"Very much so," he told Steve Argeris of The State newspaper in South Carolina. "I have been asked when I will differentiate from the system that I learned under Coach Kresse. My answer is always the same: "Why tinker with something that is not broken?" Coach Kresse, along with my college coach, the late Hal Nunnally who got me in the business of coaching to begin with, have been the greatest influences on me as a coach. Everyone should be so fortunate to have such quality mentors in whatever field they choose."
Marshall learned basketball under Nunnally at Randolph-Macon College, which was the only school to offer the 6-foot-3, 145-pound guard, out of high school in West Virginia. Marshall admits he wasn't much of a shooter but he earned a starting job with hustle and defense. He maintains that grinder approach as a coach and looks for players that can flourish under his system.
"I don't see any reason to change," Marshall said. "I had to play defense to play college basketball. I had to work harder. I look for qualities like that in players. That's not to say I want a team full of Gregg Marshalls — if I did, I'd get my butt kicked. But I want guys who have that will to win."
Will power and an insatiable desire to win have fueled Marshall's career and were in ample evidence during his tenure in Charleston.
"Every practice and every game is a war to Gregg," Kresse said of his enthusiastic assistant. "He couldn't stand losing, even at the College of Charleston. He'd almost throw up after close games that we lost. So instead of the assistant coach calming down and appeasing the head coach, it was the other way around. I'd tell him, ‘We're going to lose some games, and you have to learn to accept that.'"
Acceptance didn't come easily for Marshall, who had a fruitful two-year stop at Marshall University before taking the head coaching position at Winthrop in 1998. The Eagles first made the move to Division I in 1985 and only won one conference title in their first 13 seasons in the Big South. Winthrop had managed seven or fewer wins in four of the previous five seasons before his arrival and were picked to finish last his first season by virtually every national basketball publication.
Marshall accepted the position without any guarantees of a complete complement of assistant coaches, or even a full allotment of 13 scholarships. His only request after taking over during a live recruiting period in April of ‘98 was the use of a car and a cell phone. He got an old Ford Taurus station wagon and cell phone that looked like an Army surplus walkie-talkie and hit the recruiting road, stopping at high schools and attending all-star games in Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. He convinced four prospects to sign with fledgling Winthrop which is located in Rock Hill, S.C. near the North Carolina border.
Against all odds, the Eagles went 21-8 (9-1 in the Big South Conference) and earned an NCAA bid. Winthrop improved its victory total by 14 in one season and captured its second conference title in 14 years. Marshall was named conference coach of the year as a rookie. The Eagles went 21-9 in 2000, winning another conference championship and earning their second straight NCAA Tournament bid. Marshall's squad earned the hat trick with a three-peat in 2001, a first in Big South Conference history. In his first three seasons Marshall compiled a 60-30 mark at Winthrop with a trio of Big Dance tickets.
Tennessee came calling that spring in its search for a replacement for Jerry Green. Marshall was a finalist for the position and recalls the experience with humor and a bit of wonder.
At the time, "it was all new to me," Marshall said of the interview process at UT. "Tennessee flies me to meet them on a private jet. It was the first time I'd ever been on a private jet. I couldn't believe it. They had these great chairs, papers for me to read. Then my cell phone rings. I had forgotten to turn it off. So I quickly turn it off, and the pilot leans back, and I'm thinking that he's going to yell at me, that I just put us all at risk. He said, ‘Don't worry about it. Talk all you want to.'"
Oh course, Marshall didn't get the Tennessee job but he did get a fourth straight NCAA bid in 2002, a first for a coach in his first four years as a Division I coach. He was in prime position to make it five straight NCAA bids in 2003 except for a freak buzzer beater by UNC-Asheville ended the remarkable run in the Big South Conference Tournament.
Misfortune continued the next season as eight of Winthrop's first 10 players missed action due to injuries. Marshall still managed to guide the Eagles to a 16-14 record that year and bounced back in a big way in 2005 as Winthrop won a school record 24 games with a best ever 15-1 mark in the Big South. Marshall earned his third conference Coach of the Year award for the unprecedented achievement.
There's no secret to the Eagles success as Winthrop plays solid defense and sets tempo. The Eagles led the conference in defense while setting a new record by allowing only 59.1 points per game.
"Winthrop basketball is not about beauty and aesthetics," Marshall says in describing his program. "It's about heart and guts and blood and tears."
It's also about the courage to walk where other teams fear to tread. Under Marshall, Winthrop has shown a willingness to play anybody, anywhere, anytime. During his seven years in Rock Hill, the Eagles have played very tough at Arizona State, Kentucky, Nebraska and Tennessee. They beat Georgia by 20 points earlier this season and played North Carolina to a 66-61 loss.
Marshall's success and his comparatively small $140,000 salary has prompted a lot of teams to consider him in recent years, including MTSU, South Alabama and America. However, he has his sights set higher for his next move.
"The way I look at it, I'm not going to take a job in the Ohio Valley for $25,000 more than I make here," said Marshall, referring to one of the upper-tier midmajor conferences. "I've got a great situation here. Unless it was a significant move, a significant jump (in salary), other people might not see what I see, but I'm not going to do it."
Even without a transitional step in competition, some major Division-I school will take a chance on Marshall sometime soon. The potential reward simply outweighs the risk.