UPDATED -- Marshall basketball: Herrion out as Marshall's head coach
6:06 p.m. update
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said Tom Herrion's exit as the Thundering Herd's men's basketball coach simply came down to wins and losses, and the 41 losses the team suffered through over the past two seasons were too much.
"Tom ran the program the right way," Hamrick said Friday at a press conference announcing Herrion's resignation. "Someone who values the academic side of it, Tom did that. But at the end of the day, we just didn't win enough games. We just didn't win enough games."
Hamrick said that, after about a 50-minute meeting Friday morning with Herrion, the fourth-year coach decided to tender his resignation. In a statement released through the Marshall athletic department, Herrion said it was "in the best interest of all parties."
"I greatly appreciate the opportunity that was given to me and will cherish the last four years and the many great people I have met and the memorable moments we achieved," he said.
Those memorable moments came mostly in the first two seasons of Herrion's tenure – a berth in the 2011 College Invitational Tournament and the 2012 NIT, the first for Marshall since 1988. Hamrick, though, said the basketball program must aim higher, to win Conference USA and reach the NCAA tournament. Marshall's last NCAA tournament appearance came in 1987. The Herd has never finished higher than third in C-USA and Herrion had never finished higher than fifth.
"Marshall has a great basketball tradition … a while ago," Hamrick said. "A ways back. There's no reason why we can't have that same type of program just like we had out here last year (with football)."
Hamrick said he could see the fanbase's apathy set in this past season, shown both in attendance and the energy of those in attendance. According to official attendance figures, Marshall averaged 4,713 fans per game, though there were several games where the actual number was smaller.
"I never missed a game here," he said. "I sat up in the stands. There were some games I got a little lonely, my wife and I sitting up there. I don't like being lonely at basketball games. I like people around me, enjoying the game."
Hamrick said Herrion's buyout will be around $550,000. His contract stated that, if fired without cause, Herrion could receive his current base salary for the remaining total years of his contract. He had two years left on a deal that paid him $285,755 this season. The contracts of Marshall's assistants run until the end of June.
As for his next basketball coach, Hamrick said he'll conduct a national search and already has heard from several interested parties. He also feels Marshall is a competitive, attractive job. His criteria for picking his new coach, he said, was simple.
"I'm looking for someone who can win," Hamrick said, "someone who can win the right way. Someone who wants to be here. Someone that can reignite the fanbase."
That coach also will have to spark the interest of a young, talented Herd roster. No players were at Friday's press conference and their response on social media was limited. Freshman point guard Kareem Canty tweeted early Friday afternoon his intentions to transfer, though he deleted that tweet soon after. One tweet that did remain stated that this season's record wasn't entirely on Herrion.
"Smh bad year bad news I loved playing for him not his fault we lost games," Canty wrote.
Hamrick said he wasn't worried about what players say so soon after a coach leaves, as nerves and emotions are still raw, that conditions and attitudes change with time.
"It's Groundhog Day everywhere I've ever been," he said. "Kids are confused. Some kids are happy. Some kids are upset. Some kids are staying. Some kids are leaving. I found out at the end of the day, when you get a new coach hired and that coach sits down with those kids, everything works out fine.
"In this day and age of social media, half of them are coming, half of them are going," he continued. "That changes daily or weekly. Time heals a lot of things. … I don't get real concerned about kids saying they're coming or leaving 15 minutes after a coach tells him that he's resigned."
Hamrick also said Friday's press conference would be the last time he'd comment on the coaching search until he announced his new coach, in order to maintain the search's integrity. He wouldn't put a time frame on the search, either.
"I never set time tables," Hamrick said. "The minute there are timelines, the minute you don't meet that, then you didn't meet your deadline for your coach, and that's perceived as being negative."
Tom Herrion led the Marshall men's basketball team to its first NIT appearance in nearly a quarter-century. Over the next two seasons, he led the Thundering Herd to the most losses in that span in program history.
Herrion's tenure as Marshall's coach ended Friday following an 11-22 season that tied the team record for losses -- previously held alone by Ron Jirsa's 2004-05 team. In four seasons, Herrion amassed a 67-67 record, including 28-36 in Conference USA. In his final game, the Herd lost 73-58 to Old Dominion in the second round of the conference tournament.
According to Herrion's contract, if he is fired without cause, he is owed his "annual salary" for each remaining year of the deal, prorated for any partial year. Herrion has two years and three months left on his contract with a current annual salary of $285,755. Herrion will receive that in a lump sum within 30 days.
The 46-year-old's tenure at Marshall was very similar to his four-year stint as head coach at the College of Charleston from 2002-06 -- resounding early success followed by diminishing returns each season. Only at Marshall, the fall was more precipitous. At College of Charleston, Herrion's first team went 25-8 and advanced to the NIT's second round. The Cougars went 20-9, 18-10 and 17-11 in the next three seasons, after which he was fired.
Herrion led Marshall to a 22-12 record and a first-round exit in the College Invitational tournament in his first season. He followed that with a 21-14 record and the Herd's first NIT berth since 1988. Marshall lost to Middle Tennessee in the first round.
Then came seasons of 13-19 and 11-22 records. The 41 combined losses beat Jirsa's total of 39 in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. In the 2012-13 season, the Herd, led by guard DeAndre Kane and forward Dennis Tinnon, had designs on the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1987. But that team, starting with a 28-point loss at Kentucky, went 6-14 in its last 20 games. Included were a 37-point loss at Ohio and a 56-point loss at Southern Mississippi.
From the end of last season to the middle of this past season, Marshall lost its top seven scorers from 2012-13 to graduation, transfer, dismissal or suspension. That included Kane, who was dismissed in May 2013, graduated from Marshall and spent his final season at Iowa State. It also included Elijah Pittman, the Herd's leading returning scorer. He averaged 21.4 points in nine games before being suspended indefinitely and never returning.
Herrion fielded a strong trio of young players. Freshman point guard Kareem Canty took the floor after sitting a season as an academic non-qualifier, as did freshman forward Ryan Taylor. Both Canty and Taylor were named this season to the C-USA all-freshman team, with Canty named the all-conference third team. Sophomore guard Chris Thomas transferred in from Chipola Junior College in Florida and scored in double figures in 11 of his last 13 games.
Yet the Herd's overall inexperience -- all on the active roster but senior Yous Mbao were first- or second-year players -- was its downfall.
Marshall started the season 4-2, with a pair of overtime losses to Morehead State and Stephen F. Austin. It could win just seven games the rest of the way. After coming back to beat Western Kentucky, 74-64, on Nov. 26, the Herd beat just one Division I opponent, Presbyterian on Jan. 5, until winning at Rice on Jan. 23. The only other win in that span game against NAIA Alice Lloyd. Marshall hired Herrion from the University of Pittsburgh, where he served as an assistant to Jamie Dixon for three seasons.