday, with the threat sitting on a runway at Jabara Airport and the offer on the table, boosters mobilized. Koch demonstrated the enthusiasm and admiration he has for the program.
“When I had the opportunity to visit with Gregg, I encouraged him to stay at Wichita State,” Koch said in an emailed statement. “He adds tremendous value to our community, not only by winning, but by doing so with character.”
Koch, who made lead gifts to renovate WSU’s arena in 2002 and a recent one to build a student services building near the arena, wasn’t the only person to help the drive to keep Marshall. Those people, sources involved in the fund-raising said, see WSU basketball as a vital part of the community for economic and quality-of-life reasons that go beyond victories and NCAA Tournament paychecks.
“I was unbelievably emboldened and so pleased with many in our community who took leadership roles in helping us get to this stage, and go a little bit farther than what we felt like we might be able to do,” Sexton said. “Koch Industries is a great partner with Wichita State and there were numerous other business leaders in our community who were difference-makers. They recruited. They put up (money) themselves. They communicated. It was a team effort.”
With the improved offer, Solomon said WSU emerged as the clear choice. He says that 25 percent of his conversations with Marshall are about money and 75 percent are about making sure a job is a good fit. As in years past, his affection for WSU and Wichita and his family’s feelings won the day. If you watched Lynn Marshall, his wife, and his two children cheer on the Shockers from the front row of arenas in Omaha and Cleveland, you saw a family fully invested in the Shockers.
“It’s stressful,” Gregg Marshall said. “You’ve got to weigh your career path and possible moves that that entails vs. your family’s stability. You also have to factor in your players and the recruits you have in your program. We end up staying, because of our commitment.”
WSU also upped its commitment to assistant coaches, Solomon said. Marshall must replace one assistant coach after Monday’s departure of Steve Forbes, now coach at East Tennessee State. Details of the contract are not final and Solomon anticipates building a new document after both sides relied on revisions in recent years. While neither Solomon nor Sexton would commit to a timetable for signing, both said the major points are settled.
“Gregg doesn’t mind losing guys to head coaching jobs,” Solomon said. “You want to be able to keep guys like (assistant) Greg Heiar on your staff. He’s been asked to go other places. Being able to retain a guy like that is very important.”
Marshall, Sexton and president John Bardo thanked fans and community leaders with a news release on Thursday evening.
“We’re thrilled that the Marshall family will remain in Wichita,” Bardo said in the statement. “What he has done with our program as the window to the University is fantastic, and we look forward to working with him for some time to come.”
Marshall, 52, has guided WSU to four straight NCAA Tournaments with a Final Four in 2013, a No. 1 seed in 2014 and the Sweet 16 this season. He is 204-75 in eight seasons at WSU. In nine seasons at Winthrop, he went 194-83 with seven NCAA trips.
NBA investigation — As expected, WSU juniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet filed paperwork with the NBA to receive an evaluation of their likely draft status.
Both said they would take that step after WSU’s loss to Notre Dame earlier this month in the NCAA Tournament.
Athletes who want to declare as an early entrant for the NBA Draft must do so by April 26. Players who did not sign with an agent can withdraw their name by June 15.
NBA front-office personnel provide athletes investigating their potential draft status an evaluation of where they might land. First-round picks receive guaranteed money. Second-round picks do not.
“It’s a survey that tells you ‘We think you will fall in this round or this number of a pick,’” said Joe Danforth, VanVleet’s step-father. “They could tell you you are likely to go undrafted.”
An evaluation that pegs him as a second-round pick won’t necessarily dissuade VanVleet from entering the draft.
“I think he would consider it,” Danforth said. “If they tell him he’ll go undrafted, I’m pretty sure he’ll come back.”
Danforth said the opportunity to help his family with money is likely a factor for VanVleet. He is close enough to graduation that leaving without a degree is not an obstacle, Danforth said.
“We’ve told him that if you want to pursue your dream we’re behind you 100 percent,” Danforth said. “If you want to go back to school, we’re going to support you.”
The NBA Draft is June 25. While VanVleet’s name isn’t prominent in projections and analysis, his step-father is confident he will shine in pre-draft workouts. VanVleet’s play in the NCAA Tournament against top guards from schools such as Indiana, Kansas and Notre Dame encouraged Danforth.
“If Fred were at Kansas, if Fred were at Kentucky, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion,” Danforth said. “Everybody would be raving. If he does come out, we’ll see what happens when he goes head to head with (higher-profile players) at the workouts.”
Thank you event for the Marshalls — Marshall’s favorite charity is the Wichita Children’s Home and it will hold a public thank you and community challenge at 11 a.m. Friday at 3765 No. Inwood, just west of 37th North and Rock Road, where the group began building new home in 2013.
In March, Marshall won $15,000 for the Wichita Children’s Home by finishing in the top four of the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge for a second year.
The Wichita Children’s Home offers emergency temporary housing for children.
MWC vs. MVC
Nov. 13 — Illinois State at San Diego State
Nov. 13 — Air Force at Southern Illinois
Nov. 14 — Colorado State at UNI
Nov. 16 — Wyoming at Indiana State
Nov. 18 — Loyola at New Mexico
Dec. 1 — Utah State at Missouri State
Dec. 2 — UNLV at Wichita State
Dec. 12 — Drake at Nevada
Dec. 20 — Bradley at Boise State
Dec. 20 — Evansville at Fresno State