AP Photo/The Herald-Dispatch, Lori Wolfe
Sunday, May 19, 2019 | 2 a.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It was nearly 10 years ago when Mike Hamrick got a phone call that he may not have expected, but one for which he will always be grateful.
The athletic director position at Marshall University opened up in 2009. At the time, Hamrick was in his sixth year in the same job at UNLV, and he was contacted to gauge his interest in coming to West Virginia.
"I worked through the search firm, because these things have to be kind of confidential," Hamrick said. "I met Dr. (Stephen) Kopp, the president back then, and a couple of people at an off-campus location, and it just seemed it was right for everybody.
"I guess it worked out a little bit. I'm still here 10 years later."
Hamrick's hiring was made official that July, and his impact on the athletic department has been expansive ever since.
Over the last decade, several new facilities have bloomed on the Marshall campus, with others still to come. Most of the programs have had success not seen before, and Hamrick continues to put an emphasis on the academic success of Marshall's student-athletes.
People who have not been on the Marshall campus in a while might not recognize it. Much has been done in a relatively short amount of time.
"Ten years? It seems like it was just yesterday," Hamrick said at Grandview Country Club on Monday before playing in the annual Marshall Golf Outing sponsored by the Marshall University Southern Coalfields Alumni Club.
"It's been a good 10 years. It was great to come home. I reconnected with a lot of people that I had great relationships with when I was at Marshall (as a player). The best decision I've ever made was to leave Las Vegas and come home."
Hamrick was a linebacker at Marshall from 1976-79, the last two seasons as a starter. The Clendenin native later had assistant AD stints at Illinois State and Kansas and was AD at Arkansas-Little Rock, and was AD at East Carolina from 1995-2003 before moving on to UNLV.
Once the son of Marshall returned home, he immediately began work to get the university on board with the standards of others.
"I can remember the first week on the job — this doesn't sound like it's very significant — but our women's track team was running in the hallway of the Henderson Center. That was their track," Hamrick recalled. "I went to a soccer match and we played on a grass field that had four rows of aluminum bleachers, two port-a-potties and a Pepsi trailer for concessions, and that was our soccer facility.
"And I'm saying, 'Is this Division I?'"
The men's and women's soccer teams were treated in 2003 to the brand new Hoops Family Field, which stands in the spot once occupied by the old Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse. And perhaps the crown jewel of all the facilities, the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, serves the dual purpose of providing the football team with a long-desired indoor facility and giving the track teams a 300-meter oval track on which to practice and host meets.
There is also a Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame located inside the facility, named for former Thundering Herd quarterback Chad Pennington, a 1999 Heisman Trophy finalist.
In the works now are an on-campus baseball stadium and a basketball practice facility.
All of the growth has been supported through the Vision Campaign, an aggressive plan spearheaded by Hamrick that has included Pennington, Cline — a Beckley native and billionaire coal magnate — and Mullens native Mike D'Antoni. The Marshall Hall of Famer is currently the head coach of the NBA's Houston Rockets.
"Our baseball stadium — I'm just thrilled that we are going to start that soon," Hamrick said. "It's something that they have tried to do at Marshall forever, so it motivates me big-time. Once we get that built, and a couple of other things, that will be over $70 million dollars in facilities we have built over a period of time. It's been a good ride."
The baseball stadium might end up being what Hamrick is remembered for most. Long considered unattainable by most, the stadium is now a realistic goal after the purchase of land at Fifth Avenue and 24th Street.
Marshall currently plays some home games at the YMCA Kennedy Center located off campus and at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. Until this spring, the Thundering Herd had also visited Beckley's Linda K. Epling Stadium each season since it opened in 2010.
The new stadium has a target opening date of March 2021.
"I'm just so excited about this baseball facility," Hamrick said. "Marshall has had really good baseball teams and really great baseball players over the years and they've never had anywhere (on campus) to play. We're excited about that. That's important to me."
Also important to Hamrick is making sure Marshall's student-athletes excel in the classroom. Among the new facilities is the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center, located on the second floor of the Cline complex. There are over 100 computers available for student-athletes, along with tutors and ample work space.
The NCAA revealed its annual Academic Progress Rates (APR) last week and six programs earned perfect scores of 1,000 -- men's and women's golf, softball, women's soccer, swimming and diving and volleyball. Swimming and diving and volleyball received perfect scores for the fourth consecutive year.
"We have 86, 87 percent of our student-athletes graduate," Hamrick said. "They go on to med school, law school, engineers. They are doing great things, and at the end of the day that's what it's all about."
Above all, Hamrick recognizes the importance of events such as Monday's golf outing in furthering Marshall athletics.
"You come down here and you look at all these guys. Everybody here helps our athletic program," Hamrick said. "The people that we see here today in Beckley or wherever we go, those are the people that have made these things happen."