HUNTINGTON — To hear the story, Marshall offered Jeff Neubauer the head basketball coaching job and Neubauer accepted, only to have the job taken away from him while on the road to Huntington.
Even further, Neubauer was re-offered the position and “declined in no uncertain terms.”
That allegation of questionable treatment appeared in the Friday edition of The Herald-Dispatch in a piece by Chuck Landon. The longtime Charleston and Huntington columnist gave an account of the Thundering Herd coaching search, almost entirely stating the process as fact.
In Huntington and in Richmond, Ky., home of Neubauer and Eastern Kentucky University, that story was disputed in, to repeat the phrase, no uncertain terms.
“Everything in [the] article about me is pure fiction,” Neubauer told Michael Grant of the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.
This is how the article described MU’s interaction with Neubauer in the days leading to the announcement Thursday of Dan D’Antoni’s hiring:
“On Wednesday, Marshall officials offered the job to Neubauer and he accepted. But as the Eastern Kentucky coach reportedly was driving to Huntington, a highly respected Marshall booster met with Marshall president Steve Kopp and urged him to hire Danny D'Antoni rather than Neubauer.
“As a result, Marshall officials telephoned Neubauer and told him they had changed their minds. So, he turned his car around and headed back to Richmond, Ky.”
The article said the Herd offered Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood, and began negotiations, but Underwood was using the offer as leverage to get the job at Southern Mississippi (that vacancy remained unfilled as of Friday evening).
The article then said, “So, Marshall called Neubauer back and offered him the job again. He declined in no uncertain terms.”
Kopp’s office issued a to-the-point denial Friday morning.
“We didn’t offer the job to Neubauer,” said Matt Turner, Kopp’s chief of staff. “I don’t know where Chuck got that, but it’s not true. The president doesn’t get involved in coaching offers anyway. He lets Mike do his job.”
Turner was referring to Mike Hamrick, the fifth-year athletic director who introduced D’Antoni to an appreciative audience Friday. Hamrick was taken aback, to put it mildly.
“Totally 100 percent inaccurate,” he said of the columnist’s account. “Nothing that was printed today was true. The job was offered to two people, like I said today. There was no job offer to anyone else. The job was offered to Mike and Danny D’Antoni.
“What I read today, I was stunned. I was stunned. And I got calls from people on the other end of that [from EKU officials] that were stunned. That’s all I’ve got to say. Totally inaccurate, totally false.
“[MU athletics chief of staff] Jeff O’Malley, who’s an attorney, who deals with all that, was dumbfounded this morning about that. Dr. Kopp was dumbfounded.”
Hamrick said he had offered Mike D’Antoni the job until it was clear the Los Angeles Lakers coach would remain under contract. Hamrick gave other interviews, but the elder D’Antoni became the next target.
Hamrick said he interviewed both brothers in person.
“We never did a phone interview with [Dan],” Hamrick said. “I’ll tell you when and where and show you my plane ticket when I went to LA. But you also have to remember that Mike D’Antoni is co-chair of our vision campaign, and I visit with Mike frequently. He’s one of our biggest donors.
“You know who the happiest person is right now? It’s not Danny D’Antoni; it’s Mike D’Antoni.”
Hamrick reiterated the sensitive nature of the job search, especially with head coaches still under contract. He said the day of Tom Herrion’s resignation that he would not divulge details.
Hamrick didn’t give names of candidates Friday, but said he interviewed seven coaches at the Final Four in his hotel room, “several” of them sitting head coaches.
“Everybody talks about how long it took, but when Tom Herrion was hired [in 2010], you can correct me if I’m wrong, Donnie Jones left a week to 10 days to two weeks after the last game, whereas Tom resigned the following day [the second, actually] after the last game.
“If you’re going to get any kind of coach, you’ve got to wait until their season’s over. And some of these guys played in the NCAA tournament.”
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.