Hollywood went to Huntington, West
Virginia, to tell the story of a football program wiped out by a plane
crash in 1970. "We Are Marshall," the 2006 release starring Matthew
McConaughey, got generally good reviews from new Marshall athletic
director Mike Hamrick.
One thing Hamrick questioned was the
portrayal of Thundering Herd coach Jack Lengyel, played by McConaughey.
Hamrick was recruited by Lengyel and said the coach was more serious and
organized than his movie character.
But Hamrick liked the movie's focus
which dealt with the rebuilding of the program and the university
community's recovery. Hamrick was a young teenager in West Virginia at
an arcade/snack bar when he and a friend heard the news of the crash.
There's another rebuilding task at hand
in Huntington that Hamrick will supervise in the months and years to
come but for the moment the former ECU AD isn't looking past an
intriguing matchup this weekend.
Hamrick has changed sides again in the
football series between Marshall and East Carolina, which continues on
Saturday with a clash of 1-0 Conference USA teams.
Hamrick played for the Thundering Herd
in the 1970's, boarding an airplane for a game in 1978 that marked the
first time a Marshall team had played at ECU since the program was
decimated by that plane crash on a return trip from Greenville in 1970.
Hamrick was athletic director at ECU
from 1995 to 2003, a period in which there were $46 million in athletic
facility improvements, the Pirates joined Conference USA and in-state
football series with N.C. State and North Carolina were extended.
He was at ECU in 2002 when the Herd
outscored the Pirates 64-61 in double overtime
in the 2001 GMAC Bowl in Mobile.
After six years as AD at Nevada-Las
Vegas, Hamrick agreed to return to his alma mater as athletic director
"I was very, very happy at UNLV and
probably would have never left there for any place but Marshall,"
Hamrick said via phone on Wednesday night. "... It was a great
opportunity to try and come back to my alma mater and make a
Hamrick faces some challenges that are
similar to what he encountered when he arrived at ECU from
Arkansas-Little Rock in April of 1995.
"We've got some facility needs to
address, which we will," he said. "We need to really increase our
fund-raising, which we did at East Carolina. We need to increase our
season ticket base here in football. It's kind of the same thing as when
we got to East Carolina.
"Last year, Marshall didn't win a
championship in Conference USA. That's something we've got to change."
In his six years at UNLV, he noted that
the Rebels won 22 Mountain West Conference championships.
"Nobody was really better than us in
the league, other than BYU," Hamrick said. "There's a lot to do but East
Carolina and Marshall are really very similar because of the passion and
the loyalty of their fans. That was one of the reasons we decided to
come because of the people."
Hamrick anticipates seeing some old
friends from both schools when the Herd celebrates homecoming this
weekend. Hamrick's wife, Soletta, grew up in Huntington and is in town
this weekend. She has remained in Las Vegas as the family looks to sell
their home in the gambling capital.
Hamrick has been living in an apartment
within a girls dorm at Marshall. The couple was doing some house hunting
this week. Their three children are all in college now. One son is at
Arizona, another is at UNLV and the Hamricks' daughter is at
"It will be kind of a special day for
us," Hamrick said. "I have so many fond memories of East Carolina. So
many people have called and they're coming up. ... It's a unique,
special kind of weekend for us."
The Herd, which has not had a winning
record under Mark Snyder, has started 3-1 in his fifth season with wins
over Southern Illinois and Bowling Green in non-conference play. There
was a decisive loss to Virginia Tech but Marshall opened C-USA with a
27-16 victory at Memphis last week.
"I think we have a little bit better
football team than what we were expected to have," said the former Herd
linebacker, who played under recent ECU hall of fame inductee Sonny
Randle as a senior at Marshall. "We've got a tremendous running back."
That would be Darius Marshall, who is
averaging 166 yards rushing per game.
"I haven't seen that many good running
backs but this guy is the real deal," Hamrick said.
The new Marshall AD also has been
impressed with the defensive unit. The Herd's coordinator on that side
of the ball is Rick Minter, who matched up with ECU a few times as head
coach at Cincinnati.
A lot is on the line for the Herd.
"This is a big game for Marshall
because I think it could define the kind of season that Mark Snyder
could have this year," Hamrick said.
This has been labeled a critical season
for Snyder in terms of his future at Marshall.
"I don't speculate," Hamrick said. "But
there has been a lot of speculation about that and I believe he (Snyder)
Snyder probably is aware that Hamrick
hasn't hesitated to make coaching changes in his career when he felt a
program was underachieving. He shook the foundations at ECU by
dismissing the likes of Steve Logan
in football, Joe Dooley in basketball and Gary Overton in baseball.
Hamrick said he hasn't seen or spoken
with Logan, now running backs coach for the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs, since
ending Logan's tenure at ECU following a 4-8 season in 2002. Hamrick was
part of the selection process
that produced John Thompson as
Logan's replacement. After Hamrick departed for UNLV, the ECU football
program slumped to a 3-20 mark in two seasons under Thompson's guidance.
on the recommendation of the late Henry VanSant,
a former ECU administrator, coach and athlete hired Keith LeClair, who
certainly left his mark on the Pirates baseball program. Comparing the
Dooley era with that of successor Bill Herrion is complicated by the
transition from the Colonial Athletic Association to C-USA.
Hamrick said he enjoyed the
entertainment in Vegas but never wagered.
"Those big hotels weren't built by
people who won money betting," he said.
Hamrick did pick a winner in bringing
Lon Kruger aboard as basketball coach at UNLV. Kruger guided the Rebels
to their first NCAA Tournament wins in 15 years in 2007.
"Seeing that basketball program revive
was probably the most fun for me at UNLV," Hamrick said.
Marshall is betting on a favorite son
for improved performance in its athletic programs and Hamrick, who took
a slight pay cut to come back to this side of the country, will no doubt
take an active role in that regard.
"Do what you think is right and have a
thick skin," he said of his management style. "At the end of the day,
it's all about what you've done for the kids."