This opinion column appears in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal newspaper. Give your opinion here.
TUPELO – So what do you do if you’re a basketball coach and your season has ended sooner that you might have liked?
If you’re the just-fired Billy Gillispie, you lawyer up and try to figure out a way to enforce the buyout clause in a contract you never signed.
If you’re Tupelo native Bob Marlin, the head coach at Sam Houston State, you go take in some spring training baseball.
Which sounds like more fun?
“The thing about tournament play, it always comes to a sudden end and you’re not ready for it to end,” Marlin told me by phone last week. He was sitting in the stands in Jupiter, Fla., watching a St. Louis Cardinals spring game.
He’s friends with Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa, whom he met through a mutual acquaintance – ESPN’s Bob Knight.
“It takes a day or two to get away from it once the last game is played,” Marlin said. “You have to take time to grieve or whatever you’d like to call it, then you start right back on the road with recruiting.”
Marlin has been at Sam Houston for 11 seasons. His latest squad of Bearkats went 18-12 and lost in the first round of the Southland Conference tournament.
Between that loss on March 12 and his seat in the stands to watch the Cardinals, Marlin was able to make a rare trip to Mississippi to visit family in Tupelo and Iuka as part of a recruiting foray into Jackson.
“We signed two guys early, a 6-8 and a 6-9, and we’ll return three starters, two of whom were all-conference selections,” Marlin said. “Recruiting never stops.”
One of the players he’s got to replace is Oxford native Barkley Falkner, who averaged 8.7 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior starter.
“He did a great job for us,” Marlin said.
Early this month, just a couple of days after his 50th birthday, Marlin picked up his 200th victory at Sam Houston – second in the league only to the 383 wins for his former coaching mentor at Northeast Louisiana, Mike Vining.
It was Vining who hired Marlin, sight unseen, as a graduate assistant out of Mississippi State in 1983, where he’d been a student assistant for three seasons.
Marlin coached Pensacola Junior College to a national championship in 1993.
In the background, the Jupiter crowd revs up as the Cardinals score. Like many folks from around here, he’s been a fan for a long time.
“As a little boy in the 1960s, I vividly remember listening to them on the radio with my grandfather in Iuka,” he said. “I’ve always been a Cardinals fan.”
John L. Pitts (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.
John Pitts/Daily Journal