Philip Marshall: Coach Continues Impressive Run

Phillip Marshall writes about a variety of sports, including the amazing run of swimming coach David Marsh.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it until something changes. How in the world is Auburn swim coach David Marsh not in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame?

Marsh's seven national championships are more than any coach in any sport has won in the state of Alabama. In 2003, he became the first coach of a combined program--one with the same coach for both men and women--to take both teams to national championships in the same season. He did it again in 2004 and might well do it yet again in 2005.

Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson is in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and deservedly so. But she is not as deserving as Marsh, who is not even listed as a nominee on the ASHOF web site.

Former Alabama swimming coach Don Gambril is a member of the ASHOF. He was named national Coach of the Year twice and never won a national championship. Marsh has been national Coach of the Year eight times and SEC Coach of the Year 12 times. In addition to his national championships, he has won 14 SEC championships. The men have won nine straight. Yet, Gambril is in and Marsh is not.

Am I the only person who sees the absurdity of that?

Marsh has built the nation's top program at an unlikely place. Eddie Reese and Richard Quick established a swimming tradition at Auburn, but neither ever won a national championship. Marsh has taken Auburn swimming to the point where it is a surprise when they don't win the national championship.

Auburn's women's and men's swimming teams had plenty to celebrate on Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla., where they won they won SEC titles.

That's a remarkable accomplishment in any sport. To do it in what really is essentially an individual sport is even more remarkable. Marsh convinces swimmers year after year to buy into the concept that the team is more important than individual accomplishment. The Tigers rarely win the most individual titles, but that's not what they are about.

Marsh faces the same problems faced by other sports that give partial scholarships. Schools in states like Georgia, where there are state-sponsored lottery scholarships, have a huge advantage. He makes it work anyway, literally recruiting worldwide.

No group of athletes on the Auburn campus is more accomplished in the classroom and more active in the community.

Winning the men's and women's SEC championships last week was yet another major accomplishment. Auburn relay teams on both the men's and women's side were disqualified the first day because of controversial rulings that they left too soon. The Tigers came from behind and won anyway.

They'll go after more national championships next month.

In June, another class will be inducted into the ASHOF. Auburn will be well-represented. By former basketball star Chuck Person, former defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, the late Billy Atkins, who played a key role on the 1957 national championship team, and the late Jim Fyffe. The induction of Rocker and Person should have come years ago, truthfully would have come years ago had they done at Alabama what they did at Auburn.

There are others with Auburn ties who aren't there and should be. Former women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi and former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird come quickly to mind.

But for Marsh to still on the outside looking in is unconscionable. His absence is so glaring that it calls the entire selection process into question. And I say that as one who proudly stood to accept his father's induction into the ASHOF.

Moving on…

Auburn's women's basketball team must win its next two games to entertain serious hopes of landing an NCAA Tournament bid, but Nell Fortner has done quite a job in her first season.

Despite being short-handed inside, the Tigers have been oh so close to having a year to remember. They took No. 1 LSU to the wire twice. They led Tennessee in the final minutes. They lost two heartbreakers to Vanderbilt.

Fortner already has already signed a terrific recruiting class. The future looks bright.

Coaches Jeff Lebo and Nell Fortner play a game of horse at the opening of preseason practice.

The men's team has been woeful the past two games, and that's putting it kindly. But anyone who has watched closely knows that Jeff Lebo is going to get the job done. He, too, has signed a terrific recruiting class. Next season will probably be another rocky one with a lot of rookies forced into action, but after that, Auburn basketball will be a contender in the SEC West. Mark it down.

It's going to be interesting to see what the baseball team of first-year coach Tom Slater can do in the SEC. The Tigers play the game the way it should be played, but it remains to be seen if they have enough pitching or enough hitters beyond Karl Amonite and Clete Thomas to get into postseason play.

Like Fortner and Lebo, Slater is doing it the right way. It may or may not be this season, but he'll have the Tigers in the rightful place before much longer.

Obviously, I chose the wrong profession. I should have been a football coach.

Football coach Tommy Tuberville signed a contract last week that will pay him at least $18.2 million over the next seven years. It could be significantly more if he earns incentives that would add up to $700,000 for a national championship season.

The Tuberville saga is surely one of the more remarkable sports stories ever in our state. In just a little more than a year he went from barely surviving a clandestine trip to replace him to the first 13-0 season in school history to signing a contract that assures he will live out his life a wealthy man.

Until next time…

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