ATHENS -- As a group, football coaches are not known as forward thinkers. It's a game-by-game world they live in, and nothing matters, they say again and again, beyond this week.
So what Marshall coach Bob Pruett is doing in Huntington, W.Va., goes
against the grain. Rather than settling for being known as The Little
Program that Could, the Thundering Herd is looking to the future and has
thrown itself to the Top 25 wolves in hopes of becoming part of the lead
Saturday's trip to Athens is part of that transformation. The No. 3
Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) take on Marshall (0-2) at 1 p.m. in Sanford
As the millennium dawned, Marshall was the bully of the mid-majors,
consistently nudging its way into the Top 25 and occasionally knocking
off a BCS team on the road. In 1998, it beat South Carolina. In 1999, it
knocked off Clemson.
"I think (those wins) were huge in our program, but it's like
else. After a while, those things fade," said Pruett, who is in his
ninth season coaching his alma mater. "You have to continue to raise the
bar. We couldn't get any Division I teams to come in to us, and we
certainly couldn't get any middle-of-the-pack Division I teams to come
to Huntington. What we wanted to do was keep advancing our program,
understanding the risks we were taking.
"We had to transform our thinking."
What that meant was playing anybody, anywhere as many times as
possible in hopes of getting a return home game.
In the last two seasons, the Herd has played at Florida, at Virginia Tech, at Tennessee and at Kansas State. This year, they will play at
Ohio State and at Georgia on back-to-back weeks.
"We wanted to see how high we could raise the bar," Pruett
only way I knew how to do it was schedule these teams. It showed us what
we had to do to be competitive against these kinds of teams. We're not
in it to try to play people close. We'd like to win ball game."
So far they haven't done that this year. They are 0-2 after playing
Troy State and a trip to Columbus, Ohio, but none of Georgia's players are taking
the Herd lightly.
Quarterback David Greene made it clear how highly he thinks of
Marshall, perhaps at further expense to his popularity with South
"(Marshall) has got a lot of talent, probably the most talent we've
seen so far," Greene said. "We're definitely not going to be
A win at Georgia would be just the kind of next step Marshall is
looking to take, and the Bulldogs know it.
"Who better to beat than UGA, at Georgia, in their 92,000-seat
stadium?" Georgia receiver Bryan McClendon said.
The payoff for Marshall's bold plan begins next year when Kansas State
plays the Herd in Huntington. The next two years are pretty ugly,
though, with trips to Kansas State, Tennessee, Miami and Wisconsin. Then
comes more good news: the Volunteers will play at Marshall in 2009 and
Miami will go in 2011.
"The price you have to pay is to go there and play those guys,"
said. "I'm not by any means saying we are that type program, but when
they first started out, that's what they were doing, playing anyone and
everyone, and that's what we think we have to do."
Marshall has had to buy plenty of calendars to make its plan work. It
has games scheduled out as far as 2013.
"Sometimes you have to take a step backward to leap forward,"
said. "We'll see. We think we've charted a course. We'll persevere and
we'll continue to work our plan, and we'll make our plan work."