I used to do a live sports talk show at what is now Mountain Pie Company On the River in St. Albans, near Charleston.
I was searching for a guest when it was suggested I invite University of Charleston men’s soccer coach Chris Grassie.
Well, little did I know he would win an NCAA national championship for Marshall University five years later. And little did MU athletic director Mike Hamrick know when he hired Grassie from UC the Thundering Herd would be crowned national champs in 2021.
Or did he?
I spoke with Hamrick last week about the hire.
“We were looking for a soccer coach,” Hamrick said. “Bob Gray, who had been here 20-plus years, retired. We built a really nice stadium. We have a great facility. It’s an $8-9 million facility.
“So, we did a national search for a soccer coach. Chris Grassie’s name kept coming up – and he was 50 miles down the road at the University of Charleston.”
Hamrick and associates did the prerequisite background checks. Five candidates were interviewed.
“Yet we kept coming back to Chris Grassie,” Hamrick said. “Quite honestly, he was a little arrogant. He was confident. He had a swagger about him. He basically told us in the interview – and people aren’t going to believe this – if he came to Marshall and we supported him, with the facility we had, he could win a national championship.”
Talk about calling your shot…
“I spent about two or three days thinking about that,” Hamrick continued. “I decided to go meet with the guy. So, I went and met him for lunch at the Tidewater Grill there in Charleston’s mall. He came across the river and we talked for about an hour and a half. I walked out of there with my senior associate Jeff O’Malley. I looked at him and said, ‘Jeff, this guy thinks we can really win big here in soccer. I think he’s convinced me he can do it!’”
After returning to Huntington, Hamrick called Grassie and asked what he needed financially in order to take the job.
“Four years and four months later we were celebrating a national championship,” Hamrick said.
The title is quite a story considering Marshall’s size and financial wherewithal compared to well-heeled national schools. But sometimes the best candidates are right in front of you.
In this case, the very best candidate. Grassie was quickly rewarded with a new five-year deal that hiked his salary from $122,000 to $375,750.
And, yes, Hamrick thinks he can keep Grassie from other suitors.
“Absolutely,” Hamrick said. “He’s made this a great job. He knows he can win here. He’s got the support. We had 3,000 to 4,000 fans in Cary [North Carolina]. It was all kelly green.
“We’ve got great support; we’ve got a great facility; we fund the program well. And what many don’t know is we play in a really good soccer conference. Kentucky was in the [NCAA] tournament; Charlotte was in the tournament. Plus, we just added Coastal Carolina as a soccer member. They made the tournament. So, of 32 teams, four came from Conference USA. It’s a great conference you can sell.
“I think he believes he can sustain this.”
Yes, by the way, Hamrick had bonuses written into Grassie’s previous contract – including for a national championship. At this point, the coach has earned an additional $80,000.
“I absolutely had a bonus in there for a national championship,” said Hamrick, who also was the athletic director at UNLV, East Carolina and Arkansas-Little Rock. “I’ve done that everywhere I’ve been — and this is the only time it’s been used. Happy to do it.”
And if other schools do come after Grassie?
“You want to have coaches that other people want to hire,” Hamrick said. “That means you’re doing something good. That’s like my beautiful wife. Everybody in college wanted to date her. I got her and have been married 40 years. Everybody wanting to date her convinced me I did pretty good!”
He certainly did so — on both fronts.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.