CHAPMANVILLE — The Marshall Thundering Herd Coaches Tour made a pit stop in Logan County on Wednesday evening for a night of drinking, eating and good sports talk.
Alumni and Herd sporting fans filed into the Logan Country Club to hear some of the Herd’s sports leaders talk about the schools history and future. In an extremely elegant atmosphere the crowd escaped the worries of the world and listened to Head Football Coach Doc Holliday, Men’s Basketball Coach Dan D’Antoni, and Women’s Basketball Coach Matt Daniel fill the room with uplifting messages about the teams and the school they love.
Each Coach was able to give to the crowd a sample of their own personality in a welcoming atmosphere, where pride for the Herd engulfed the room.
The event began with pleasantries; thanksgiving was announced to all in attendance from the area who had helped the sporting programs at Marshall in some way or another. There was talk of the beauty of Logan County and the evident spirit of the people who reside in Logan County.
It was announced that every year, on the coaches tour, they recognize individuals from the area for their contributions to the school and the sporting program. This year it was announced that Buddy and Jean Ferrell were the selected honorees for this particular event, the announcement was proceeded with the lovely story that led to the union of Buddy and his wife, Jean. In timeless fashion the master of ceremonies began to regale the crowd of the tale starring Buddy and Jean who had met at Marshall University in the late 60’s. He was a student treasurer and she was the president of her sorority. In a general but adoring way, they met over circumstances surrounding the finances of the sorority, the two powerful souls recognized each other and formed one powerful union that has lasted to this day, 58 years later. Although the couple moved back to Logan County after college they have bled green ever since and they were awarded for becoming a catalyst for the spirit of “We are Marshall.”
Once the hearts of the crowd had been warmed, the Logan Country Club staff displayed a meal as satisfying as the tale before it, complete with the legendary bread pudding that could have been argued as the real reason the veteran coaches had made the trip.
The only thing that could have pried the crowds focus away from the delicious meal was a familiar voice; Steve Cotton, the 15 year veteran radio announcer stepped to the podium to address the crowd and announce the next speaker, he was greeted with smiles all around. Cotton said, “this is stop number 10 on the coaches tour and every stop we have made so far we have been greeted with nothing but smiling faces.” Cotton was able to convey his plethora of Marshall sporting knowledge into a fancied, vocal care package, that everyone could appreciate; showing why he is the voice of the Thundering Herd.
Cotton got right down to brass tacks with an inspiring synopsis of the 2015-2016 baseball season. The Herd men’s baseball team closed out the year against Southern Mississippi in the Conference-USA tournament in March with a final record of 34-21. Cotton remarked, “When the baseball team closed out their season, they closed the book on one fabulous over-all season for Marshall Athletics in general. Cotton noted both the men’s and women’s soccer teams made it to the Conference-USA Championship, the swim team had its greatest year in school history, topped off by the baseball team having it’s greatest year to date. Marshall athletics had not only surpassed it’s greatest standard on the field but also in the classroom.
Mike Hamrick, Marshall’s Athletic Director, was next in line to speak. He was invited to the podium chumly by Cotton to begin his talk with the crowd. Hamrick put the fat in fire right away with a joke about the way his wife spends money, once the crowd; full of food, was awake with entertainment he set in with a message that applied farther than Athletics. Hamrick said, “As Steve pointed out we have a lot to be proud of this year, for me, I am proud of the things no one knows about. No one knows about the thousands of hours our student athletes contribute in community service to the Tri-state area, and we don’t want you to know about those things because we want our student athletes to do these things for the right reasons instead of for, publicity of their character.” Hamrick also announced an eluding fact that close to 90 percent of the student athletes that attend Marshall University graduate.
Hamrick said, ” That’s amazing! they come there to play sports and get an education; yes, but, they become successful in life and in their communities, that is something to be proud of I believe.”
Hamrick kept going by telling a story about a letter he had received from the administration of Conference-USA that detailed their salutations for Marshall University having the most student athletes to graduate with a 3.75 Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) or higher.
The crowd erupted into applause as Hamrick finished by saying, “They informed me we had 60 student athletes graduate with a 3.75 G.P.A. or higher and then at the bottom it said the school with the closest number was 49.” He exited with a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved with the program.
Cotton returned to the podium to highlight the women’s basketball season, he informed everyone of the milestone highlights: most games won in a season in 29 years, and first player to receive first team all-conference recognition in Leah Scott. Cotton was able to give Daniel a deserving entry by stating that over the last four or five years he had won more games than he had the year before and he continues to show upward progress with his team every year.
Immediately Daniels joked that if he continues to win four more game for the next 8-10 years he will move on to announce his political aspirations of becoming the next Governor of West Virginia, the crowd agreed the idea was absurd in an up-roaring laugh. Daniel savored the opportunity to take a few playful jabs at his Logan County native player, Shayna Gore, who graduated from Logan High School. Daniel stayed on the right side of the fence with the crowd as he joked about the roads leading to Logan County, Rt. 10 specifically, instead of anything personal.
Daniel’s driving point was that in addition to the team winning more games than they had in 30 years, it was all done with one of his most inexperienced teams . “We done well in conference play; we were 10-1. We lost to WVU by six, which was good because they were an NCAA Tournament team. We had a 3.07 G.P.A. as a team and I’m thinking what are we going to do with these wild eyed, bushy tailed, essentially freshman players. I new automatically we were in for a rude awakening,” said Daniel.
To his surprise he stated that he learned that his young team continued to surprise him everyday and surpassed all the expectations he had.
Daniel compiled a season worth of memories into one speech. He retold stories of Gore from her freshman season and left the crowd filled with pride of their hometown hero.” They were all inexperienced freshman but they had won more games than since I was ten years old; they were clearly on the ride of their life,” said Daniel.
Cotton returned to set up the next speaker, Men’s Basketball Coach Dan D’Antoni. Cotton said, “Some teams are born to beat records, some teams are born to shatter records, and then some teams are born, like last years basketball team, who set a new Conference-USA scoring record. The previous record was 88 points per game (by a team) and that had stood for 15 years. Marshall set the record at 92 points per game.”
The king of the Henderson Center stepped to the podium to address the crowd. D’Antoni’s address was short and comical. He mentioned the famous Rt. 10 and reminisced on the players of yesteryear from Southern West Virginia. He repeatedly referred to West Virginia University as Southern Pennsylvania University, that kept the crowd leaning forward. With pure class D’Antoni connected with the crowd when he said, “I would like to thank everyone who traveled up Corridor-G, Rt. 10, and from all over West Virginia to help support our program. We went from crowds ranging at 3,000-3,500 to the third largest crowd in history at the Henderson Center. We were recognized nationally, Bleacher Report rated us the seventh most fun team to watch in the country, right behind UK and right in front of Oregon, and six places ahead of Southern Pennsylvania University.” D’Antoni continued by saying, “I want Marshall to become the state university, we have eight state kids on our roster, we play state kids, I believe in West Virginia.”
Cotton returned to announce the last speaker, Head Football Coach Doc Holliday. “I have heard a lot of roars come from that stadium at Marshall but I have never heard a louder roar than when the Herd scored seven seconds into the game against Perdue and that lit a fire under the team that never went out all season,” said Cotton.
The Thundering Herd reached it’s third year of 10 or more wins, it won it’s fifth bowl appearance and improved their home win percentage to the absolute best in the nation with over 85 percent.
Holliday began by stating his enjoyment to be back in Southern West Virginia and told the crowd about how much the area means to me. His father was a native of Omar in Mingo County and he worked in the local mines. Holliday remarked that one of the reasons he has been able to be such a successful coach at Marshall was because of the great opportunities he has been presented. Holliday boasted about the Herds in-door training facility and how much of a difference it makes to him team.
Holliday spoke with a seriousness in his voice, he was serious when he mentioned his team had won the most games in the last two years than anyone in college football and it was all thanks to preparation. He spoke knowledgeably about his team and the standard he expects from his players. He spoke about his contentment with his quarterback situation and ensured the fans that the Herd will be okay if they stick to his game plan. He mentioned last year the Herd was first in the nation in special teams efficiency and spoke about the importance of special teams in the game of football.
The Herd will lose what Holliday called a great punter and long snapper but he finished by saying he has great players coming in to replace them.
The evening ended with an auction of Marshall memorabilia complete with laughter and smiles as the crowd exited the door. A sea of green returned to their cars to travel back into the real world with their minds on whatever came next, grass cutting, bills to be paid, children to raise, and plans to make, but their hearts stayed filled with the anticipation of another Thundering Herd sporting season coming soon.
(William Plaster is the sports reporter for the Williamson Daily News, he can be reached at 304-235-4242 ext. 2274 or at [email protected] or on twitter @sidplaster)