IF THERE WERE any doubts and there should not have been about whether Gregg Marshall can coach, they were erased this Wichita State basketball season. Marshall, the Greenwood native who cut his teeth in the coaching profession at Winthrop, has Wichita State playing in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.
Please, no more talk about Marshall being able to win only at a small-college or mid-major program. When you lose four starters from an NCAA tournament team, then turn around and produce a 28-win season that includes a deep run in the postseason, you can coach ... anywhere.
Having closely followed Marshalls coaching career, first during his nine seasons at Winthrop then over the past six seasons at Wichita State, it has become quite apparent what makes the 50-year-old coach so darned successful.
Marshalls teams, almost without exception, are tougher than their opponents. The coach imposes his will on his team. They will attack at all five positions on defense. They will muscle their way around the basket to grab every possible rebound. They will fight for every loose ball.
If they dont play hard, they probably dont play too long, Marshall said in an interview a year ago. If theyre not playing hard, it wont be for very long. I dont know why it would be any other way. If youre tired, come sit down by me.
At both Winthrop and Wichita State, Marshall has tended to gather recruits who are told by others they are not good enough to play at Duke or Kentucky or Kansas. Marshall persuades those players that, if they play his style of basketball, they will compete at the highest level of the college game.
There is no room for gentlemen on Marshalls basketball court. He demands all-out effort and a kamikaze mentality, mostly on defense. That became apparent to me seven years ago when Marshall allowed a weeks worth of access to his Winthrop teams practices, film sessions and team meetings.
The experience was not for the weak or feint of heart.
Because the Winthrop Coliseum was booked that week, Marshall was forced to shift his practices to a high school gym on the outskirts of Rock Hill. Intense only begins to describe Marshalls practices. Players occasionally engage in shoving matches. Salty language peppers every teaching moment by Marshall.
On one particular day, unbeknownst to Marshall, a group of elementary-aged children were ushered by their parents onto a balcony overlooking the basketball court. Marshalls choice language had parents scurrying to cover the ears of their children and get them the heck not Marshalls word out of there.
Later that week, in the locker room prior to Winthrops game against South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena, Marshall relayed to his team that it could take advantage of a Gamecock post player who was perceived to be soft. Marshall instructed his player to jolt the opponent with a forearm early in the game.
Less than a minute into the game, the Winthrop player sent USCs unsuspecting center to the court with a solid forearm to the chest. The incident drew a technical foul, yet rendered the USC player ineffective for the remainder of the game.
Winthrop did not win, but USC knew it had played a tough, physical opponent. That remains the trademark of Marshalls teams at Wichita State, where his past four teams have averaged 27 wins per season, won an NIT championship in 2011 and played in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Despite all the success, Marshall has not landed a job at what is considered a top-level program. Twice, USC turned elsewhere when Marshall expressed interest in the job. N.C. State interviewed Marshall before going with favorite son Sidney Lowe seven years ago.
It is difficult to figure why Marshall has not migrated to the ACC, SEC or Big East. There is a perception of arrogance that surrounds Marshall, perhaps because he always has walked the sideline in stylish, tailor-made suits and slicked-back hair. His gold, wire-rimmed glasses also give off an air of pretense.
Or, perhaps, Marshall has not landed what is perceived to be a big-time job because he is not part of any great coaching tree, having worked his way up from being an assistant at his alma mater, Randolph-Macon, then at Belmont Abbey, College of Charleston and Marshall before landing the head job at Winthrop.
Whatever the perceptions or misconceptions about him, Marshall has worked the Wichita State job into being one of the best in the country, better than many jobs at bigger programs in more prestigious conferences. In addition to getting all the resources they need, according to Marshall, his teams play every game before a sold-out crowd at 10,000-seat Koch Arena.
Weve got a great situation because they love basketball, Marshall said in the same interview a year ago. Its the biggest show in town.
Marshall also is well compensated. He signed a contract in 2011 that pays him $900,000 annually and rolls over every year, meaning he always operates in the first year of a seven-year deal. He has earned $208,000 in bonuses this season, and could earn another $408,000 if Wichita State wins the national championship.
So, while building his bank account, Marshall also has improved his stock as a coach. Now everyone should know the guy can flat-out coach.