'Final Four Coach' Gregg Marshall livin' large in Wichita
JUN 18, 2013 3:24p ET
"People would walk by the table when I was out to dinner and do a double-take and start searching on their phones and make sure," the Wichita State men's basketball coach chuckles. "My children noticed that a couple times. A couple of people wanted pictures and autographs. That's kind of standard."
This was last month. In South Carolina.
"It's different in that way; (you're) a little bit more recognizable, perhaps, to basketball fans in particular," Marshall says. "Ninety-five percent of it is good. Sometimes, the 5 percent, you would rather have a little more privacy, but it's not to the point where a lot of people have to deal with it, I'm sure.
"You have to just take the good with the bad. I don't mind it that much. We're kind of enjoying it, to be honest."
So, yeah, basically, when you're a "Final Four coach," it's safe to say the landscape changes a bit. Every headhunter knows your name. Every basketball fan knows your face. You've been across more living rooms and sports bars than you can possibly imagine. Strangers feel that they know you. Suddenly, everybody wants a piece.
"There's certainly people that just want to touch you and reach out and show their appreciation," Marshall says. "And I've done more speaking engagements and signing autographs probably the last 'X' amount of weeks since the Final Four than I've probably done in my whole life. I don't know how good a speaker I am, but people are paying me like I am."
Walk the walk, you earn the right to talk the talk. Last summer, the coach was provincial royalty, at best, having notched the Missouri Valley's regular-season title in his fifth year at the helm. With a slew of new faces replacing five key seniors, few expected much of an encore.
What we got instead was the stuff of legend: A 30-win team that peaked in mid-March, knocking off Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State in the Big Dance to notch the program's first Final Four berth since 1965. The Shockers officially joined Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason in the Cinderella Club, mid-majors over the last decade to roll all the way to Bracketville's final, glorious weekend.
"Now there's been a lot of benefit to it, I think," Marshall says. "It'll be something that we'll enjoy for the rest of our life. It's kind of like The Scarlet Letter, and that lady who had to wear that scarlet letter 'A.' It's kind of like our positive 'A.' A tattoo, our brand. You're a Final Four coach. Short of having violations, that some coaches have had where they've had to vacate a championship or a Final Four, you're always going to have that attached to your name. That's pretty cool."
More cool: Last week, a Shockers camp that drew 140 and change a year ago brought in 290 participants this time around. Marshall's annual spring golf tourney/auction collected more than $335,000, an increase of nearly 80 percent over the 2012 event.
A new contract, as you might expect, is reportedly on the drawing board. So is a new overhead scoreboard at Koch Arena, a new "ribbon" board, new locker rooms, new video rooms, new interview rooms, the works. The Shockers have signed on for a home-and-home series with Alabama and will play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center at the end of the year along with Texas, BYU and DePaul.
Wichita's iron has never been hotter. More doors have opened -- and more kids are listening -- than ever before. But Marshall doesn't want to change the type of recruit he targets, the backbone of his program, just because they've moved to the penthouse.
"I think that you can lose sight of the type of players that are successful in your program," he says. "(Those) that are tough, hard-nosed, team-oriented ... so we can go after some higher-rated players, like the ones we talked about, who still have those attributes. We're not going to take a guy who's a prima donna and wants to shoot it every time he touches it. That's probably not going to work.
"In that regard, did Butler get better players after they started doing this? Did VCU? I think they did; that's how they've been able to sustain it ... we've been good now for four or five years. And we were pretty good at Winthrop for a sustained amount of time. I just kind of hope that this isn't a flash in the pan. Is the Final Four as good as we could do? I don't know. We could've won the whole thing this year. Butler could've won the whole thing -- Butler was a shot away from winning the whole thing. So it can definitely happen."
But with a raised profile comes raised expectations. Those aforementioned Bulldogs reached two straight national championship games in '10 and '11, only to miss the Dance entirely in '12. In the seven seasons since George Mason stunned the world by reaching the Final Four, the Patriots have been back in the NCAA tourney just twice.
In the mid-major universe, volatility is the new norm. Consistency? Consistency is a fickle, fickle beast.
"Last year, we had nine new faces," Marshall says. "This year, I've got nine guys that practiced every day for, if not participated in, a Final Four. So that's almost a flip (from last year). So these guys have achieved something, and I can't beat them over the head with '(Do) we have Final Four ability?' Well, we know we've got Final Four ability now, that's proven. It's just a matter of paying the price for success. Which we'll do.
"And we'll unfurl that banner on that first game and at that point, I'm going to say to the team, 'OK now, last year is officially over.'
"We're not even talking about last year. We're just grinding, man."
With that, Marshall laughs. It's good to be king. Even for a day.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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