The scoop before MU's first shovel of dirt
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are two moments that stand out en route to today's groundbreaking of Marshall University's athletic indoor facility.
One signifies the struggles to get to the 2 p.m. Huntington dirt dig. It happened on Sept. 10, 2005, before the Thundering Herd faced Kansas State at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Then-Gov. Joe Manchin held up an artist's rendering of the building, which was to be named after former coach Bob Pruett.
That was eight long years ago. Before that, ex-athletic director Bob Marcum unveiled goals to build it back in 2002.
Then came a more significant moment. It happened at a meeting in Cincinnati. Current athletic director Mike Hamrick, then the AD at UNLV, had flown in to meet with MU president Stephen Kopp and two others within the school hierarchy for a job interview.
"I told Dr. Kopp not to offer me the job unless he was ready for a major [athletic] overhaul," Hamrick said. "I told him if he wasn't ready not to hire me because I would be the wrong man for the job. I wouldn't be happy. Marshall had fallen behind in facilities.
"I told him if he hired me we were going to roll up our sleeves and build the facilities. I left the meeting and called my wife. I said, 'We're going to be staying in Las Vegas.' Then I'll be darned if Dr. Kopp didn't call the next day. He said, 'Mike, come in, put together a plan, a vision, and we'll do it.' "
Today, Hamrick's vision starts taking shape.
"It's gratifying," Hamrick said. "Being an alum of this university, coming back and being able to do this is gratifying.
"This is a reality. At the end of the football season, fans will be able to see the roof. They'll see progress throughout the season."
It's certainly a milestone for Marshall athletics.
"When I got here, I realized all we needed," Hamrick said. "We've been facility-poor. You look at the schools joining Conference USA: Florida International, Charlotte, even Old Dominion. They all have better facilities.
"We had a little academic room in Gullickson Hall, which was [completed in 1961]. I counted one day and we had 17 computers. We have 370 student-athletes."
The new indoor practice facility will include an academic support center.
"It will be 14,000 square feet with over 170 computers," Hamrick said. "We'll have an auditorium that will seat 80 to 85."
That auditorium will be named in honor of the D'Antoni family. Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni and ex-NFL quarterback Chad Pennington have been instrumental in raising funds.
"Both worked tirelessly to get this built, to raise money," Hamrick said.
The new facility will have a sports Hall of Fame.
"If you walk in the hallway of the Henderson Center, you'll see black and white photos of some of our former greats," Hamrick said. "That's the only tribute. Now we can pay tribute in a nice way."
Hamrick also observed the two "small inadequate" training rooms. Those will be replaced by a sports medicine translational research center.
"It'll be 20,000 square feet," Hamrick said. "It will have hydrotherapy ... a pool bigger than the one I swam in in Clendenin growing up."
The facility will have a 300-meter track, giving the track teams a chance to host events.
"Right now," Hamrick said, "they run in the Henderson Center."
Of course, there will also be 120 yards for the football field, including the end zones. On top of it all is the new MU soccer facility, which will seat 1,000, and be ready this August.
"People said we couldn't do this," Hamrick said. "Obviously, though, more believed in it than didn't."
The total tab will be $33 million, according to the AD. It's being paid for with $10 million in bond revenue and $20 million in donations, including ticket surcharges.
"This is a historic occasion," Hamrick said. "We've never done this before. The stadium was paid for by the state of West Virginia."
There were many pratfalls along the way. Three months after Manchin raised the artist's rendering, Kopp tabled the proposed construction and ripped the former governor.
"To have somebody try and jump to the forefront through the process and make a public statement doesn't sit well with me," Kopp said at the time.
The current initiative was approved two years ago by the school's Board of Governors.
"If this was done in the late '90s or early 2000s, it's hard to tell what conference we'd be in right now," Hamrick said.
Finally, finally, finally, though, the Thundering Herd athletic department is playing catch-up to other major universities.
"[Today] a dream becomes a reality," Hamrick said. "At 2 p.m., by God, we're going to start turning dirt."
Turning dirt and, perhaps, turning around the school's athletic fortunes.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.