By BRIAN WOODSON
BLUEFIELD — There must be something about West Virginia.
Three years ago, Mark Snyder left Ohio State, a national football champion in 2002, and returned home to Marshall as the Thundering Herd’s head coach.
Less than a month ago, Donnie Jones, who was part of the coaching staff at two-time national basketball champion Florida, returned home to Marshall.
And, that’s not all. New West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins has joined Mountaineers’ football coach Rich Rodriguez in returning home to the Mountain State.
“Isn’t that amazing, it is something about West Virginia,” said Snyder, Marshall’s third-year football coach. “You look at coaches at West Virginia and the coaches at Marshall, we’re all back home now.”
“It’s just the people,” Snyder said. “You get out in this big bad world and you deal with certain things at different schools, but it’s just the people here.”
Snyder, Jones and Marshall women’s basketball coach Royce Chadwick visited the Upperclassman II on Thursday evening for the first stop in the Thundering Herd’s annual Big Green Coaches Tour.
“We’re excited to be here, Donnie Jones has brought a ton of optimism to our university,” said Chadwick, entering his sixth season at Marshall. “Look at what Mark Snyder has done, the spring game and coming off the (‘We are Marshall’) movie.
“It’s a great time to be at Marshall and to be in the coaches box there and be a part of what is going on. I think it’s going to be a great year for us.”
Jones, a 1992 graduate of Marshall, returned to Huntington in early April to try and turn around the fate of the Thundering Herd basketball program, a squad that last reached the NCAA tournament in 1987. He also just wanted to get back home to West Virginia.
“I think Marshall has always had a special place in my heart,” Jones said. “I’m from West Virginia and I grew up a Marshall fan and watched the games and went to their camps.
“To get a chance to come back home and hopefully be able to share some new excitement and some different enthusiasm in the program, that brings great pride to me.”
“He’s a great young basketball coach,” added Snyder. “He’s back home and his family is back home so I’m sure he’s excited to be home as well.”
While Chadwick isn’t a native West Virginian, his is also a unique story. Marshall’s women last reached the NCAA Tournament in 1997 in a loss at Colorado. Chadwick was the coach at Stephen F. Austin, who just happened to be playing Toledo at the same location.
While the Herd lost, Chadwick’s squad won. Chadwick’s now at Marshall, trying to get the Herd back to the NCAAs.
“It was kind of strange, I was there,” said Chadwick, who has led the Herd to four straight seasons with a .500 or better record. “I didn’t know at that time that was a big game to be a part of, but it was a great opportunity for Stephen F. Austin and for Marshall that year.
“Coming into Marshall, we had been to seven straight NCAA tournaments (at SFA). We have our watches that we show all our kids about the times we went to the tournament so we want to go back.”
Chadwick said that athletics play a key role in attracting students to Marshall.
“Whether it’s right or wrong, the opportunity for Marshall to put its name out there is through football and through men’s basketball and women’s basketball,” Chadwick said. “People get a chance to watch us on television and win basketball games and they say that might be a good place to go to school and that’s where we get a lot of our students.”
Many of those come from Four Seasons Country, a part of the state that Snyder and his football program have focused upon in their recruiting efforts.
Players like Graham’s Paco Jones and Beckley’s Shavar Greer have graduated, while Will Albin, Doug Legursky and Daniel Wells are still there.
Another recruit, former Graham star Ahmad Bradshaw, surprised Snyder by declaring a year early for the NFL Draft. It was a long wait, but he was finally selected in the seventh round last Sunday by the New York Giants.
“I think he went to a great organization, I know a couple of the coaches there,” Snyder said. “They lost Tiki Barber so that is going to give him a little window there to try to make his way and he’s going to have to make his hay.
“I don’t know how he’ll do because I’m not there with him, but I think Ahmad is very, very talented. They’re going to be shocked at how talented he is when they get him in camp.”
Albin, a senior from Princeton, had spent his first three seasons at Marshall blocking for Bradshaw. He was switched to linebacker during spring drills, and recently told Snyder that ‘he has a new leash on life.’
“I was pleased with Will, we put him over there and — being an old linebackers coach — I saw some things that I really liked,” said Snyder, who added that Bluefield’s Wells had looked ‘good’ in spring drills. “Instinctually, he does some things that you can’t teach.
“I told Will, ‘I wish I had known you played linebacker in high school or I would have done that as soon as I got here.’ We’re going to keep him right there at linebacker, his days as a fullback are over.”
Snyder said Four Seasons Country continues to be a prime location for the Herd. He also encourages more folks to make the trip to Huntington to see a football or basketball game.
“This area has been so good to Marshall, and we just need everybody from down here to come up and support us,” Snyder said. “We’re going to be back down here recruiting.
“This is a very fertile area. In the state of West Virginia, this is the area where we get most of our players. I’m excited to be here.”
The same can be said for Jones, who is thrilled to be back in West Virginia.
“It’s good, there’s a lot of familiar faces that are still there and that’s what makes Marshall a special place,” Jones said. “Great people and a great community and they love the university so it’s been great.”
—Contact Brian Woodson