Former Herd Coach Rick Huckabay Dies

Former Marshall University head basketball coach Rick Huckabay died from cancer at around 3:30 a.m. Friday morning at Christus Schumpert Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. Huckabay was 60-years old. He led Marshall to four titles in the Southern Conference from 1983-89, winning 129 games and losing just 59, second at Marshall on the all-time wins list for men's basketball coaches to only Cam Henderson. Huckabay nearly filled the Henderson Center every night, averaging 8,334 per game while coach.

Huckabay arrived at Marshall in 1983 to take over a successful program that had won 20 games in 1982-83 but had not had much success in the post-season since the early 1970s. Huckabay fixed that in his first season, leading the Herd to a 25-6 mark and its first Southern Conference championship in a never to be forgotten 111-107 double-overtime win over coach Murray Arnold's UT-Chattanooga Mocs. LaVerne Evans, a Marshall Hall of Famer, scored 38 to lead MU to the win over a UTC team with future NBA players Gerald Wilkins and Willie White. Marshall went to its first NCAA Tournament game since 1972, falling to Villanova (the eventual national champion) by the score of 84-72, despite leading at the half in Milwaukee by 40-33.

Huckabay made the Asheville, N.C. Civic Center the place to be in March for Herd fans, as green and white clad Marshall fans flooded the city for every tournament game in the 1980s. Herd fans even spent $2 bills one year, just to show the impact of Marshall on the Asheville community and the mayor of Asheville could often be seen sporting a green blazer in anticipation of "Huck's Herd" and followers. Marshall was 21-13 in Huck's second season and won the SC Tournament again in 1985, 70-65 over V.M.I. , but fell to VCU in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall was 19-11 in his third season and were upset in the first round in Asheville by ETSU, 82-80.

The 1986-87 Herd roared back to 25 wins against only six losses and again won the SC Tourney, beating Davidson in overtime, 66-64. Marshall faced TCU in the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte, falling 76-60 to the Horned Frogs. In 1987-88, the Herd was 24-8 and were the regular season champions of the Southern Conference. Marshall lost a heart-breaker in Asheville to nemesis UTC, 71-70, but qualified for the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 1973. The Herd suffered another one-point loss, fallin 81-80 to VCU in the Henderson Center. Huck's final team was only 15-15, but they advanced to the finals of the SC Tournament in Asheville before falling to ETSU in the finals. Huckabay was let go as coach at Marshall in the fallout from an NCAA investigation which Marshall's basketball program was put on five-years probation and became ineligible for the SC Tournament in 1991. He then coached basketball at nearby South Point, Ohio for a few years, teaching as well at South Point High School, before returning to Louisiana, doing some radio for women's college basketball and eventually returning to boy's high school basketball, his first real success.

Huckabay came to Marshall after a sensational record in Louisiana High School basketball as a head coach. The 1967 graduate of Louisiana Tech was the Louisiana HS Coach of the Year in 1978 at Redemptorist HS in Baton Rouge, La. after winning eight state titles with the Wolves from 1973-78, including a 71-game winning streak from 1977-79. He was inducted into the Louisiana High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005 and had a career mark of 322-80 in high school basketball, .801 winning percentage. He was an assistant for Dale Brown at LSU before being hired at Marshall as head coach in 1983.

Huckabay recruited and coached some of the greatest players in MU history. Evans (1980-84), who is ninth in scoring with 1,611 points, is joined in the MU Athletic Hall of Fame by both Reggie Giles (1985-87) and John Taft (1987-91), the second-leading scorer in Marshall history with 2,332 points. Other Huck players include Skip Henderson (1984-88), the leading scorer in Marshall and SC history on the men's side with 2,574 points; Rodney Holden (1984-88), who finished his career with 988 points and 812 rebounds, sixth all-time for the Herd, as well as number two in field goal percentage all-time at 58.6 percent from the floor; Tom Curry (1984-88), who originally committed to LSU before following Huckabay to Huntington, is 13th in scoring with 1,535 points and 620 rebounds, 19th best at MU, and shot 56.7 percent, third for the Herd; Andre Cunningham (1987-91), who had 1,154 points at Marshall; Sam Henry (1980-84), who is third in assists with 519 in his career; Andy Paul Williamson (1987-90), who had 299 assists; and David Wade (1980-84), who had 651 rebounds and 240 assists.

Flamboyant and often controversial, Huckabay often tore into Southern Conference officials. He tore into the post-game media conference at the Rupp Arena and nominated the officials at the MU-Kentucky game in 1988's UK Invitational to "guard the president" after protecting the Wildcats with fouls down the stretch in a game the Herd led until eight minutes to play. Huckabay might best be remembered for him and his staff wearing white tuxedos with kelly green ties to coach in at their first Marshall-West Virginia game, won by the Herd 78-67. He also nearly came to blow with the coach from New Hampshire in a 99-72 win in his first season in the Marshall Memorial Tournament's first round game. He also recorded three wins over WVU in Huntington and drew the largest crowd ever at the Henderson Center when 10,705 showed up on Feb. 18, 1984, to watch Marshall beat The Citadel, 85-71. Nearly 750,000 Herd fans packed the Henderson Center for those six years, including sellouts for WVU all three times and Western Carolina in 1987, a 104-78 Herd win.

Huck's teams recorded wins over some top competition outside of the SC. Marshall beat TCU, Cincinnati and Clemson in 1983-84. In one of the most exciting games ever in Huntington, the Herd rallied from a 20-point deficeit against Marquette, coach by the legendary Rick Majerus, and won 68-67 in the midst of Huckabay's first year. Marshall lost a thrilling final in the 1984 MMI to the Utah Jazz NBA legend, Karl Malone, and Louisiana Tech, 69-63, and beat New Orleans that season. In the '85-'86 season, the Herd topped WVU, Arkansas-Little Rock, Fresno State and UNO again. In 1986-87, the Herd topped Ohio and Nevada. The next year, Marshall beat Ohio and WVU again, topped Idaho and Hartford in the MMI and then followed up with a home win over the Southwestern Conference's Baylor Bears in the 1987-88. In Huck's final season, Marshall outscored South Alabama 111-110, topped Ohio for a third-straight year by 104-93, won at Southern Miss 103-97 and beat Virginia Tech 108-104 in the Henderson Center. In all, Huckabay teams topped 100 points 17 times in six years, including six times in his final season.

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