Marshall University’s men’s soccer team won a national championship, based on the execution of its tactical game plan, which was set in motion by head coach Chris Grassie.
As Marshall looks to its overall athletics future, it is time for the university’s Board of Governors to execute some tactics of its own.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick has a contract that is set to expire in just a few weeks.
The move should be made to give Hamrick an extension, and the Thundering Herd’s run to its first top-level national championship shows why.
Long before Grassie ever took the pitch as Marshall’s head coach, it was Hamrick who was at the forefront of the university’s Vision Campaign in 2011, which set in motion Marshall’s plan to get a state-of-the-art soccer facility.
That facility has been Grassie’s biggest recruiting tool, helping to land international talent that brought the Herd the title.
In 2017, Hamrick was also responsible for the hiring of Grassie after a meeting at Tidewater Grille in Charleston in which Grassie said that, with the facilities in order, the infrastructure was there to take Marshall to a national championship.
Hamrick hired him days later, believing in Grassie’s vision to take the program to prominence.
Four years later, that vision became reality — a remarkable turnaround for a program that was nearly ousted from the university profile less than two decades prior.
In looking to the future, there are some important details to consider in regard to a decision on Hamrick.
Coming off the national championship, Grassie is going to get plenty of looks from high-major schools looking to bring championship culture to their own university because of the job he has done at Marshall.
Grassie’s love for Huntington and his loyalty to Marshall and its growing fan base could also keep him with the Herd to continue the ascent into a consistent national power.
What could be an impediment to Grassie staying in Huntington? The prospects of having a new boss within the next two months as his team looks to defend its NCAA title.
I can’t imagine it would go over well if, fresh off one of the university’s top athletics feats in history, the powers-that-be decide to not renew the contract of the man who had a large hand in making it happen — Hamrick.
One other aspect that should factor into the equation is the future for other sports at Marshall.
Hamrick has been pushing for a new baseball stadium and gotten further than any athletic director has in school history, leading Marshall to a groundbreaking for its new location.
While COVID-19 disrupted the process, Hamrick is insistent that the project comes to fruition, working each day to secure funding to move Marshall into the next phase.
Facilities have always been at the forefront of Hamrick’s vision toward success, and the recent soccer championship run only stoked that fire within him more.
One potential donor who wished to remain anonymous said there is funding in the works to help advance the baseball stadium project, but it is contingent on Hamrick remaining as athletic director.
The underlying feel is that if Hamrick is not in place as athletic director, the baseball facility will never happen.
And that would be a shame, considering that Hamrick thinks baseball’s path could follow suit of the men’s soccer program.
There are other similarities to consider.
Much like men’s soccer, baseball is one of Conference USA’s most respected sports on the national scene, with the conference consistently boasting of Top-25 teams, which makes it attractive for recruits.
A new stadium in Huntington would not only boost the city and university’s profile, but it would also give the Herd coaches a chance to recruit talent to an area that has a strong baseball background within its history, which would garner support.
In looking at Marshall’s framework and ability to raise funds for such ventures, there is arguably no better time to do so with the excitement level surrounding its sports.
There is a new football coach, Charles Huff; a successful men’s basketball program under personable Herd icon Dan D’Antoni; and a national-champion men’s soccer program under Grassie.
The only thing that could derail that momentum is a shake-up at the top, which would mean allowing Hamrick’s contract to expire.
If Marshall University simply lets Hamrick’s contract expire, the momentum of the recent success likely expires with it.
And that would be a shame for the university and the city of Huntington.