The program motto is “Play Angry.” Today, that takes on a different, darker tone.
When Wichita State was rocketing upward from solid mid-major to a force in college basketball, making the 2013 Final Four and going undefeated in the regular season in ’14, “Play Angry” was an accurate—and seemingly harmless—description of the program ethos. The Shockers were incredibly tough, physical and unrelenting in their approach. They didn’t just do the dirty work of basketball, they reveled in it.
But one part of the equation never added up. A coach who wins the way Gregg Marshall won at a place like Wichita always moves on to a bigger and better job. Yet the guy who took Wichita State to the pinnacle event in the sport seven years ago remains in the same job. (For now.)
Today, we can see one of the biggest reasons why Marshall hasn’t ascended to the top echelon of his profession.
We can see it in the reporting by The Athletic and Stadium, which detailed allegations of abusive Marshall behavior being investigated by the school. Accusations of punching a player, choking an assistant, a bizarre parking-lot rage scene against a student, racial and ethnic slurs aimed at players. Transfers by the boatload.
We can see it in a video clip from a few years ago that went into wider circulation Thursday night, of Marshall going berserk during a summer exhibition game in Canada. The coach resisted attempts from multiple players and staffers to calm him down and restrain him from going after the officials after being ejected. Bob Knight himself might characterize it as unacceptable behavior.
This isn’t just a man who coached a team to "Play Angry." It’s not just a man who Coached Angry. If the allegations being scrutinized by an outside law firm are accurate, this is a man who Coached Unhinged.
And that style of coaching is going, going … all but gone.
On Friday, Marshall issued a statement through his agent, which reads in part:
"My coaching style isn’t for everyone. Many players thrive in the system we have created and are energized by our team culture. For those players, I am a motivator, a pusher, someone who can tap into their greatest potential. For others, I can be demanding, harsh or strict. I don’t argue with those descriptions.
"What I am not is demeaning or abusive. I have deep respect for all my players. I believe unequivocally in their value as athletes, as students, and as people. Any portrayal of me to the contrary is wrong."
There is a reason why it took Marshall nine years to get a better job than Winthrop, a small South Carolina school in the Big South Conference. Marshall coached there from 1998-2007, never had a losing record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament seven times. If everything checked out for athletic directors looking to hire a winner, he would have moved two rungs up the coaching ladder in the time it took him to get one job at a mid-major program.
That was Wichita. From 2007-08 through last season, Marshall averaged more than 25 wins per season. That’s an incredible number, and helped elevate the Shockers from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American Athletic—quite an accomplishment for a school that doesn’t play football. That success also earned Marshall a lot of money and clout at Wichita State. His base salary is $3.5 million, and the school has kicked in plenty of additional amenities.
But, again, 13 years at Wichita? His name came up for innumerable jobs during that span. There were a few interviews. But nothing ever happened. It was an open but vague secret in the sport that Power 5 athletic directors who looked under the Marshall hood didn’t like everything they saw.
Overall, this is the résumé of a man who should have been working at a blueblood program five years ago. It never happened, and now he could wind up losing out on the job he does have.
The reaction to these revelations is notable in this regard—there isn’t much reaction. At least not in terms of people who are surprised, or people rushing to defend Marshall.
The published allegations are shocking, and certainly so is the video from Canada. But within college basketball circles, there also are a lot of texts and phone calls going around within the last 24 hours reflecting full belief Marshall was capable of such things. He's been called imperious, arrogant—and, yeah, angry.
Even when things were going well, his sideline demeanor basically straddled the line between in charge and out of control. It left many observers wondering what he was like when the world wasn’t watching. Now we have some insight, and it’s not pretty.
For those who witnessed or endured Marshall’s act during Wichita’s days in the Missouri Valley, this all checks out. He was a pain in the neck for the conference, and the Shockers’ visits to the league’s Arch Madness conference tournament always were tinged with tension.
After Wichita lost to Northern Iowa in the tournament final in 2010, Marshall’s wife, Lynn, an unrestrained harpy during games, stayed in the lower arena to bellow abuse at league officials as they handed out tourney trophies. When the worst heckler in the fan base is also the coach’s wife, that’s not a good look. (And, yes, I have some personal experience in that area after listening to her berate officials and insult Kentucky guard Malik Monk for being skinny during a 2017 NCAA Tournament game.)
The lack of public defense of Marshall has also been striking. If there are former players or assistants supporting the embattled coach on social media, it has largely escaped notice. The two linchpin players from Marshall’s golden era at Wichita, NBA standout Fred Van Vleet and running mate Ron Baker, haven’t said a peep on Twitter or Instagram as of Friday afternoon.
The bigger question is how much support Marshall has within the university. Fact is, his abrasive style has been tolerated (and likely enabled) for a long time in Wichita because of the results. Now that these allegations are out in public, will the school continue to cater to its winningest all-time basketball coach?
Anger surely isn’t the prevailing mood in the Wichita State basketball program today. Contrition should be. If not outright fear.