June 13, 2012
HUNTINGTON -- I wanted to update you -- our growing support and fan base – on what has been and will continue to be a very important time for Thundering Herd athletics.
It might be the offseason for our teams, but it is anything but for all of us who love the Herd and want the best for an athletic program for which there is a growing passion.
The 2012 Big Green Coaches Tour completed this past weekend. We had record crowds throughout the past month, and our coaches – Doc Holliday and Tom Herrion – were superb in helping spread the Marshall message after their teams had boosted the enthusiasm with the way they played down the stretch last season.
The Princeton/Bluefield stop on the tour was just one example of the growing support and excitement about the Herd. That stop was scrubbed three years ago because of a lack of participation. This time, we welcomed about 200 supporters. That kind of turnout was more the rule than the exception for us.
We have two more “Tour unofficial” but big stops to see supporters this summer. There’s the annual Mid-Atlantic Marshall Day clambake at Centreville, Md., on June 23. Then, on July 17, the Big Green Scholarship Foundation has been given a presidential welcome again by Dr. Stephen Kopp to have a presence at his “State of the University” speech in Washington, D.C.
At the various Tour locations, the message I have tried to share can be summed up in three words – momentum, swagger and vision.
We have all three and we should be proud of that. That’s not something I could have said as recently as two years ago.
Momentum – we now have it. We haven’t had momentum for a long time. Momentum is hard to get, and once you have it and lose it, it’s a very long process to regain it. The reason why we have it is because of the success of our football and men’s basketball teams, and the way they finished their seasons.
Both finished with great momentum.
Coach Holliday’s team won its last three games, including a stirring overtime win over East Carolina at a noisy Edwards Stadium to qualify for a bowl bid. Then the Herd went to St. Petersburg, Fla., and defeated Florida International in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
In basketball, Coach Herrion’s team faced a very difficult schedule – some of you may not know the Herd’s non-conference schedule was ranked fourth-toughest in the nation – and played for an NCAA Tournament berth in the championship game of the Conference USA Tournament, losing to host Memphis. The team won three games in three days to reach the final, including an unforgettable triple-overtime win over Tulsa.
What’s great is that expectations for those two programs are much higher for 2012-13, and as an AD, I want high expectations.
The second thing is -- as Doc and Tom and (Big Green Executive Director) John Sutherland and I have been out to all of these Tour stops -- we’re starting to see Marshall fans with their swagger back. We feel good about ourselves again. I think we haven’t felt good about ourselves for a long time, about our program, our university.
The growth of the university is part of this, with Dr. Kopp’s leadership and the continuing construction and renovations, the Applied Engineering Complex, the new parking structure, and much more, and what we’re doing in athletics with an indoor facility that will benefit all of our sports, and the new soccer stadium.
It all works together because of the momentum we have. There’s nothing worse for an opponent than a Marshall fan who has momentum and swagger.
And third, now we have a vision … the Vision Campaign. We’ve decided what we want to do, how we want to do it. We’ve enlisted two great athletic alumni as co-chairs in Mike D’Antoni and Chad Pennington, who have meant so much to the university on the floor and the field, and now off it with their personal and professional drive to help us get to where we want to be.
We’re off and running. The Veterans Memorial Field House will be coming down in the next couple weeks to make way for the soccer stadium construction. If you drive by the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, you can physically see the progress. We’re off and running.
We’re still in the “silent phase” of the Campaign, but we hope, around Aug. 1, to go into the “public phase” where every Marshall fan can help us reach our goal, our vision. We’re well on our way. We’re not there yet. Everyone has to participate.
Failure is not an option. We have to do this.
We’ve got a track and field team, but we don’t have a track. We’ve got 350 student-athletes with an average GPA of 3.0, and an 86 percent graduation rate. And they have no academic support center to go to for academic help.
We have some of the greatest players, those like Chad and Mike, our co-chairs, and there’s really nowhere to properly recognize them, because we need a Hall of Fame. We have a hallway in the Henderson Center with photos. We are going to have a first-class Hall of Fame when we reach our Vision goal.
I’m so optimistic we can get this done. It’s been a great early summer for Marshall Athletics, following the success of this past season. We’ve recently hired new and enthusiastic coaches in women’s basketball and swimming and diving. In the Vision Campaign, people are starting to really respond.
We’re starting to get mentioned nationally with our football and men’s basketball program. The pundits, when they talk about Conference USA these days, they say something like, “Marshall could be right in there.” We’re becoming relevant again. That’s big.
Like I said: We’re well on our way. We’re not there yet. With everyone’s help, we’ll get there soon.
Have a great summer … and GO HERD!!