By Jack Bogaczyk
Herd Insider Editor
and HerdZone.com Columnist
May 25, 2012
HUNTINGTON – If it’s Friday, it must be Parkersburg … or maybe Hurricane … or The Greenbrier … or Charlotte, N.C.
So it goes for the 2012 Big Green Coaches Tour, which made its sixth of 16 stops on last night in Columbus, Ohio.
No word on whether Coach Doc Holliday tried to rope his former Florida boss, Urban Meyer, into becoming a Buckeye member of the Big Green Scholarship Foundation.
Today, it’s on to the popular MGM chapter stop (for Mason Co., W.Va. and Gallia and Meigs Counties in Ohio) at Riverside Golf Club.
The days kind of run together this time of year for the Marshall athletics fundraising crew, traveling the Mountain State and beyond for meet-and-greets that will yield needed dollars for Thundering Herd student-athlete scholarships.
The 2011-12 amount that Big Green will transfer over toward scholarships is $1.6 million.
This year, however, the Big Green also is after bigger green.
Besides bucks to help with those grants-in-aid for a Division I program, Marshall’s major Vision Campaign is seeking $19 million in private funding toward a multipurpose indoor facility and a new soccer stadium.
It’s the most ambitious capital campaign in Marshall athletics history.
The Herd has enlisted former stars Mike D’Antoni and Chad Pennington as Vision Campaign co-chairs.
While there’s no question their work on their alma mater’s behalf has been significant in more ways than just their big-time presence to date, it’s the donor numbers – in bodies and dollars – that are most important in the effort.
So, this Big Green Coaches Tour takes on added impetus for Marshall and the Big Green Scholarship Foundation staff.
The regular presence of Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and marquee sport coaches Holliday and Tom Herrion is a draw, but it’s the people they’re meeting who can be real difference-makers.
“The emphasis right now,” said John Sutherland, Marshall’s associate AD for development and Big Green executive director, “is a 100 percent emphasis on the Vision Campaign.
“We’re not out soliciting new members as much as we are talking about the Vision Campaign and what it means to Marshall.
“We’re trying to get (Big Green chapter chairs and chapter members) to find the right people, the ones we need to talk to.
“We’ve found that some people hadn’t been approached for a long time, or no one ever reached out to them, but they want to be a part of this.
“It used to be that the Big Green was looked upon by a lot of people as a good ol’ boys club, and you had to pay big money to get into it.
“We’ve worked to change that image, because it’s not what Big Green is. We’ve gotten more people involved than ever before.”
As recently as 2008-09, Big Green membership was around 1,600.
The foundation will finish this fiscal year at 3,207 members, “with a goal of at least 4,000 within two years,” said Travis Epling, Big Green assistant director of development.
Sutherland said Marshall took advantage of West Virginia’s first football visit to Marshall in more than nine decades – in 2007 – to tie Edwards Stadium chairback season ticket purchases to Big Green contributions.
Then, the veteran Hamrick was hired to head his alma mater’s athletic program three years ago.
The Big Green has really pumped up since then.
“Mike expanded the Big Green staff and put a lot of emphasis on what we need to do,” Sutherland said.
“He hired new coaches, Doc and Tommy (in football and men’s basketball, respectively), and winning changed things. Success makes a difference.”
“Four years ago when I started (with Big Green), we were struggling in football and men’s basketball.
“Those are the sports people look at, the marquee sports. And that (lack of success) was reflected in the low numbers at our Coaches Tour stops.”
Sutherland and Epling pointed to an upcoming Bluefield - Princeton stop on June 5, where more than 100 Herd supporters are expected to attend.
The numbers were so paltry not long ago, the stop was off the list.
The Mid-Ohio Valley stop (Parkersburg, May 31) will draw about 200, double the number of a few years ago.
Then, there’s the mushrooming Washington, D.C., chapter, an outgrowth of the day last June when Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp gave his State of the University address in the nation’s capital.
Big Green officials said Dr. Kopp graciously allowed Big Green to be a part of the day, and did it ever yield results - especially among the young professionals that work in the nation’s capital.
“It would be accurate to say that before last year, the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Big Green was non-existent,” said Teddy Kluemper, Marshall’s director of athletic development.
“Now, we have 65 active chapter members, and we have contact information for more than 450. Last year at Dr. Kopp’s State of the University speech, there were 86 in attendance.
Kluemper expects to add to that - significantly - when the MU president and the Big Green return to the nation’s capital for the 2012 session on July 17.
“D.C. is a popular destination of so many graduates of the university. We need to be there,” Kluemper said.
Then, there’s The Greenbrier stop, scheduled June 2-3.
The two-day event begins with a Saturday night dinner sat the resort. A golf outing is schedule Sunday on the Meadows course.
More than 80 participants will attend both days, including headliners D’Antoni and his fellow Herd hoops alumni brother, Dan.
Greenbrier owner Jim Justice - a former Marshall golfer - is playing a larger role than host for the two-day session.
Justice has donated “Alumni Badges” for the July 1-8 Greenbrier Classic to Big Green, which is auctioning two or four of those at Coaches Tour stops.
Those badges are good for admission to the PGA Tour’s stop - think Tiger and Phil - as well as the various Classic concerts (Rod Stewart, Toby Keith, Bon Jovi and Lionel Ritchie) and the Marshall Alumni tent during play on the Old White TPC.
The 2012 Coaches Tour also is traveling with two significant pieces of hardware, including the championship trophy from the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl 20-10 win by the Herd football team last December.
Also making the tour is the Conference USA Tournament runner-up trophy the men’s basketball team won over four days in Memphis in March.
The Big Green also has other memorabilia available for lucky Tour attendees.
Holliday and Herrion are signing a ball for auction at each stop from their respective sports - Holliday a collector’s football from the bowl and Herrion one from the NIT.
Another attraction? How about footballs autographed by former Herd NFL players and alumni in attendance in April at the annual Big Green Foundation dinner, “An Evening with the Pros?”
That list includes Ahmad Bradshaw of Super Bowl champion New York Giants, plus Herd pros like Chris Crocker, C.J. Spillman, Daniel Baldridge, Albert McClellan, Mario Harvey and others who have signed the special footballs.
The Coaches Tour is, according to Epling, “really about getting in front of people, keeping in touch, letting them interact with the coaches, than it is raising funds right there.”
“It’s development. And we try to help them understand that bringing in new people (to Big Green) helps raise money.”
“(It) gets competitive, sometimes real competitive,” said Sutherland, among chapters in the membership and fundraising game.
The Big Green, which has nine giving levels starting at $50, is also boosted by Epling’s weekly e-mail blasts to members, keeping them up-to-date on foundation happenings and future scheduling.
To sum up, the Big Green these days is about a Vision … and a vision.