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BOGACZYK: Gale Paves Herd Way into College Hall

Michael Payton
Oct. 2, 2015

Marshall University has five names in the College Football Hall of Fame. Mark Gale is going to do everything possible to add stars from the Herd galaxy to the shrine now based in Atlanta.

Former Herd star quarterback Michael Payton gets his On-Campus Salute from the National Football Foundation at Saturday’s Old Dominion-Marshall game, prior to his December induction to the Hall of Fame. He’s the latest College Football Hall of Famer that Gale nominated for election.

That nominees’ roster is going to grow by at least one next year.

Gale, Marshall’s assistant athletic director for football operations, took over the role of the Herd’s Hall of Fame “keeper” – so to speak – while he was an assistant coach on Bob Pruett’s staff. Gale had joined Marshall’s staff in 1990 under Coach Jim Donnan, who is one of Marshall’s five College Hall of Famers. Donnan was elected in 2009, following his 1996-2000 stay at Georgia.

“I don’t know what spurred me on, and I don’t want to call it a passion, but I have given it a sense of importance,” the veteran Gale said of his role as the Herd’s Hall of Fame nominator. “It seems like I’ve been here forever, but I’m not going to be here forever and I’d like to get as many people in before my time here is finished.

“And I’d hope that somebody else after that -- when Mark Gale is not in this (Shewey Building) office -- will find this of importance, whether or not they’ve been part of the football staffs and coached some of these guys. This isn’t about Mark Gale. This is about Marshall University football and getting some individuals the recognition they deserve.”

Marshall’s first Hall of Famer was running back Jackie Hunt, the 1938-41 star who was inducted in 2004 through the Hall’s Divisional Honors Review Committee – because Hunt’s career had ended more than 50 years prior to his election.



By then, Gale already was at work adding more modern names to Hunt’s.

Gale nominated wide receiver Mike Barber on Nov. 10, 2000. Five years later, Barber made the Hall. In 2008, Gale nominated receiver/kick returner Troy Brown, running back Chris Parker and Payton – all stars of the Herd’s Division I-AA championship years.

Brown was inducted in 2010, a year after Donnan. Now, it’s Payton. Parker remains on the ballot. Once on the ballot, a player remains for 50 years.

“This goes way back to when I got first hired here, trying to learn the history of Marshall football, and although I never coached him or was on a staff when he played, look at the sheer numbers of Mike Barber,” Gale said. “Even an old defensive guy can recognize that talent, ability and production.

“I nominated Troy, Michael and Chris on Nov. 3, 2008 – all no-brainers to me. Troy went in 2010. Fortunately, we got Mike in this year and it’s my sincere hope that Chris will follow soon, because if you look at his statistics, there’s no question.

“When I nominated the three at one time in ’08, then I worried that maybe I had screwed up, worried I maybe watered down the ballot for us. You know, ‘Well, we’re not going to vote for three Marshall guys. We’re not going to vote for two Marshall guys.’ But two of the three are in, and I hope Chris gets it next year.”

The NFF Hall of Fame requirements for election are very detailed and specific. A player must have been an All-America first team selection by one of five selector organizations the NCAA uses to comprise its consensus All-America teams -- Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Walter Camp and The Sporting News.

Freshman All-America selections from those selectors do not count (removing potential candidacy, so far, for picks of recent vintage like Cody Slate, Tyler Williams and D.J. Hunter). A player isn’t eligible for the Hall until 10 years after his college career ended, and if a player goes on to pro football, he isn’t eligible until his pro retirement.

A coach becomes eligible three years after his retirement, or immediately after his retirement, if he has reached age 70. An active coach who is 75 or older can be elected. And to be eligible, a coach must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.

Pruett would be a lock with his 94-23 (.803) record – 13th all-time in winning percentage -- but the former Herd coach’s resignation in March 2005 left him one season short of the 10-year minimum. Gale said he sometimes thinks about a player he feels deserving – like a Chad Pennington – and shakes his head in disappointment.

“It’s based upon what All-America teams you have made,” Gale said, “and unfortunately – well, fortunately for us – we have quite a few guys to put up phenomenal numbers not only institution-wise but NCAA-wise. But because they weren’t chosen as an All-American or because they weren’t chosen on one of those (designated selector) lists, they’re not eligible – and that just breaks my heart because I guarantee you, they’d be selected because if you looked at just their sheer numbers.

“With Chad – unequivocally -- it’s sad. Here’s a guy who I guarantee you if you look at his statistics, the teams he beat, a Heisman finalist, his great academic credentials and you compare him to other quarterbacks, there’s no comparison.

“Am I biased? Damn right I am. I was here. I saw him. But you know what? A football guy would know what’s fair and what’s not.”

Gale said his next nominee will be Randy Moss, whose eligibility is unique in that he qualifies under both the Divisional (I-AA back then) and FBS (I-A then) criteria. Moss’ two stellar seasons (1996-97) at wide receiver spanned the Herd’s jump from I-AA back into major college football.

Gale said he will nominate Moss on the FBS side, which receives more players elected annually than the Divisional list.

“Randy is a slam dunk,” Gale said. “But here’s where I’m torn. Do I let Chris Parker go one year on the ballot by himself now, maybe helping him get elected -- I can’t get into all voters heads -- or do I get Randy nominated, get him on the ballot because his stats in two years here were stats most guys don’t have in four years?

“We’ve got Chris right there, poised to go in. Look at his stats (a Herd-record 5,924 rushing yards, then a Southern Conference record), year-in-year out, not a one-year wonder (31 games of 100 or more rushing yards). Whenever Randy goes on there, he’s going to get in. I do know I won’t wait past next year to nominate Randy.

“I’ll probably see how Chris does, and then decide on Randy. It would really be neat to see Chris go, and then Randy be the guy. I’d like to get Chris the opportunity as the Lone Ranger (on the ballot) from Marshall University and see what happens.”

Since Moss’ Herd days, there is only one other Marshall player eligible for election as an FBS candidate. That’s the late Jonathan Goddard, who starred at defensive end and was an FWAA all-America first teamer in 2004.

Once he’s through in the NFL, defensive end Vinny Curry also will join that list. Curry will be eligible for the College Hall in 2021 after being a first-team All-America pick by the Football Writers in 2011.

There’s another list of players Gale wants to push forward as much as possible. With Barber, Brown and Payton in the Hall and Parker on the ballot, that leaves 10 other Herd All-Americans from the Division I-AA era that are eligible for nomination. One of those is very special to Gale.

Holding the aforementioned list, the veteran coach’s voice halted and cracked and he held back tears when he got to Phil Ratliff’s name. The star offensive guard and former Herd assistant coach died at age 44 in early August following a cardiac event. Ratliff was an assistant coach at Charlotte.

“Our I-AA list, I promise you, it’s going to keep me busy, when you look at the Roger Johnsons and William Pannells and so forth,” Gale said. “William King, and Phil … I … excuse me … I promised Phil Ratliff I was going to nominate him and it never got to that … Yes, I still can …

“I went to Troy Brown’s (Hall of Fame ceremony in South Bend, Ind.) with Phil, but I already had Michael and Chris still on the ballot, and we talk about watering down – and I don’t mean watering down because someone’s not deserving, but just overloading. I promised Phil because in my opinion, I think he’s very deserving. He was a two-time All-American.”

Besides Ratliff, Pannell, Johnson and King, the Herd list of I-AA era Hall of Fame eligibles includes Sean Doctor, Billy Lyon, Chris Deaton, Melvin Cunningham, Eric Ihnat and Travis Colquitt. Ratliff, Pannell, Doctor and Johnson were two-time All-America picks.

“You can’t nominate more than two players in a single year,” explained Gale. “You can’t have more than three players on the ballot in one year. You rarely see three from one school on a ballot in the same year. A lot of cases you don’t even see two.”

There are two other men in the College Football Hall of Fame with Herd connections. The first elected, in 1958, was Harry “Cy” Young, who is in the Hall for his play at Washington & Lee from 1913-16. Young played Marshall football in 1910-11 as a Normal School student, then went college ball at W&L.

The other inductee with a Herd history is Frank Loria, who was an MU assistant coach who died in the 1970 football team plane crash. Loria was inducted in 1999 for his stellar play as a safety at Virginia Tech (then known as VPI).

What Gale does -- in addition to his yeoman’s work as operations chief for Coach Doc Holliday’s program -- is very special for the Herd.

With Payton and his fellow 2015 Class members, only 963 players and 209 coaches have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame from the nearly 5.12 million people who have played or coached the game over 147 years.

Do the math. That’s two ten-thousandths of one percent (.0002).

“Really, I took this upon myself knowing we had many well-deserving players,” Gale said. “No one said, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ It’s just something I wanted to do to make sure, No. 1, that the individual was recognized and No. 2, what a great honor for an institution to have a player go into the College Football Hall of Fame.”

And it takes a Gale-force effort to get a name on the ballot.