As Wichita State was engaged in what coach Gregg Marshall called a "magic carpet ride," following its 2013 Final Four berth with a 35-0 start and No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, I visited Marshall in his office to talk about the journey.

In part, the idea was to explore how he embraced and embodied the "Play Angry" mantra the WSU men's basketball program celebrated — a notion apt in a distressing new way amid the investigation that he physically and verbally abused players that led to his resignation on Tuesday.

With the typical charm and eloquence he displayed in my experiences with him in several one-on-one interviews, he spoke then about the profound influence of his mother — a "survivor" abandoned in childhood. And about his early days playing the game back in Virginia, where he said he was left with a mouthful of fake teeth because he "played face-first, and I definitely played angry."

He spoke about how he lacked the typical pedigree of prominent coaches, since he had no early links to blue-blood programs or mentors. And how having nothing ever given to him fueled him as a coach, including being what he called "a nut case sometimes" when nobody really cared or saw it at Winthrop.

Perhaps some of that helps explain allegations that have come to light the last few weeks, starting with reporting from Stadium that former Shocker Shaquille Morris said Marshall struck him twice during an October 2015 practice and that he saw Marshall choke former assistant coach Kyle Lindsted during a 2016-2017 practice.

(Teammate Ty Taylor confirmed Morris' story in the Stadium report, and five other players from WSU's 2015-16 team told The Wichita Eagle that Marshall hit Morris. Eight others from the 2016-17 team told The Eagle that Marshall had put his hand around Lindsted's throat. Marshall denied each allegation).

But if his past might help explain Marshall's intense coaching approach, which he said in a statement "can be demanding, harsh or strict" but not "demeaning or abusive," nothing could justify allegations of hostile actions that also include racial and ethnic slurs directed at players.

Trouble is, the enabling and rationalizing of such behavior is everywhere these days, at times even somehow condoned as a form of strength.

That's true in the real world, where the prevailing mentality too often is that the ends always can justify the means.

And it's certainly cooked into a fundamentally warped system in collegiate sports, where despite glacial changes taking place, athletes have little recourse to deal with abuse lest they be labeled soft or troublemakers or be subject to retaliation.

Which is why Wichita State is paying Marshall $7.75 million dollars over six years to go away after these appalling charges ... even as it is theoretically salvaging a semblance of victory by apparently negotiating not to have to pay him the $15 million buyout clause in his contract for a firing without cause.

The cautionary tale here is an old and familiar one that still bears attention: Beware unchecked power. That would seem particularly applicable when it comes to a person known to be prone to rage — as Marshall demonstrated in that appalling scene in a 2016 exhibition game that offered a disturbing glimpse at the potential of his temper.

Meanwhile, though, a number of supporters of the program have reaffirmed their commitment to Marshall through these last few weeks.

In effect, this suggests a belief he is the victim of players whose accusations they either automatically disbelieve or don't consider meaningful or of an administration they think should be beholden to him.

At least that's the message, intended or not, when donors write The Eagle to say "they stand united in support of Gregg Marshall" or purchase a full-page advertisement pledging ongoing allegiance to Marshall's "sterling character."

No doubt such gestures are well-intended. And Marshall certainly deserves credit for becoming "an integral part of the community with not-for-profit leadership," as one booster told The Athletic.

For that matter, it's a complicated dynamic to navigate when someone you admire or know is accused of things that might seem incompatible with what you perceive them to be or stand for.

If you see them as a friend when they're up, then it could feel like abandonment when they fall.

But it's just as true that too often we automatically prop up sports figures for the collective pride their accomplishments give us.

And the thing about blind faith is, well, it tends to get in the way of knowing we all have blind spots.

As reported by The Eagle's Taylor Eldridge, three of Marshall's most prominent alums (Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Landry Shamet) have yet to directly publicly comment on Marshall in the context of the allegations.

But Baker recently made a thought-provoking related statement that is worth heeding.

"Think about 14 years ago and think now what Coach Marshall has done there, so (the boosters) coming out and saying they support (Marshall), I totally get it," Baker said during the 4 SZNS NBA Podcast released on Nov. 10. "But my only defense right now is they weren't in the gym when those things were happening.

"So they've got to understand where I come from when I walk the fence line. There will definitely be a time where I think I'll get into more depth."

As for the time being, for all concerned, this is just a deeply sad final signature on Marshall's tenure at Wichita State, where he went 331-121 in 13 seasons.

For years, Shocker fans worried he'd leave for one of those blue-blood programs whose absence in his life was part of his drive to coach so angry that it consumed him — evidently in more ways than one.

Now, alas, that anger is the exclamation point on a Wichita State legacy that once was all about a magic carpet ride.


(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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