It was such a simple movement, plunging the point of a shovel into a pile of dirt. For Marshall University athletic director Mike Hamrick, that simple movement was one of the most satisfying of his career.
The chunk of earth Hamrick scooped up inside the Chris Cline Indoor Facility this past October signified the ceremonial start to a project Thundering Herd fans had waited decades for — a baseball stadium the Herd can call its own.
More than a decade into Hamrick’s tenure as Marshall’s AD, the projects aren’t stopping. Some of those projects in 2019 have led to some pretty significant milestones for the Thundering Herd athletic program, with Hamrick at the helm. For that, Hamrick has been named the Gazette-Mail Sportsperson of the Year.
That honor is bestowed annually to a West Virginian who has made significant contributions to the sporting world. Previous winners include Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss, former NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni and national champion college football coaches Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher.
Since 2009, Hamrick has worked at something else he considers an honor.
The Herbert Hoover graduate oversees the athletic department at the university for which he played football.
“It’s very special,” Hamrick said. “There’s a lot of pressure on you, no question. But nobody in the last 10-and-a-half years has put more pressure on me than myself.”
The pressure has paid off. The soon-to-be constructed baseball stadium, something promised to Marshall baseball coaches for more than 50 years, its part of the second major capital campaign both in Hamrick’s tenure and in Marshall athletics history.
The Herd Rises Campaign follows the Vision Campaign, which led to the construction of the Cline Indoor Complex, which houses an indoor practice football facility, indoor track, Hall of Fame building, academic center and the Marshall Sports Medicine Insitute.
It also led to the construction of the Hoops Family Field at the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, which was home this year to some more major milestones. The Herd men’s soccer team, under third-year coach Chris Grassie, finished No. 11 in the country this season (the team had not been nationally ranked in 18 years) and reached the NCAA tournament Round of 16.
The complex also hosted a second-round match between Marshall and West Virginia that drew 2,126 fans, the second-highest attendance for any match in the tournament’s first four rounds. Add to that the men’s basketball team winning the CollegeInsider.com Tournament — the team’s first tournament championship banner of that kind since 1947 — and many other of Marshall’s teams finishing above preseason expectations.
Marshall’s baseball, women’s basketball, softball and volleyball teams each finished at least four places higher than they were predicted to finish in their respective preseason rankings. The softball team under first-year coach Megan Smith tied the program record with 42 wins. Meanwhile, the football team played in its seventh bowl game in the last nine seasons on Monday.
Hamrick said that always has been his mission as Marshall’s AD, to make sure every student-athlete can reach his or her potential, no matter the sport.
“That soccer player, that tennis player, that softball player, they are a Marshall student-athlete,” he said. “And they’re just as important to me as the football player or the basketball player and it’s just as important that they have every opportunity to, one, get a quality education and, two, be the best student-athlete they can be.”
When Chris Grassie interviewed for the Marshall men’s soccer job, there were some things he felt the program needed, resources that needed secured, if he were to leave the program he was building at the Univeristy of Charleston. He found willing partners in Hamrick and Marshall.
“The program needed a boost in financial support,” Grassie said. “Honestly, everything we seemed to have needed, he’s given us. We are set up for success and it’s kind of like, ‘What do you need? OK, here you are.’”
As proud as he is of what is happening at Marshall on the fields of play. He’s just as proud as what happens off of it. The program has a Graduation Success Rate of 87 percent, and Marshall has either maintained or improved upon that number for the last six years. The progam’s Academic Progress Rate is strong enough to earn a $300,000 stipend from Conference USA.
And all this is being done without the truckloads of money that programs in major conferences can procure. According to USA Today’s national database, Marshall’s $30.6 million in revenue in 2017-18 ranked ninth out of the 13 C-USA schools in the database.
It’s also being done above board. There have been zero major NCAA violations during Hamrick’s tenure. That’s something that was taught to him by his father, former Herbert Hoover High administrator and WVSSAC Executive Secretary Jim Hamrick.
“He always said, ‘Son, you do the right thing and if you take short cuts, the trip doesn’t mean as much to you,’” Hamrick said.
Influential members of the Herd program both past and present appreciate that. One of Hamrick’s favorite moments came from the baseball stadium groundbreaking and from the lips of former Herd baseball coach Jack Cook.
“We have an athletic director here, Mike Hamrick, who said he was going to get it done and he’s doing just that,” Cook said. “He’s one of the finest athletic directors I’ve ever been under, and I’ve been under quite a few of them.”
Even with the successes seen a decade in, Hamrick doesn’t want to rest on his laurels. He wants to see the construction of the baseball stadium through. He wants to keep scheduling home-and-home football series with the likes of Virginia Tech, Pitt and Boise State. Stagnation benefits no one, and all he wants for his alma mater is positive growth.
“I knew [being Marshall’s AD] would be great,” he said. “I knew it would be fun. I knew we had a lot of things to do and get done. It’s hard, very hard. But it’s a labor of love for me.”