The Marshall football team capped off another stellar season on Dec. 26 with a 16-10 victory over the UConn Huskies of the AAC for the program’s fifth bowl win in the last seven seasons and secured the program’s third straight 10+ win season in the process. The recent success of the Herd begs the question: is Marshall football officially back? After a decade of mediocrity and disappointment, the program has finally gotten back to similar levels of success as its 1990’s and early 2000’s heyday.
It is well established that the 1990’s was a great time for Marshall football. The program was the winningest team of the decade with an impressive record of 114-25, including two FCS National Championships, two undefeated seasons, three MAC Championships, two bowl wins, and an AP Top 10 ranking.
The early 2000’s saw that string of success continue as the Herd won MAC Championships in 2000 and 2002 while finishing as the runner-up in 2001. Following the 2002 season, the program was just not the same. Although the Herd finished 8-4 in 2003, the team did not receive an invitation to a bowl game. And in 2004, Marshall finished just 6-5 overall and clinched a bowl berth, only to lose to Cincinnati and finish the season 6-6.
Following the retirement of head coach Bob Pruett, the Marshall program was put in the hands of then Ohio State defensive coordinator and Marshall alum, Mark Snyder. The Herd also made the transition from the MAC to C-USA at this time and the team finished just 4-7 overall in 2005 in its first year in C-USA and first year with a new head coach. The woes only continued from there and Snyder’s teams posted records of 5-7, 3-9, 4-8, and 6-6 records the following years. Snyder “resigned” as Marshall’s head coach following the conclusion of the 2009 season, a season in which the Herd finally got back to a bowl game where the team defeated the Ohio Bobcats in the Little Caesar’s Bowl to finish with its first outright winning season since 2003 at 7-6 overall.
Doc Holliday was hired as the Herd’s next head coach just prior to that bowl game although he did not coach in the bowl game. Holliday’s first three seasons as head coach saw ups and downs, as expected after inheriting a bleak situation. The ups in that period were the team winning the 2011 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl over Florida International to clinch a 7-6 final record. Following a disappointing 2012 season, the next three years have seen sustained success.
The 2013 season saw the Herd finish 10-4 overall (Marshall’s first 10-win season since 2002) with a C-USA East Division Championship and a Military Bowl victory over Maryland. The 2014 season had very high expectations and Marshall delivered with a 13-1 season where the team won its first ever C-USA Championship and defeated Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl to finish nationally ranked at #22 in the final Coaches Poll and #23 in the final AP Poll.
This past season, despite being a bit tumultuous at times for a variety of different reasons, saw more success. The Herd finished the season at 10-3 overall and defeated UConn in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Over the past three seasons, Marshall football has compiled a record of 33-8 with three straight bowl wins, two C-USA East Division titles, one C-USA Championship, and three straight 10+ win seasons, the only G5 program to accomplish that feat over the past three seasons.
After about a decade long departure, it appears as if the program is back in a good place. Is it back to the point of the late 1990’s? That’s hard to say at this point. If Marshall wins a few more C-USA Championships over the coming years, that might just be the case. Aside from the wins and losses, the program has arguably never been in a better place in the scheduling department as well.
Marshall has future home-and-home series’ with teams like Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Louisville, Cincinnati, Boise State, East Carolina, Navy, and more. The program’s recent success has gained the respect of quality teams and it shows that the athletic directors of these teams agree on home-and-home’s with the Herd. Even in the 1990’s, Marshall never got the types of quality opponents to agree to make a trip to Huntington like what is happening now. Marshall football is in the most stable place it’s been in well over a decade, and if this trend continues, the future is very bright for the Herd. Whether you agree the program is back to its 1990’s peak is up to you, but after those bad Snyder years, Marshall fans should never take winning for granted again.