- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Some coaches’ names always seem to come up for other jobs. But what would it take for them to actually leave? This week, we’ll look at the names most often mentioned. Today, we look at Wichita State's Gregg Marshall.
There was a time, and it wasn't too long ago, when the head coach at a program like Wichita State could be counted on to jump to a new job at the first possible opportunity. That's just how things worked. There were rules to the coaching climb, steps to be followed, with each successful tenure or late-season tournament run leading to a slightly bigger job, with a slightly bigger budget, until that long-sought high-major offer finally came. When it did, you took it.
The comparison need not be indirect. In 2007, after seven increasingly successful seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon leapt at a chance to join a high-major conference. In his case, it was the Big 12, and all it took to pry him away from Wichita was wait for it Texas A&M. No one raised an eyebrow.
Seven years later, the only interesting thing about imagining Turgeon's successor receiving an offer from Texas A&M would be the wry, get-outta-here expression it would surely prompt.
Last year, Marshall took the Shockers to the Final Four, where they nearly upset eventual champion Louisville. For an encore, his team spent all of 2013-14 without losing a single game in the regular season or the MVC tournament; it took eventual NCAA runner-up Kentucky (in a for-the-ages showdown in the round of 32) to finally put one loss in Wichita State's column. Marshall has gradually built the Shockers into a more interesting, better-financed and more consistent program than all but 15 or 20 of the nation's college basketball programs. That the idea of him leaving for Texas A&M seems so silly (no offense, Aggies, but it is silly) is a testament to how much things have changed -- both in Wichita and the sport writ large.
On Monday, in her excellent introduction to this series, Marshall told Dana O'Neil his philosophy on staying at Wichita State. It's one John Calipari echoed years before the two staged March's remarkable matchup, when the former was still at Winthrop and the latter at Memphis:
"Cal said, 'Effectively, what you've done is made Winthrop your next job,'" Marshall said. "That's so true. He did the same thing at UMass and at Memphis. Instead of making that intermediate step -- there were 15 to 20 jobs I could have taken while I was at Winthrop -- at the end of each year, I'd sit down and say, 'This is what we need to do to make Winthrop better.' That's what I'm doing now at Wichita State."
That's not just about winning and losing. It's not even really about recruiting. It's about consistently building all facets of a program: attendance, player recognition, booster support, etc. It's about making progress so obvious, and yourself so indispensable, that the combination becomes something that transcends conference affiliation. Salary and perks that used to be available only at the high-major football-school level are available to coaches who can pull it off outside that structure now. Marshall is the latest, most prominent example, and neither he nor the program he built is going anywhere anytime soon.
What would it take?
Which is not to say folks haven't tried. Marshall -- like Shaka Smart (and Brad Stevens, pre-Boston Celtics) -- has been on the receiving end of who-knows-how-many entreaties in the last three years, ranging widely in seriousness and prestige. Most notably, UCLA at least considered the idea last spring. Most recently, Missouri reportedly did all but re-enact the Big State scene from "He Got Game" in its attempts to lure Marshall to Columbia. None of the interest has been reciprocated, because Marshall has a better situation -- salary, bonuses, sellout crowds, recruiting budget, booster backing and almost total institutional deference -- already.
Does that mean Marshall will retire at Wichita State? Maybe not. It took longer than it might have for others, but he did eventually leave Winthrop. Marshall is, after all, a Division I basketball coach, which means he's an incredibly competitive human being in constant search for more substantial challenges. It would take far more than Texas A&M to lure him away. It would take a program with both a long-established foundation for success and a willingness to give Marshall sole ownership of the operative keys. Oh, and a ton of cash. That too.
In their interview this week, Dana went ahead and asked Marshall the very question this series poses. What would it take for him to leave?
"I don’t know," Marshall told ESPN.com this week. "But I’m very happy here. It would take something really big."
Possibilities: Something really big.