Bob Lutz

Gregg Marshall has changed the course of the Shockers

Gregg Marshall has built a basketball program at Wichita State that many think is too big for the Missouri Valley Conference to handle.
Gregg Marshall has built a basketball program at Wichita State that many think is too big for the Missouri Valley Conference to handle. The Wichita Eagle

Over the past 11 seasons, Wichita State has played in 17 NCAA Tournament games. That’s three more than the Shockers had played in 67 previous tournaments.

WSU’s NCAA record over those 11 seasons is 11-6. The Shockers have been to a Final Four and two more Sweet 16s.

They’ve done all this under two remarkable coaches, Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall, who have pushed Wichita State from the doldrums of the 1990s to 17 mostly-grand seasons of sellouts, championships, outstanding players and collective joy.

Marshall is beginning his 10th season at Wichita State and the Shockers have had so much success that WSU is looking into what it might take to change conferences and potentially bring back football.

That’s right, the Missouri Valley Conference, of which WSU has been a member since 1945, may no longer be able of containing all of this success.

When former athletic director Jim Schaus hired Turgeon away from Jacksonville State in 2000 to replace Randy Smithson, he announced Turgeon would be paid $200,000, with incentives that could bring the total package to $250,000.

Those in the room for Turgeon’s introductory news conference gasped.

Well, hold on. Because Marshall, whose first contract at WSU paid him $750,000, makes $3.3 million per season now.

If the median household income were to shoot up at the rate WSU’s basketball coach has been paid over the past 16 years, it would rise to $898,623.

Hey, I’m on board.

This is one wave that has been fun to ride.

But they say waves eventually crash. And in most cases, they’re right.

Wichita State can’t be this good forever, although with Marshall at the helm there’s no reason to think a downturn is coming soon.

Turgeon, now at Maryland, made the Shockers winners again. Marshall, though, has changed perception.

Wichita State is strong in almost every sport. And if there’s a weakness, there’s also an effort to get it fixed.

Even Turgeon used to wonder aloud how effectively he could recruit at Wichita State. He bought into some perceived notions that held the Shockers back.

Not once have I heard Marshall express a doubt about the Shockers’ ability to win. He has supreme confidence in his ability to recruit the type of players who fit into his style and then to go about helping them reach their potential.

I always thought Wichita State should be the dominant basketball school in the Valley, even as the Shockers were enduring a terrible 71-121 stretch in conference games from 1989 through 2001.

It was a matter of finding the right coach, something that didn’t happen when Mike Cohen replaced Eddie Fogler, Scott Thompson replaced Cohen and Randy Smithson replaced Thompson.

So now Wichita State is not only in the midst of its greatest era of basketball, but there are possibilities that this era has created.

Could the Shockers really leave the Valley?

Yes, but finding a fit is a challenge. Perhaps too much of a challenge.

Wichita State can sell a strong basketball brand, but even after this run of winning seasons there are those who remain unconvinced that it can last. They believe than when Marshall leaves – whenever that is – the Shockers will come back to the pack.

And that’s possible. It’s difficult to believe anyone will be able to maintain Marshall’s level of success, but that’s a far cry from a return to mediocrity or something worse.

Wichitans care deeply about Shocker basketball. And while that’s no guarantee of continued 25- to 30-win seasons and trips to the NCAAs, Wichita State is in position to be a strong basketball program for years to come.

Marshall, especially, has built something that should last beyond his time as coach with an engaged and passionate fan base that will demand results.

Marshall has built a monster and monsters are expensive to feed, but there’s no reason the Shockers can’t continue to breath fire.

Where will WSU be in 10 years?

It’s the biggest and most important challenge facing the athletic department.

The Missouri Valley Conference has served WSU well over seven decades. But if the Shockers can do better, they should.

If I were Wichita State president John Bardo or athletic director Darron Boatright, I’d be calling the leaders of the Big East twice a day.

I’d be talking to the Mountain West and American Athletic conferences about what the Shockers have to offer.

Southern Illinois athletic director Tommy Bell, on the job for just a year and a half, recently said Wichita State was "getting too big for its britches" in its investigation into football and conference affiliation.

It was a silly comment coming from someone who hasn’t been around the Valley long enough to be making comments, silly or otherwise.

But there’s no question that some of the other nine schools in the Missouri Valley, and their fan bases, will share Bell’s perception.

The Shockers are already the bad guys and Marshall is a Valley villain.

Those are the prices you pay when you’re good.