MCGILL: As Herd Piles Up Hoops Wins, Uncommon Feat Awaits
The Word on the Herd -- Feb. 14, 2018
By Chuck McGill
Prior to a Marshall home basketball game last month, hoops assistant Cornelius Jackson and Herd football great Chad Pennington stood courtside and reminisced. They talked about their families, their journeys and their time in Huntington as student-athletes in different sports.
Jackson ended his career fourth on MU’s career assists list, and then entered the college coaching profession. Pennington became a National Football League quarterback and Marshall athletics Hall of Fame inductee. When they played for the Herd, though, they were part of a special time in the school’s athletics history. In 1999-00, the football team completed a perfect season and the basketball team finished 21-9.
That is the last time the football program has won at least eight games in the same school year the basketball team reached 20 victories.
As the Marshall men’s basketball team prepares to play at Rice (5-20, 2-10 C-USA) on Thursday night at 7, the Thundering Herd can take one more step toward 20 wins. If Dan D’Antoni’s team can accomplish the feat, it will be the fourth time in 70 years that Marshall’s football team won at least eight games in the same year as a 20-win hoops season.
“Our programs feed off each other,” said Jackson, who is in his first year as a Marshall basketball assistant. “Marshall is used to winning and this community always wants to win. This is a unique opportunity for both programs.”
Marshall’s football and men’s basketball programs have seen their share of success over the years. It is uncommon, however, for the programs to peak at the same time.
In 1937-38, Marshall football was 9-0-1 and the basketball team went 28-4. Two years later, a 9-2 football season was followed by a 25-4 hoops season. In 1947-48, the football team managed a 9-3 record and the basketball team finished 22-11. All of those teams were coached by Cam Henderson.
Four decades later, in 1987-88, George Chaump’s football team reached 10 wins and Rick Huckabay’s hoops squad finished 24-8. Twice during the Bob Pruett/Greg White era – in 1996-97 and the aforementioned 1999-00 season – the football team and basketball team simultaneously reached eight and 20 wins, respectively. In 1996-97, a I-AA national championship by the football team was followed by a 20-9 basketball season.
And then came 1999-00, in which the football team won all 13 games, which culminated with a win against BYU in the Motor City Bowl, and then White and Jackson helped the Herd to the Mid-American Conference semifinals. That MU hoops team captured wins 20 and 21 in the conference tournament.
“It was a unique experience when I was here and both basketball and football were doing well at the same time,” Jackson said. “We kind of piggybacked off of each other. We used to go in and hear Coach Pruett speak. We had our recruits meet Randy Moss and Chad Pennington and Nate Poole.”
Jackson, a Mountain State native, thinks the people running the programs deserve credit. Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick is a West Virginia native, and he hired in-state products Holliday and D’Antoni to steer these programs.
“I think a large part of that is having Marshall people,” Jackson said. “Coach D’Antoni is a Marshall guy and Doc Holliday is from Hurricane. We have a West Virginia flavor. I know when we go out in town and when I’ve been at Big Green coaching functions, we all praise each other and want each other to do well. That way if basketball wins, football wins. If football wins, basketball wins. And that affects all sports from baseball to soccer to volleyball.”
Marshall will have to win away from the Henderson Center to reach 20 wins this season. The Herd follows Thursday’s game at Rice with a trip to North Texas (Saturday, 6 p.m.). MU will be at home next week for two games: Feb. 22 versus Old Dominion and Feb. 24 against Charlotte. Two more road games, at UAB and at Middle Tennessee, will conclude the regular season. The C-USA tournament will be the following week.
Whatever happens, there is a buzz around campus and throughout the community as the football and men’s basketball programs ascend together. Jackson felt that thrill as a student-athlete, and he sees it unfolding again two decades later.
“Living it as a student-athlete and living it as a coach, being away, I forgot how special it all was,” Jackson said. “This has given me a newfound perspective of how the fan base is here. I was so far removed because I was doing my own coaching at other universities. Since I’ve been back I’ve been blown away by the support, so I hope we can all keep it going.”