The Final Four this year gives us three brand names and something off the clearance rack at Kohl’s.
Nothing against Wichita State, or even Wichita, Kansas, even if, as forward Carl Hall said, “I had to Google it to see how big the city was. I’m thinking: a small country town with people walking around in cowboy boots.”
Wichita State is everybody’s fourth seed in the Georgia Dome. Fourth in odds. Fourth in Q rating. If the Shockers manage even one win in this Final Four — they face Louisville in a semifinal Saturday — it would be, yes, all together now, a shocker.
But they made it here, and that tells you something about this program’s evolution. It also tells you something about their coach, Gregg Marshall. He is completing his sixth season at this mid-major school, and he has deflected job offers from bigger programs to leave, a growing trend in college basketball.
“Where is it written that you have to (take other offers)?” he said Friday. “I’m not saying I won’t (leave). But it’s like folks question you and your personality or whatever just because you choose to stay. I’ve had job offers — firm, solid job offers — in the biggest conferences in the country for up to $2 million a year. I like where I am.”
He has good company. Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth), Brad Stevens (Butler) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) are among the high-profile coaches at mid-majors who no longer see every winning season as a chance to cash in elsewhere.
They didn’t get the Bobby Petrino memo.
The biggest factor in this trend is, obviously, money. Some mid-majors can now find ways to fund seven-digit salaries for a head basketball coach, as long as the program generates revenue from conference titles and NCAA tournament runs. Consequently, the disparity between salaries at small and big schools has shrunk.
Still, there’s an ego check that goes with saying no. Smart and Stevens both turned down UCLA. They weren’t alone in being pursued. Marshall confirmed UCLA twice reached out to him when Wichita State played in the West Regional in Los Angeles. He was open to listening to what school officials had to say, as he is with almost any opening, but he wanted to wait until after the tournament.
Steve Kerr, the former Arizona and NBA guard and currently an analyst for CBS and Turner, called the trend of coaches avoiding making the jump “refreshing.”
Referencing Ben Howland’s firing at UCLA, he added, “He went to three Final Fours and won the Pac-12 this year, and he was fired. I don’t know what you do with that. Some guys have to leave. (Florida Gulf Coast’s) Andy Enfield was making $150,000, and USC gave him a million and a half. That’s different. But if you’re Shaka Smart, and VCU comes up with a really good salary and your wife loves it there, just stay.
“There’s a lot of baggage that comes with those other jobs. Mark Few is a perfect example. Why would he ever leave Spokane? He’s got a machine up there. He’s happy. Why go to UCLA and deal with the headache of the expectations and the pressure? A lot of guys just realize what they have is pretty good and they stay where they are.”
Count Marshall among them. He makes over a million dollars. He lives on a golf course. On Friday, he found himself shaking hands with basketball legends Oscar Robertson and Bill Walton, among others. He signed autographs for fans and was surrounded by media.
“I’m like a rock star,” he said, smiling.
He joked the other day, “I’m already making seven figures. You can eat a lot of steak and hamburger and pizza for what we’re making at Wichita State.”
Marshall has coached and inspired his team to 30 wins this season, including four consecutive in the tournament (as a No. 9 seed) over Pittsburgh, Gonzaga (1), La Salle and Ohio State (2). He promised Wichita State fans at practice Friday, “We’re going to play angry,” referencing the theme of a pep talk given by famous alums Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel.
He has asked his players following every win this season, “Are you satisfied?”
“He’s just trying to let us know we can’t celebrate that one game,” Hall said. “We’re moving on to the next one.”
The next game. Not the next job.