A Hall Of Fame Worthy Performance

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about several Auburn University sports teams.

Attention Alabama Sports Hall of Fame voters: You need to correct a very large oversight in your next class. There is, in Alabama, a coach who has won more NCAA championships than anyone in state history. He's won more national championships--mythical or otherwise--than any coach except Bear Bryant. He's the only coach in state history to win national championships with both men's and women's teams. He's the only coach in NCAA history to do it in the same season.

In case you didn't know, his name is David Marsh. He's the swimming and diving coach at Auburn. Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson, who was inducted this year, certainly is deserving. She built her program from the ground up and has won four national championships. But you'd have a hard time making a case that she is more deserving than Marsh.

Marsh's teams compete against the best the world has to offer in their sport. They win national championships because--in what is essentially and individual sport--they happily give up their individualism to compete as a team. The result? Five NCAA championships--three for the men and two for the women. Auburn won both NCAA championships this season, the first time a combined program has pulled that off.

Coach David Marsh

Marsh, a former Auburn swimmer, preaches hard work, loyalty and dedication to duty. "I'm not anything special," Marsh says. "I wasn't a fabulous student. I wasn't a fabulous swimmer. I have come to understand that God has a special plan for me. I'm sure somehow or other God routed me to coaching. The best skills I have come out in coaching." Hundreds of swimmers who have come his way since he arrived at Auburn in 1991 are glad of that. "It's the Auburn Family thing," Marsh says. "That's what we sell recruits and that's what they experience when they come here."

Whatever it is, it's working. Marsh deserves to be in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

HOOP DREAMS

After watching Syracuse dismantle Oklahoma on Sunday, I realized just how close Auburn's basketball team was to realizing the dream of going to the Final Four. The Tigers believed they could do it, and they almost did. They abused the same 2-3 zone defense that shut down Oklahoma. They overcame the same hostile atmosphere that caused the Sooners to unravel.

When the Sooners fell behind, they rolled over. When the Tigers fell behind by 17 in the first half, they responded by fighting harder than ever. A shot here, an official's call there and it might have been different. It wasn't, and that's life in college basketball.

The NCAA Tournament is an amazing event. With remarkable Marquis Daniels leading the way, Auburn took its game to a level far above any displayed during the regular season. Coach Cliff Ellis made a brilliant adjustment in the second half against Syracuse, moving Daniels to the high post. When Syracuse had to collapse inside to contain Daniels, Lewis Monroe and Nathan Watson heated up from outside. They came up seconds short of one of the bigger wins in school history.

No doubt, Daniels will be sorely missed. He is as good as any player I've seen in the tournament, but the hardest thing to replace will be his leadership. On and off the court, he's been a credit to himself, his family and his school. Auburn will have the talent to compete strongly in the Southeastern Conference West next season. The biggest question is whether a player or players will step forward to fill the leadership vacuum that the departure of Daniels, Derrick Bird and Donny Calton leaves.

THE RIGHT THING

Kudos to Auburn baseball coach Steve Renfroe. If he'd been willing to pitch Steven Register or Cory Dueitt on Sunday, Auburn probably would have beaten Georgia and would be in first place in the SEC West today. But Register and Dueitt had pitched more than usual in helping the Tigers win the first two games. Renfroe put what was best for them first and kept his top late-game relievers on the shelf. The result was that Georgia scored four runs in the ninth inning for a 7-6 victory.

The Tigers are a game out of first place going into next weekend's series against Alabama at Plainsman Park. That one should be interesting to watch. Until next time...


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