As my career at Wichita State was winding down last year, two significant stories came just months apart: the sudden resignation by President Golden after just a little more than seven months on the job, and the saga leading to the resignation of men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall.
Guess which story received more national media coverage? Yep, it was Coach Marshall.
I don’t have any inside information on either story, but I do have some observations.
When a national reporter first broke the story saying Coach Marshall had verbally abused and physically abused some student-athletes, things started happening very fast. If the national media had had its way, they would have played judge, jury and executioner within a few days. It drove them nuts that the process took Wichita State more than a month to come to a resolution.
I credit the university for having an outside firm investigate the charges. If you truly want to be fair to all involved, it often takes time to hear from many parties before drawing conclusions and rushing to judgment.
In this case, Coach Marshall agreed to resign for a settlement of $7.75 million over six years, which can be attributed to the overall success of the basketball program under his leadership.
Marshall is the winningest coach in Wichita State history, leading the Shockers to eight NCAA tournament appearances since taking over in 2007. He led them to the Final Four in 2013 after earning a nine-seed in the NCAA tournament, then followed that up with a 35-1 record and one-seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Wichita State started 35-0 before losing to Kentucky in the second round.
To be fair, Marshall did not admit to any wrongdoing. And before you blame the university for agreeing to such a large financial settlement, keep in mind there was no guarantee WSU would have won a legal case for firing Marshall with just cause. Losing such a case would have dragged out the saga even longer and might have wound up costing the university even more in the long run.
But make no mistake, his resignation leaves a black mark that no amount of success could overcome and leaves the impression he wasn’t completely without fault.
Here are some observations about the ordeal:
•Marshall had a lot of support from the Wichita community. He had plenty of charisma. The success of Wichita State basketball brought the city a lot of welcome publicity. Beating KU in the NCAA Tournament didn’t hurt, either. Before the controversy reared its ugly head, he was easily the most popular person in Wichita the past eight or more years.
•Marshall had the support of some former players. When the story first broke, one of his former players tweeted: “GM a racist? Nah. I’m not buying it.”
•The silence of former Shocker stars Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Landry Shamet was deafening while we waited for the outcome of the investigation. While Marshall had the support of some players, there obviously were others who felt otherwise. Later, Baker said, “If you can’t buy into what [Marshall] wants you to do, he’s going to hang a cloud over you each day. He’s trying to hammer this into you. So players are going to struggle; they’re going to transfer out. It might not bother me or you, but my point is, it might bother someone else.”
•The fact that eight players transferred to other schools after last season, although one ultimately returned to WSU, was another indication that not everything was well in Shocker land. Transfer rules are far more player-friendly than in years gone by, so it’s not unusual for most teams to lose a player now and then, but seven transfers after a season is not a good sign.
•Marshall, like many coaches, has been known to push players to the limit, physically or verbally. That style may work with players who feel overlooked or underappreciated, but it doesn’t always work as well with others.
•Some players looked up to Marshall like they would their father. Some apparently felt he had their best interest at heart, even if it was under the guise of tough love.
•Marshall’s “Play Angry” mantra played well with the fan base. However, there were times it appeared that he had a difficult time maintaining self control, not just during practices but during games.
•Whatever you think of Gregg Marshall, winning games doesn’t ensure that a coach has a good outcome. It may ensure a nice paycheck and settlement, but it tarnishes what was an otherwise amazing run at Wichita State.