Gregg Marshall came back Thursday to the place in his heart he never really left, announcing he will remain at Winthrop University as men's basketball coach.
Almost 24 hours to the minute after being presented at a press conference as the new coach at the College of Charleston, Marshall stepped to the podium in the Eagle Room at the Winthrop Coliseum to a 45-second standing ovation from a room packed with supporters.
The greeting brought tears to Marshall's already red eyes, and it took him a few seconds and a hug from his point guard, Chris Gaynor, to compose himself before explaining the gut-wrenching decision he and wife Lynn made on the long drive back from Charleston on Wednesday night.
"All the way home last night, I just couldn't go through with it," Marshall said, sniffing back the tears. "It's a family decision. It was a family decision to do it, and it's more of a family decision to come back. My family includes my wife and my children, these players and my coaching staff.
"I apologize profusely to (the College of Charleston), and I apologize to you now. Hopefully, we can get beyond this and achieve greater and greater things."
Marshall gave no single reason for the change of heart, saying that "over the course of the last seven to 10 days there have been thousands of things."
But he said the feeling of comfort he and his family have in Rock Hill, his players and coaches and the program he's built in eight years were all part of it.
"It was something I thought was best for my family, and it's not," Marshall said. "There have been times in my life when I wanted something, didn't get it and it turned out to be the best thing ever."
The College of Charleston issued a one-sentence statement without attribution saying "we are as disappointed as our fans and we want to assure our community and fans that we are committed to seeking the best available coach that will lead our program to new heights."
No change in contract
Anthony DiGiorgio, Winthrop's president, was on hand to make the official announcement of Marshall's return. He said there would be no change in Marshall's contract "now or in the near future." Marshall signed a 10-year extension in March of 2005 that pays him just over $200,000 a year.
More importantly, DiGiorgio was at home Wednesday night to take the midnight call from Marshall he said was filled with "anguish and distress."
The relationship between the two goes beyond university president and basketball coach, DiGiorgio said, adding, "It's like father and son in many ways."
DiGiorgio helped Marshall make the decision to come back and to make sure everything was fine with his family.
"It wasn't an easy call," DiGiorgio said. "There was a tentativeness on his part about whether the ground here was still fertile. But it was a no-brainer for us. We had not gone far enough in the search process to feel as though we had made any commitments."
DiGiorgio told Marshall quickly that the job was still open, gave him a timetable of Thursday morning to make a decision.
"We had some contact around 10 a.m. (Thursday morning)," DiGiorgio said, "but I knew what his decision was before we formally talked about it. That determination was made Wednesday night."
DiGiorgio said the search process had begun and that a coach would have been in place by the middle of next week at the latest.
Marshall met with his players and assistant coaches on Thursday morning to give them the news and make sure they were willing to take him back. He said he hoped he could "build back the trust of my players."
Marshall, who has taken Winthrop to six Big South titles in his eight seasons and a school record 165 wins, seemed poised to return to the College of Charleston to try to jump-start a program that had slipped under Tom Herrion.
Herrion, who replaced John Kresse four years ago, was fired two weeks ago and the university paid him $787,000 for the final four years of his contract. In turn, they had offered Marshall more than double his Winthrop compensation package, but no contract had been signed.
At Wednesday's press conference in Charleston, Marshall said he wanted to take the Cougars back to where they had been under Kresse and beyond. Of all the people at Charleston, it's Kresse Marshall worried most about. He spent an hour on the phone with him on Thursday.
"He's hurting right now, just like I am," Marshall said. "That's the obvious one person I didn't want to hurt. I didn't want to hurt anyone.
"They're spinning right now, and I did not intend for that to happen."
Marshall said he told College of Charleston officials "it's no fair to have a coach come in with this type of anxiety and feeling in your gut."
Things were spinning in the car on the drive back to Rock Hill Wednesday night, as Marshall and his wife talked over the decision.
"It was indescribable," Lynn Marshall said. "It can't be put into words. We were both in tears."
She said when they arrived home, her parents and Gregg's parents were waiting for them with big smiles and an excited welcome.
"And we come in the door looking like we've been to a funeral," she said. "His mom sat with him and told him to 'do what your heart tells you.'
"Neither of us slept last night. I would have done anything if I could have taken some of the burden off him. It's not going to be easier now. He's going to read the papers, and people are going to be mad and he's going to want to see what's being said."
But she said the situation will probably fire him up more for the coming season, a season that could be a good one, with four starters back and a solid recruiting class coming in. Some preseason polls have rated the Eagles in the top 30 or 40 teams.
"We think we're poised to make a deep run," Lynn Marshall said.
Marshall started his press conference with a quote that appears on his Web site and one he said his players have heard more than once.
"We cannot become what we need to be by remaining who we are," he said. "I now know that we can become what we need to be by remaining where we are. And that's right here as a Winthrop Eagle."