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It's time for the almost-annual question: Can Wichita State keep Gregg Marshall?

Gregg Marshall has had chances to leave Wichita State. Is this the time he actually bolts? Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports Images

WICHITA, Kansas -- As friend Bruce Hornsby, a Grammy Award-winning musician, attempts to retell the story about Gregg Marshall's run-in with actor Harrison Ford, the Wichita State coach interrupts.

"This is how it happened," Marshall says.

Then he tells the story with the flair that's made him one of the most coveted coaches, notable hotheads and intriguing figures in college basketball.

"So he's talking to my wife," Marshall says of Ford, the Oscar-nominated "Indiana Jones" star who frequently stops in Wichita to mingle with the city's vibrant aviation community. "And I tap him on the shoulder and say, 'Hey ... I didn't kill my wife!'"

His audience chuckles while he re-enacts the popular scene from "The Fugitive," complete with Ford's startling grimace in the film.

Marshall always has a story to tell.

But the one he repeats most often involves his commitment to a program that's squashed its former mid-major label, sailed to a Final Four, completed a perfect regular season and entered a new conference during his tenure while also producing NBA talent like Toronto Raptors standout Fred VanVleet.

The suitors arrive each offseason. And he usually says no. Marshall rejected NC State before the school hired Mark Gottfried. He left $4 million-plus annually on the table when Alabama called him a few years ago before accepting Wichita State's raise to $3 million-plus per year, which still places him among the top 10 highest-paid coaches in America.

But why is he still here?

If ever that would come into question, it would be during a turbulent 2017-18 season. Built on a collection of seniors and a sophomore point guard who might turn pro, this season's team has dealt with injuries, high expectations in a new league and inconsistent effort. But the Shockers are still fighting to avoid an unfavorable seed and daunting first-weekend pairing, comparable to those the NCAA selection committee has assigned to the program in the past.

After an undefeated regular season in 2013-14, the Shockers received a top seed -- and a second-round matchup with an underrated Kentucky squad. They lost. Last year, a 30-win regular season couldn't help the Shockers avoid a 10-seed, an opening-round matchup against Dayton and another second-round meeting with a Kentucky team that reached the Elite Eight.

Entering this Sunday's matchup at No. 5 Cincinnati (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) -- the first of two games this season against the American's first-place squad -- Wichita State is again chasing a favorable draw after the NCAA tournament selection committee left the Shockers off its projections of the top 16 overall seeds, announced on Sunday.

The Shockers began the week three games behind Cincinnati; Wichita State is tied with Houston for second. A tougher league, a series of stumbles and a pivotal February could end an era for the program.

Marshall, per the norm, says he'll ponder a coaching move if the right offer arrives in the offseason.

"I'll listen," he says.

That's not unusual.

But it will never be easy to abandon the kingdom he's created in Wichita.

Will he stay? Well, the city that loves all sides of him might never let him leave.


MINUTES BEFORE TIPOFF in a home game against Central Florida, Marshall is pacing back and forth in front of a whiteboard. He's coming off his first two-game losing streak in 14 months.

And he's upset about it.

As he moves around the room, he looks like a 1990s pro wrestler transforming into a heel, a villain, for an energized promo. His pulsating face approaches merlot red. He clutches at the air.

And then he grabs the left lapel on the suit coat he received after the 2013 Final Four run and stares at his team as if he's auditioning for an episode of "Scared Straight."

"Here's the problem," he tells the Shockers. "I can see it. 'He didn't play me enough.' I can argue the time I did give you, some of you didn't deserve it!"

He tells them about the 2013 squad, led by a trio of players who earned NBA contracts: VanVleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early.

"His attitude and his intensity mixed with his heart and his care for us and me helped my career tremendously," Early told ESPN.com. "I had never had a coach of his caliber and with his demeanor. He was something new, odd and refreshing for me all at once. Some guys can't handle his type of coaching. I loved it. I went head-to-head with it, but I embraced it."

"He creates a certain kind of adversity in practice that makes the in-game adversity easier to deal with. When you first get here, it's almost like a shellshock situation where you're almost like, 'Dang, what'd I sign up for?' Some days you feel like Coach hates you, but it's all calculated and for a reason." Wichita State guard Landry Shamet

Early's team willed itself to a program-altering stage five years ago, Marshall tells his current team before the Central Florida matchup.

These guys?

"You guys sit around and wait," Marshall says. "What are you waiting on?! It's time to take what's ours. [The Final Four team] didn't wait around."

This is not an act.

Marshall was a 6-foot-2 beanpole at Division II Randolph-Macon College (Ashland, Virginia) who had the insight and intellect without the brawn to do what he wanted on the court. But he never lacked toughness.

A former teammate once shattered his nose in a pickup brawl. Minutes later, Marshall was laughing about it in the locker room.

He brought his "play angry" brand to a Wichita State program that blossomed. That's the method he uses to turn his team against the world, but it's also the instrument he employs to generate an edgier vibe in the locker room of a team that, entering the UCF game, had lost two in a row.

"Coach Marshall, when he steps in between those lines, he don't care about nobody's feelings, nothing like that," senior Shaq Morris says. "It's all about the team and us getting better, and he'll tell you like it is. When you come here, you kinda gotta decide before you come if you want to be coached that way."

Marshall never relents during the 81-62 victory over UCF. In between sips of his half-and-half Gatorade and water mixture, he makes demands of players and coaches.

"It's unbelievable how much these fans pay to see you all," Marshall tells his team during a timeout that night. "You don't f---ing deserve it. Name another place where you lose two in a row and have a crowd like that!"

Then Marshall threatens to boot his entire coaching staff when his assistants can't tell him why a UCF player connected on an uncontested 3-pointer.

"Who had the shooter?" he screams. "That's your job!"

After senior Conner Frankamp misses an early defensive assignment, Marshall calls him out on the sideline.

"I was right there!" Frankamp yells back.

The escalated tone started earlier in the week.

In a ferocious practice, Marshall criticized the effort of Morris -- "I've seen this s--- for five years and I'm sick of it" -- and told him to hit the showers midway through the session.

Players say they understand Marshall's intent.

"He creates a certain kind of adversity in practice that makes the in-game adversity easier to deal with," Landry Shamet says. "When you first get here, it's almost like a shellshock situation where you're almost like, 'Dang, what'd I sign up for?' Some days you feel like Coach hates you, but it's all calculated and for a reason."


THAT'S THE GREGG MARSHALL most see from afar -- the fiery instructor with an old-school coaching style.

But that's not the only Gregg Marshall people around here know.

The locals know the avid golfer who lives on a nearby course. They know the guy who frequents the city's bustling restaurant scene with his wife, Lynn, who is often the loudest fan at Charles Koch Arena each game.

A quick meal at Saigon. Lunch at Chester's Chophouse.

His face is plastered around Doo-Dah Diner, the best breakfast spot in town.

At Georges French Bistro the day after the game, Marshall is telling stories again over lunch as his wife laughs.

He recalls the tempting offer Alabama made in 2015. Former athletic director Bill Battle stayed at his house for hours, hoping to woo Marshall after he had just led the Shockers to the Sweet 16.

He was making $1.8 million per year then. But Bama was offering "something that starts with a four."

When Battle left, Marshall figured he'd travel to Tuscaloosa and check out the Crimson Tide.

And then he got a phone call from one of Wichita State's wealthy backers, who asked him what it would take to keep him off that plane.

The next year, Marshall's salary rose to $3 million per year.

That, coupled with a cost of living that's 10 percent less than the national average, according to Forbes, makes Wichita an ideal spot for a man who lives like a king here.

When he recruits, he whips around the country in private jets thanks to his connections in the city's wealthy aviation community.

If he wants tickets to an event in the region, he just picks up the phone.

Game 6 of the World Series in 2014, when the Kansas City Royals beat the San Francisco Giants 10-0? He was sitting behind home plate.

Any concert in the area? He picks up the phone.

"I mean, we don't get Taylor Swift or Drake, but ..." Marshall says before his wife corrects him.

"Taylor Swift came," Lynn says. "We couldn't go."

Marshall continues, "I mean, we don't get Drake, but everyone else, we do."

As they're eating lunch, they're interrupted by Shockers fans. One man congratulates them on the previous night's win over UCF. A middle-aged woman says she wants to see names on the back of the team's jerseys, and she's willing to stitch them onto the uniforms herself.

Lynn offers tickets to a young waiter who fights back tears. "My father always wanted to go to a game," he says. "You all are good people."

A few years ago, his wife urged him to show his softer side. Players had to see him as a father and a husband, she said. He's worked on that.

After the win over UCF, he praised his squad.

"That was a team win," he says. "We still came back and won. [Samajae Haynes-Jones], you played very well. Darral Willis was a beast."

He invites players to his house to watch football games on Sundays. His wife hosts a crab-cake club with various players on the team. They play cards. They bond.

Marshall even tries to rap, which never goes well.

"Sometimes I'll be like, 'Savage, why you got a 12-car garage and you only got six cars,'" Marshall says over lunch, repeating the lyrics from "rockstar," the hip-hop hit by Post Malone and 21 Savage.

Adds Shamet: "Yeah, he did that the other day before the Memphis game last week."

The week of the matchup against UCF, the team's character coach, Steve Dickie, talks about the value of time: its limits, its potential.

"What are you doing with your time?" Marshall repeats before the win.

And that's the theme of the season. There is only a month left for a team many picked to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, one month to reach its potential before Selection Sunday. And, as usual, there is uncertainty about what happens next with this veteran crew and a coach who is continually pursued by Power 5 programs.

A pair of games against Cincinnati could change the course of the season in this critical chapter for the program before the question arises again: Will Marshall stay?

Marshall and his squad are the hottest ticket in town. His players can't go to the grocery store without creating a buzz.

And this is the adoration and connection he would leave. Wichita State is a place that allows him to coach as if the world were ending, make more money than Arizona's Sean Miller and Villanova's Jay Wright, work the room with his vivid tales and wake up each morning knowing he has the job security of a wasp exterminator.

Yes, he might consider other offers after the season. He's never avoided the talk about his next stop or mission.

With five key seniors graduating and Shamet pondering the NBA, now might be the perfect time to go.

Still, Marshall often repeats the best career advice he says he's received.

"Coach where you're loved," he says. "Coach where you're loved."

And if that's his mantra, he and Wichita State were made for each other.

"I know," Shamet says, "he loves us."