Coaching in Nick Saban’s Shadow Is A Great Gig for Gregg Marshall


As Alabama prepares to back up the Brinks truck to Gregg Marshall’s doorstep, per’s Gary Parrish, the Sweet 16-bound Wichita State head coach has to ask himself if living in the long shadow of Nick Saban is worth $3 million a year.

Money is rarely the sole motivator in a coach’s decision to take a new job. It’s certainly an attractive facet, and the big-time offer sheet Parrish is reporting should give Marshall pause. And, as Nick Saban’s $7 million a year deal proves, Alabama is willing to keep elevating a successful coach’s salary based on performance.

But in addition to money, other important factors include potential to win and job security — which are often one-in-the-same, depending on the program.

At Alabama, Gregg Marshall has the potential afforded any top-level athletic program. He also has the job security that comes with relatively low expectations. Crimson Tide basketball has never exactly set March on fire, never reaching a Final Four and only making six Sweet 16s in the last 30 years — and five of those came from 1986 to 1991.

Low expectations afforded Anthony Grant six seasons at Alabama, despite making just one NCAA Tournament.

Of course, expectations would reset if Marshall brought the same success to Tuscaloosa he had at Winthrop and Wichita State. Success in sports is strangely addictive, and once fans have a taste, they demand more.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the aforementioned salary Nick Saban receives for leading Alabama to three national championships.

Billy Donovan, who would be one of Gregg Marshall’s primary rivals should he depart Wichita State for Alabama, is the quintessential example of just how great coaching basketball at a football-mad university can be.

Donovan is rightfully considered one of the best coaches in college basketball, a distinction earned with two national championships. That puts him in a club of which not even Tom Izzo, Bill Self or John Calipari are members.

Also unlike Izzo, Self or Calipari, however, Donovan’s also had Florida teams flame out spectacularly. One year removed from reaching the Final Four, the 2014-’15 Gators missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time since he led them to their second national title.

Imagine the rancor that would be heaped on North Carolina’s Roy Williams, also a member of the two-championship club, if the Tar Heels missed the tournament three times in seven years. Williams is hit with a steady stream of criticism as is, and he has North Carolina in its third Sweet 16 since missing the Dance in 2010.

One key difference: the North Carolina fan base is basketball-obsessed. At Florida, basketball success is a nice complement to the football juggernaut.

While Donovan coached the basketball Gators to two titles, Urban Meyer did likewise on the gridiron. The pressure on him was so great to produce No. 3, it contributed to a heart condition that forced his exit from Gainesville.

Similarly, one of the primary story lines of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend is the future of Texas head coach Rick Barnes. Texas is a sleeping giant with the deep pockets capable of making a run at Gregg Marshall should it part ways with Barnes.

One thing that may hold UT athletic administrators back is the school just severed ties with its football coach, Mack Brown, a little over a year earlier. Brown’s ouster following the 2013 season was the culmination of a steady run of underachievement for the Longhorns, which failed to compete for the Big 12 championship in the four years after facing Alabama in the 2010 BCS Championship Game.

Texas basketball’s first-round exit from this year’s NCAA Tournament was another low point in a steadily mediocre run; only, the hoops ‘Horns underachieved under Barnes for much of a 16-year tenure.

A basketball school like North Carolina would not stand for the six consecutive opening weekend exits Texas has suffered under Barnes. Heck, UCLA fired Ben Howland four years removed from the third of three straight Final Four appearances. But lingering in football’s shadow affords a basketball coach much more patience.

Maybe that’s not what Gregg Marshall wants from his next job. At Wichita State, he’s top of the heap — and with Sunday’s win over Kansas, is in the running for most prominent coach in the entire state of Kansas.

And, given the competitive fire it takes to be a successful coach at college basketball’s top level, playing a perpetual second fiddle to Nick Saban might not stoke Marshall’s flames.

But, as many of us can attest in a post-recession economy, there’s something to be said for a high-paying job with the cushion of job stability. And there may not be a greater cushion for a basketball than at Alabama.

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