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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 1, 2009

By Al Myatt

"We Are Marshall" now includes Hamrick

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Hollywood went to Huntington, West Virginia, to tell the story of a football program wiped out by a plane crash in 1970. "We Are Marshall," the 2006 release starring Matthew McConaughey, got generally good reviews from new Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick.

One thing Hamrick questioned was the portrayal of Thundering Herd coach Jack Lengyel, played by McConaughey. Hamrick was recruited by Lengyel and said the coach was more serious and organized than his movie character.

But Hamrick liked the movie's focus which dealt with the rebuilding of the program and the university community's recovery. Hamrick was a young teenager in West Virginia at an arcade/snack bar when he and a friend heard the news of the crash.

There's another rebuilding task at hand in Huntington that Hamrick will supervise in the months and years to come but for the moment the former ECU AD isn't looking past an intriguing matchup this weekend.

Hamrick has changed sides again in the football series between Marshall and East Carolina, which continues on Saturday with a clash of 1-0 Conference USA teams.

Hamrick played for the Thundering Herd in the 1970's, boarding an airplane for a game in 1978 that marked the first time a Marshall team had played at ECU since the program was decimated by that plane crash on a return trip from Greenville in 1970.

Hamrick was athletic director at ECU from 1995 to 2003, a period in which there were $46 million in athletic facility improvements, the Pirates joined Conference USA and in-state football series with N.C. State and North Carolina were extended.

He was at ECU in 2002 when the Herd outscored the Pirates 64-61 in double overtime in the 2001 GMAC Bowl in Mobile.

After six years as AD at Nevada-Las Vegas, Hamrick agreed to return to his alma mater as athletic director in July.

"I was very, very happy at UNLV and probably would have never left there for any place but Marshall," Hamrick said via phone on Wednesday night. "... It was a great opportunity to try and come back to my alma mater and make a difference."

Hamrick faces some challenges that are similar to what he encountered when he arrived at ECU from Arkansas-Little Rock in April of 1995.

"We've got some facility needs to address, which we will," he said. "We need to really increase our fund-raising, which we did at East Carolina. We need to increase our season ticket base here in football. It's kind of the same thing as when we got to East Carolina.

"Last year, Marshall didn't win a championship in Conference USA. That's something we've got to change."

In his six years at UNLV, he noted that the Rebels won 22 Mountain West Conference championships.

"Nobody was really better than us in the league, other than BYU," Hamrick said. "There's a lot to do but East Carolina and Marshall are really very similar because of the passion and the loyalty of their fans. That was one of the reasons we decided to come — because of the people."

Hamrick anticipates seeing some old friends from both schools when the Herd celebrates homecoming this weekend. Hamrick's wife, Soletta, grew up in Huntington and is in town this weekend. She has remained in Las Vegas as the family looks to sell their home in the gambling capital.

Hamrick has been living in an apartment within a girls dorm at Marshall. The couple was doing some house hunting this week. Their three children are all in college now. One son is at Arizona, another is at UNLV and the Hamricks' daughter is at Nevada-Reno.

"It will be kind of a special day for us," Hamrick said. "I have so many fond memories of East Carolina. So many people have called and they're coming up. ... It's a unique, special kind of weekend for us."

The Herd, which has not had a winning record under Mark Snyder, has started 3-1 in his fifth season with wins over Southern Illinois and Bowling Green in non-conference play. There was a decisive loss to Virginia Tech but Marshall opened C-USA with a 27-16 victory at Memphis last week.

"I think we have a little bit better football team than what we were expected to have," said the former Herd linebacker, who played under recent ECU hall of fame inductee Sonny Randle as a senior at Marshall. "We've got a tremendous running back."

That would be Darius Marshall, who is averaging 166 yards rushing per game.

"I haven't seen that many good running backs but this guy is the real deal," Hamrick said.

The new Marshall AD also has been impressed with the defensive unit. The Herd's coordinator on that side of the ball is Rick Minter, who matched up with ECU a few times as head coach at Cincinnati.

A lot is on the line for the Herd.

"This is a big game for Marshall because I think it could define the kind of season that Mark Snyder could have this year," Hamrick said.

This has been labeled a critical season for Snyder in terms of his future at Marshall.

"I don't speculate," Hamrick said. "But there has been a lot of speculation about that and I believe he (Snyder) knows that."

Snyder probably is aware that Hamrick hasn't hesitated to make coaching changes in his career when he felt a program was underachieving. He shook the foundations at ECU by dismissing the likes of Steve Logan in football, Joe Dooley in basketball and Gary Overton in baseball.

Hamrick said he hasn't seen or spoken with Logan, now running backs coach for the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs, since ending Logan's tenure at ECU following a 4-8 season in 2002. Hamrick was part of the selection process that produced John Thompson as Logan's replacement. After Hamrick departed for UNLV, the ECU football program slumped to a 3-20 mark in two seasons under Thompson's guidance.

Hamrick — on the recommendation of the late Henry VanSant, a former ECU administrator, coach and athlete — hired Keith LeClair, who certainly left his mark on the Pirates baseball program. Comparing the Dooley era with that of successor Bill Herrion is complicated by the transition from the Colonial Athletic Association to C-USA.

Hamrick said he enjoyed the entertainment in Vegas but never wagered.

"Those big hotels weren't built by people who won money betting," he said.

Hamrick did pick a winner in bringing Lon Kruger aboard as basketball coach at UNLV. Kruger guided the Rebels to their first NCAA Tournament wins in 15 years in 2007.

"Seeing that basketball program revive was probably the most fun for me at UNLV," Hamrick said.

Marshall is betting on a favorite son for improved performance in its athletic programs and Hamrick, who took a slight pay cut to come back to this side of the country, will no doubt take an active role in that regard.

"Do what you think is right and have a thick skin," he said of his management style. "At the end of the day, it's all about what you've done for the kids."

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

10/01/2009 02:16 AM


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