May 30, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Expectant father Matt Daniel's daughter-to-be - that's Steele Elliott Daniel -- will walk before she can run.
That's not going to get it for Daniel's new basketball team.
The 35-year-old Arkansan was named the sixth coach in Marshall women's hoops history on Tuesday. Besides his obvious attention to detail and a peach basket of motivational slogans he brings from quick success at Central Arkansas, Daniel heads toward the 43rd Thundering Herd season - it opens Nov. 9 against Radford - unquestionably on the run.
The Marshall program needs traction before it can move forward. The Herd has been to only one NCAA Tournament (1997), and hasn't had a 20-win season since 1990-91.
Last season - the 11th for former coach Royce Chadwick, who left for his homestate Texas A&M-Corpus Christi - Marshall went 16-14 and averaged only 806 fans per game in the 9,043-seat Cam Henderson Center.
"We need to take this program to a little bit higher level," Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said in introducing the new coach. "That's what we need here; that's what we're striving for ... that's what our ladies deserve, that's what you deserve and that's what our university deserves."
Daniel got his first head coaching job at Central Arkansas, in a transition from NCAA Division II to Division I. After a 6-23 debut, Daniel got a 15-game improvement. The Sugar Bears' record the past three seasons was 66-26. Daniel headed here as a two-time Southland Conference Coach of the Year.
If he had stayed at UCA any longer and kept winning, fans there might have been started referencing him in a stratosphere not far below that of 6-time NBA champion, 7-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Scottie Pippen, the school's foremost basketball legend.
"I'm going to tell them to dig in their heels," Daniel said after his formal press conference when asked how he will try to fill the win column as well as Henderson Center seats. "To get traction, you've got to dig in your heels, have a firm grip ... just like we need to dig in our heels on the floor."
The job Daniel landed with a four-year contract drew plenty of attention. There were 98 other formal applicants. It's a return of sorts for the former Arkansas high school Mr. Basketball (1993-94) and state tournament MVP from Jonesboro, too.
He was recruited to Marshall by then rookie Coach Billy Donovan, and his staff of John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant and Donnie Jones - all Division I men's head coaches present or past. Daniel chose the Rockies over the Appalachians, going to Colorado instead.
His hoop roots go back to the cradle, too. His dad, David, was a longtime Arkansas high school and college coach.
The Herd coach's wife of 10 months, Dr. Jennifer Daniel, a dentist, knows more than a little about the game, too. Jennifer Steele was a two-time NAIA basketball All-America Scholar-Athlete at Lyon College (Batesville, Ark.) in 2003-04 and '04-05.
Daniel said he will schedule aggressively after he gets a handle on recruiting, and he knows it is winning and entertaining basketball that will pay off. At Daniel's introductory press conference, a 24-page package on his "Home of Higher Hoops" was distributed.
Something told everyone in the Hartley Room where the session was held that the document will be required reading - and soon - for the returning Herd players, including six of the nine top scorers from 2011-12.
"I like the challenge of it," Daniel said when asked "why" Marshall over some other jobs he may have pursued in a busy offseason for women's basketball coaching hires. "I like the idea of trying to make a name for a program ... I looked at it and I thought, `It's just on the cusp of greatness."
The Herd hasn't reached a conference tournament title game since winning the 1997 Southern championship at the Greensboro Coliseum. He doesn't see Conference USA - now or after future realignment - as a challenge the Herd cannot handle.
"It's not going to be an overnight quick fix," he said, "but I think this can get good real fast."
His desired style of play will be different than that of Chadwick, but Daniel said he is not wedded to a racehorse pace - he calls it "full tilt" rather than fullcourt -- if it doesn't work.
"I'm not afraid to be the chameleon of college basketball to win games," he said.
Daniel and his wife left their home state for his newest coaching challenge. He said he didn't set out to coach women's basketball. He was a men's assistant coach at two stops before going 34-1 at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock in 2003-04.
Then, the chance to work for 510-game winner Ceal Barry back at Colorado took Daniel on a career arc he never expected, but one he has enjoyed.
"I did enjoy (coaching men's basketball)," Daniel said. "I got into the game not to coach women's basketball, but I had the chance to go coach for a legend like Ceal Barry, and it just so happened I liked it. It's worked out very well so far and hopefully our success continues.
"I think the (women's college game) is pure. I think there are very good coaches in our game, and I'm happy to be a part of it and take a lot of pride in being a part of the WBCA, and everything the organization does.
"I think there's a lot of strategy in the game, coaching the game below the rim, so to speak - although that is changing. But our game is continuing to evolve, especially our style of play, which is really special and fun to be a part of."
Daniel, a self-admitted card-playing fanatic, is gambling that Marshall fans will follow his team's example - and run, not walk - to women's hoops in Henderson.