- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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Making the quick drive from his old job to his new one, Tom Herrion stopped to grab a bite to eat in Morgantown, W.Va.
While Herrion finished up his meal, a gentleman slid out of his nearby booth and came over to Herrion's table.
"Excuse me, weren't you the assistant at Pitt?" the man said.
And when Herrion admitted that, indeed, he was the assistant coach made famous after getting pegged by a flying coin during a Panthers game at West Virginia, the man took a quarter out of his pocket and set it on the table.
"Not all West Virginia people are bad," he said and walked off.
Herrion is counting on that sort of goodwill now that he's crossed state lines into enemy territory. Jamie Dixon's associate head coach is now the boss at Marshall University, taking over at a school just three hours away from his old employer's backyard rival.
He comes to a school with national name recognition, a solid basketball past and little in the way of recent success. Roadblocked in part by Memphis' domination in Conference USA, the Thundering Herd are in the midst of a 23-year NCAA tournament drought.
This past season, Marshall put together its best season in a decade and only its third winning season since 2001 and promptly lost its coach (Donnie Jones went to Central Florida) and its best player (Hassan Whiteside declared for the NBA draft).
But buoyed by facility improvements, a new athletic director and eight returning players, Herrion believes he's sitting on a sleeping giant.
There is limitless potential. And there is a commitment to being good here.
”-- Marshall coach Tom Herrion
"There is limitless potential," he said. "And there is a commitment to being good here. We have really good name recognition, but a lot of that is driven by the unfortunate tragedy and the movie thereafter ["We Are Marshall," which chronicles the plane crash that killed the school's football team]. We don't want to be simply known for a movie. We want to build a program with national cachet and that's the challenge that intrigued me."
What intrigued Mike Hamrick were Herrion's name and his résumé.
The Marshall athletic director worked previously at East Carolina University, where he pried a basketball coach away from Drexel, a coach by the name of Herrion. Bill Herrion.
Hamrick's experience with Tom's brother piqued his interest, but Herrion's own coaching pedigree won him the job.
Hamrick, a West Virginia native and Marshall graduate, is more than familiar with the run of success Pittsburgh has enjoyed in recent years. Every time he flipped on the channel to watch the Panthers, he couldn't help but notice the demonstrative assistant doing as much coaching as Dixon.
"I spoke with Jamie Dixon and it was very clear to me that he wasn't concerned at all giving Tom so much responsibility in both recruiting and coaching," Hamrick said. "I felt like, even though he was the associate head coach, it was like we were getting a head coach from one of the winningest programs in the country in recent years. If you look back at the history of Marshall, we've never hired a coach with the credentials of Tom Herrion."
Herrion is the first to admit he wondered if and when those credentials would pay off. Eight years ago he landed his first head-coaching gig. Then the hotshot assistant who had studied under Pete Gillen at both Providence and Virginia, he took over at the College of Charleston and promptly went 25-8, winning more games than any rookie coach that season, and earning a spot in the NIT.
He would win 80 games in his four seasons there but the victories came in reverse order -- more in the early part of his tenure and fewer as the years went on -- and eventually the school and coach parted ways.
Herrion wasn't happy about it and the parting, while professional, was testy.
"I was so young and the be-all, end-all was to be a head coach as fast as you could," he said. "Then you have some success early and you're thinking fast track to a bigger job. I'm much more patient now. I'm tremendously grateful to have that opportunity at a young age and I've taken a lot from it."
Now re-energized and armed with a new perspective, Herrion is ready to restart his head-coaching career. He has already signed two players -- Dante Holmes, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Baltimore, and Aundra Williams, a 6-foot-10 junior college transfer. Marshall also is expected to add Orlando Allen, a graduate transfer who played sparingly at Oklahoma.
And Herrion also is busy hammering out the particulars of the Thundering Herd's schedule, that will as always include a neutral-site game against West Virginia.
This year the game will be played in Charleston and Herrion already is plotting ways to have fun with his recent brush with ignominy.
"Maybe I'll wear goggles," he joked. "Right now, I'm not sure if I'm more known for being the head coach or the guy that got hit with the quarter."
With success at Marshall, Herrion has a chance to change that and maybe find more friendly West Virginia faces along the way.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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