MCGILL: Hamrick's Words Recalled on Anniversary of Hiring
The Word on the Herd -- July 20, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – On this date eight years ago, in the Hartley Room on the court level of the Cam Henderson Center, Mike Hamrick stood behind a podium and said his first words as the athletic director at Marshall University.
He said he was honored, flattered and humbled – traditional words used in a formal introduction. He talked about how his homecoming was a dream of his, and “the stars kind of aligned the right way” for the former Marshall football player to return to his alma mater.
Hamrick’s teammates called him “Burly” then, and he was listed as a 192-pound defensive end in the 1979 media guide, where he was labeled a “hustling type of player” with “acceptable speed.” The media guide, written before Hamrick’s senior year, also said he had visions of becoming an athletic administrator, and 30 years after it was printed, Hamrick was back at Marshall discussing what he envisioned for the future again.
“I don’t think anybody can stand up here and tell you that you can come in here and (say) ‘I’ve got a magic wand’ or ‘I’ve got magic dust’ and all of a sudden all our problems and all our issues are going to be solved,” Hamrick said on July 20, 2009, “because they’re not.”
Those words were interesting to listen to in retrospect. Hamrick accepted the challenge of becoming the school’s 23rd athletic director – counting interim ADs – during an uncertain time in collegiate athletics. He insisted in his introductory press conference that he wanted to “do more with more” in the face of economic challenges and a constantly changing landscape in athletics.
He knew, too, that not every decision he made or everything he said would be popular.
“This job is tough,” he said that day eight years ago. “They throw rocks at you … and that’s OK. I’ve got thick skin.”
Hamrick then went on to talk about his vision for Marshall athletics and how it’d take everyone to pull it off. He called it a “shared vision” and with that, he said, “you can do anything you want.”
To be honest, Hamrick was told about this Word on the Herd story idea before a single word had been written. He insisted this not be a story about the accomplishments of the athletic department since he arrived because that would make it about him.
“It’s about all of us,” he said Thursday morning from his office. “Everyone contributed to what we are accomplishing as an athletic department.”
That goes for his fellow administrators, the coaches, the support staff, the student-athletes and, of course, a passionate fan base with high expectations.
During Hamrick’s introductory press conference, he talked about his core values. He wanted a program of integrity because, as he said, “We’re not going to break any rules.”
Hamrick wanted to have academic integrity, to which he pointed to his own college education at Marshall. “I’m proud of my degree,” he said then. “It hangs on a wall in my office … I don’t want an athletic program to tarnish that degree.”
Hamrick insisted on fiscal integrity, saying “We’re not going to live outside our means, but we’re going to make our means better.”
Marshall has built more than $43 million in new facilities and renovations, and there are multiple summer projects underway that are geared toward enhancing the student-athlete experience or the fan experience, or both. Other than a few down or disappointing seasons in various sports, Herd athletic programs have excelled because a rising tide lifts all boats. The athletic department is at the top of Conference USA in academics. The department’s budget has surged above $30 million in a challenging economic climate. And all of this has been accomplished while remaining true to Hamrick’s first value – no major violations.
There is plenty left to do and more to come on the horizon that will elevate Marshall athletics and excite the fan base. Trust me.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Hamrick has skated through eight years with nary a negative word.
“I’ve made a lot of tough decisions over the years and been criticized, but that’s OK,” Hamrick predicted eight years ago. “I understand.”
Thus is the life of an athletic director, and when Hamrick reaches the beginning of 2018, he’ll be the first AD since Cam Henderson (1935-1948) to sit in that chair for parts of 10 different years. He is a few years away from catching Henderson as the longest-sitting Marshall athletic director.
And while Hamrick may have not had top end speed as a player, he has shown no signs of slowing down.