Seven head coaches have come and gone since Marshall University’s last NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance in 1987.
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick is betting on the most recent arrival changing that.
Dan D’Antoni, a former Thundering Herd point guard and a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, put on the ceremonial kelly green blazer Friday afternoon, officially announcing his hiring as the new head coach.
D’Antoni – who coached at Socastee High School from 1975-2005 – said Marshall was known as a basketball school when he played in the late 1960s and he wants to revive that memory. He played point guard on National Invitation Tournament teams in 1967 and 1968.
“We’re playing to win the trophy, go to the [NCAA] Final Four and win it all,” D’Antoni said during his introductory press conference in a Memorial Student Center room jammed full of supporters, family members and reporters. “I don’t expect less.
“Yeah, I’m dreaming, but we’re going to work for it.”
D’Antoni, 66, replaced Tom Herrion, who resigned March 14 with a 67-67 record after four seasons. Herrion’s 2013-14 team finished 11-22 and went 13-19 the season before.
Eleven victories is unacceptable, D’Antoni said.
The Mullens, W.Va., native played for Marshall from 1966 to 1969. He spent the last nine seasons as an NBA assistant coach for his brother, former Marshall player Mike D’Antoni, with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns.
He is one of Marshall’s 40 players with more than 1,000 career points (1,109) and was an All Mid-American Conference first-team selection in 1969 when he averaged 17.5 per game as the point guard and helped the Herd to a fourth-place finish in the NIT.
Marshall got back to the NIT in 1968 when D’Antoni made the All-MAC second team.
“This is a dream of mine,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming and a long time getting here.”
D’Antoni choked up with emotion talking about the late Dr. Ray Hagley and his wife Shirley, close friends of his who died in the Marshall football plane crash of Nov. 14, 1970. Ray Hagley was one of the team physicians.
One of Ray Hagley’s dreams came true Thursday when Marshall announced the hiring.
“He always said, ‘Danny, you’re going to be the coach of the Herd,’ ” D’Antoni said. “Well, here I am finally, Doc. I did it. I’m finally here.”
D’Antoni’s father, 100-year-old Lewis D’Antoni, was seated up front at the press conference with daughter Kathy and youngest son Mark at his side.
Lewis D’Antoni, a former coach with more than 450 career victories at Mullens and Pineville high schools in West Virginia and at Chesapeake in Ohio, also plays golf and made his first hole-in-one at age 90.
“This is my hole-in-one,” D’Antoni said.
The new coach met with his players in the locker room before the press conference to introduce himself and let them know his expectations.
D’Antoni said he’s a stickler for being a good person, a good citizen and a good basketball player.
Chris Thomas, a junior guard who scored 12.7 points per game in his first NCAA Division I season, was among several players at the press conference.
“He just wants us to win,” Thomas said. “It’s been tough. We lost [at the Conference USA tournament] and come back without a coach. We were waiting for this.
“We can’t wait to get on the court.”
D’Antoni agreed to a four-year contract that pays about $400,000 total per year with incentives, Hamrick said. The pay is slightly less than Herrion made. D’Antoni said he’s not in it for the money.
Hamrick said he spent four days early in the search process on a visit to Los Angeles and interviewed both D’Antonis.
He attended Lakers practices and games.
“The more I watched this guy work and saw the passion this person had I said, ‘Wow. We’ve got something,’ ” Hamrick said.
Hamrick said he offered the job to only two people and they had the same last name.
The search lasted so long because the D’Antonis couldn’t do anything until the NBA season ended, Hamrick said. Mike D’Antoni couldn’t take the job because he’s still on contract with the Lakers for two more seasons.
Hamrick said he interviewed other people – head coaches – without mentioning names.
“This is a great honor for me personally to bring back a Son of Marshall,” Hamrick said.
This is D’Antoni’s first true college job other than coaching the Marshall freshman team in the 1969-70 season and serving the next season as a varsity assistant.
He answered critics who say he can’t relate to younger players because of his age.
“I have a 16-year-old daughter (Morgan) and she will tell you I communicate real well,” he said. “Call one of the players I worked with and see if I speak the language. I think they’ll all tell you that I helped them in their careers as NBA players.”
D’Antoni said he looks forward to taking his first stab at college recruiting. He has contacts all around the nation from the 30 years he coached at Socastee and also ran the Beach Ball Classic, he said.
The staff of assistants D’Antoni hires will be “well-wisened” in the ways of college basketball.
“We’ll get the right staff,” he said.