HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — Nearly 17 years ago, Matt Daniel stepped onto the campus of Marshall University as then-head coach Billy Donovan’s first scholarship offer with the Thundering Herd.
Daniel, the 1994-95 Arkansas high school player of the year and McDonald’s All-America nominee, opted for the University of Colorado instead of playing with the Herd, but that recruiting connection has always kept Marshall University in the back of Daniel’s mind.
Now, Marshall is at the forefront of Daniel’s basketball career.
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick introduced Daniel, who led the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears to three straight 20-win seasons, as the sixth head women’s basketball coach in Thundering Herd history, bringing him full-circle, in a sense, from a time when his journey in collegiate athletics began 17-years ago.
"Not only did that (recruiting visit) play some part, it was a big part," Daniel said. "I’ve always watched Marshall from afar, and I can’t tell you how glad we are to be a part of it now and make up for a little lost time."
According to Hamrick, Daniel’s new contract with Marshall is a four-year deal worth $160,000 annually plus incentives for making the NCAA tournament. At UCA, he was making $100,000 plus incentives.
On Tuesday, Daniel’s introductory press conference outlined everything from his basketball philosophies, which he handed out in a packet of information called "The Home of Higher Hoops", to his Memorial Day weekend in Huntington and his expectations for the future.
Standards such as family, relationships and protecting the home court rose to the forefront - core values that not only made him a success at the University of Central Arkansas, but also values that will likely adhere him to the Tri-State community.
"It’s a new day, a new era," Hamrick said. "It’s time to take Marshall University women’s basketball in a whole new, different direction. New coach, new attitude, new era, new atmosphere."
No matter whether Daniel was introducing his wife, Dr. Jennifer Daniel, speaking of becoming a first-time father this October or elaborating on basketball philosophy, there was an excitement and a confidence about every aspect.
It’s an element that prompted Hamrick to hire him while also piquing the interest of several players who were in town to meet their new coach.
Daniel’s sense of family and relationships are traits that helped him turn Central Arkansas from a six-win team in his first season to a 24-7 record and a regular-season Southland Conference championship just three years later.
However, the change at Central Arkansas was about much more than just play on the basketball floor.
Not only did Daniel helped turn the on-the-court program around, he also established the donor program with the school as it transitioned from Division II to Division I athletics and also turned attendance figures from miniscule to an average of 1,500 a game last season.
Given the sense of community pride that he has seen in his times in Huntington, Daniel expects to do the same at Marshall.
Attendance and keeping local talent at Marshall are two aspects that Daniel outlined on Tuesday, and they are the same concerns that fans have voiced for the last several years.
In the past three years, there have been eight players from within 30 minutes of Huntington who have moved on to the Division I level, yet none has stayed home to play at Marshall.
With several top-level prospects coming up soon, Daniel wants to make sure that the Tri-State’s talent remains on display for local fans to take pride.
"We will do everything we can to protect home base and we will do everything in our power to keep talent at home," Daniel said. "It is important — coaches, high school, AAU, junior college, whoever you may be — that we box out the competition and protect home court."
In four years at Central Arkansas, Daniel was 72-50 overall while compiling 66 wins in the last three seasons after getting the program turned around. Daniel was Southland Conference Coach of the Year twice (2010, 2012).
Daniel replaces Royce Chadwick, who resigned last month to take the same position at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a Southland Conference member. In 11 seasons, Chadwick was 161-169 overall.
(Grant Traylor is a reporter for the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in West Virginia)