HAMPTON — Eugene Marshall Jr. took the plunge 30 years ago. Farewell IBM and potential long-term security and stock options. Hello college sports administration and thankless hours and inevitable job change.
He's never looked back, and Monday the well-credentialed, supremely grateful Marshall was formally introduced as Hampton University's athletic director.
"Probably not wrapped too tight," he said with a broad smile of leaving IBM. "(But) athletics has always been my life. It's one thing to have a job. It's another thing to have a passion. So for 29 years, I've had a passion, not a job. … That's why I'm here. I love what I'm doing. The hours don't matter, because it's not a 9-to-5 job."
The job at Hampton is particularly difficult, witness its rampant turnover. Marshall is the seventh person to hold the position, full-time or interim, since Dennis Thomas resigned in 2002 after 12 years to become commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Thomas and Marshall are friends, so Marshall should understand the challenges: a modest budget of approximately $10 million that is, according to U.S. Department of Education filings, smaller than MEAC rivals such as South Carolina State, Norfolk State and Florida A&M; tepid attendance for football and men's and women's basketball; a boss, university president William Harvey, who demands excellence.
But challenges are not foreign to Marshall, who has worked in various roles at Division III Ramapo College, Pratt Institute and the College of Staten Island, Division II Queens College, and Division I Iona and Army. No $100 million budgets and lucrative ESPN contracts there.
"Athletics is the front porch of the university," Marshall said, "and I will aggressively continue to get out into the community and talk about Hampton University and Pirate athletics. I think it's important that we get out regionally, nationally and internationally and tell the story, because people need to know what we have here."
What Hampton has is a women's basketball program that's reached the last five NCAA tournaments, a men's basketball program that famously advanced in the 2001 NCAAs, a football program that hasn't earned the MEAC's national playoff bid since 2006, and world-caliber track alumni such as Francena McCorory.
Absent the annual television windfalls reserved for the Football Bowl Subdivision's five major conferences, schools such as Hampton confront ever-increasing pressure to fundraise, and Marshall appears suited for the assignment.
"The main thing with all of that is people skills," Ramapo basketball coach Chuck McBreen told the Daily Press' Dave Fairbank last week when Hampton announced Marshall's appointment. "Whether that's getting out in the field to talk to alums or businesses, in regards to the fundraising aspect. Or whether it's just in the department itself. He gets out from behind his desk. … He gets out, he gets around. He gets a pulse on everybody, their program and what's going on and so forth. Then he goes from there and helps in any way he can, once he gets a pulse on it."
Fundraising is critical "because budgets are fixed," Marshall said. "Expenses are not, and we need alternative resources (to compete). … I call it friend-raising, because people don't give to people. Friends give to friends. So I think a major part of my job is to go out and develop friendships."
Marshall succeeds Novelle Dickenson, a veteran HU academic who for two years added athletic director to his myriad duties. But the time when a Division I school could fully thrive without a dedicated AD passed long ago.
The job is simply too taxing, especially as the NCAA grapples with a restructuring driven by major football schools.
"Hampton has a place, and the MEAC has a place," Marshall said, "and I think that's why we have to go out and raise enough money, because we want to be able to control our own destiny and not have somebody else control it. …
"If we don't have the resources, then we're at the whim of whatever. … We have coaches who are hired to win championships, and we have to provide them the necessary resources."
Marshall's closest advisers are an eclectic lot and include Old Dominion president John Broderick, a classmate at Northeastern University 30-plus years ago, former Orange Bowl director Keith Tribble, former Georgia athletic director Damon Evans, Lt. Gen. William Lennox and Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck. Lennox and Hagenbeck were superintendents at the United States Military Academy, where Marshall worked under then-athletic director Kevin Anderson, who holds the same position at Maryland.
"There's a team wherever you go in athletics," Marshall said. "No one person has all the answers. I sure don't, and I never will … but together we will have the answers."
Marshall turns 56 this summer. He has remained at schools for as long as 11 years and as briefly as less than one.
Might he be the long-tenured AD Hampton has not enjoyed since Thomas?
"I kind of put it in God's hands," Marshall said. "I've never come to a place saying I'm going on to the next job. … I'm going to roll up my sleeves and go to work. I'm not looking down the road. … This could be a destination. I wouldn't rule that out."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun