HUNTINGTON – Disrespect is a powerful expression, and for several years, one that Marshall volleyball Coach Mitch Jacobs cultivated in his team while building a winning program.
“We’re Marshall, we don’t have the budget, we don’t have this, we don’t have that, we’re playing against all these teams,” said Jacobs. “We’re going to bus to Memphis, and they are going to fly and we’d just walk in there with chips on our shoulders and play super hard.”
That attitude worked as the team posted seven 20-plus winning seasons in eleven years, a record book full of personal and team records including two Conference USA regular-season championships and one league tournament championship – the only C-USA title any Herd program won in MU’s first seven years in the Texas-rooted conferenc
But somewhere along the way the drive to build a winning program was replaced with the reality that Marshall was a sustained winning program, victories were now expected, and soon complacency followed.
“I constantly have older players go ‘What,
have you gone soft? You would have made us do this, had us do that. We wouldn’t have liked it at all, but we would have come out there next time and kicked somebody’s butt.’”
Jacobs didn’t go soft. Instead, the dynamic changed.
“We’ve got to get that back, we’ve lost that, we didn’t have that chip anymore,” he said last week. “We’ve won some championships and had some kids come into the program who just came in and felt like we’re going to win” said Jacobs. “There is a lot of work that goes into it, everybody is working hard, and if you aren’t working hard you aren’t going to win and be successful.”
Jacobs inherited a team that went 6-21 in 2001, a program that didn’t enjoy much success in the Mid-American Conference under former Coach Steffi Legall. The turnaround was quick, Marshall went 20-12 in 2002, and the success didn’t stop.
Jacobs’ teams posted three consecutive 20-plus-win seasons in the final years in the MAC before the move up to Conference USA.
Jacobs was ready, the league wasn’t.
“When something comes to fruition, it’s tough and there is adversity and you aren’t backing down, you’re walking right into it,” he said.
The first year as a new member in the league, Jacobs led his team to 26 victories, the Conference USA regular-season and tournament championships and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. He came close to doing it again in 2007, going 15-1 in the league and 23-9 overall earning his second regular-season title in three years.
Marshall played host to the 2007 C-USA tournament, but the season ended in heartbreak as the team lost 3-2 in the tournament quarterfinals.
In 11 seasons, Marshall volleyball has won two regular-season championships, the first and only tournament championship, seen 20 All-Conference USA selections, over 20 C-USA Players of the Week and a list of records and awards that keep growing for the program.
Success isn’t new to Jacobs. During his three years as coach at Fairfield, Jacobs led the Stags to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and before that, Jacobs’ teams at Division II Florida Tech were constantly ranked in the South Region.
With so much history of winning, Marshall’s recent back-to-back 20-plus-loss seasons are sobering.
“It’s been 20 years on the sideline,” he said. “A lot of people say I’m humble, and it’s not like a humbling experience, it’s like a personal check on you. The same standard, the same way you are doing it isn’t working so you’ve got to find a better way. I’ve been working at that, working at finding a better way.”
Part of that better way these days includes how to handle adversity.
“It seems like it’s easy for people to walk away, but I don’t want to walk away with these kids,” the Herd coach said. “I want to coach these kids, I want these kids to understand what it is to make hard decisions, to finish and be tougher, making better decisions, going to the work world with your future bosses interviewing you and they are going to know that you competed.
“We’ve got to have the kids that are willing to just get that chip back on their shoulder. That’s how we’re constantly building; we have a chip on our shoulder.”
Paul Swann, a co-host of the Insider Sportsline, has worked in Huntington sports radio for more than 20 years. He holds awards and honors for his work from the West Virginia Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the West Virginia Broadcasters Association.