Vic Marsh never took credit for any of his 112 victories as Ashland’s football coach.
The Tomcats had only one losing season during his 15 years, won the 1990 Class AAA state championship and was a state semifinalist in 1988.
Not once did Marsh say he did anything to win the game. He was always quick to credit the players and, in many instances, his assistant coaches.
“He always asked for our input,” said Randy Heaberlin, who worked under Marsh from 1981-87. “It was a unique situation. It goes hand in hand with a lot of good coaches.”
Marsh will be recognized tonight and Saturday as the honoree for the 39th annual Elks Sports Day. There is a reception tonight at 7 and banquet Saturday at 7. Ticket remain available.
Mark Renfroe was the first assistant coach that Marsh hired when he became head coach in 1981. Renfroe was a student teacher under Mike Holtzapfel in 1979 and Holtzapfel’s classroom was next to Marsh’s.
Renfroe, who graduated from Boyd County High School and went to the University of Kentucky on a football scholarship, had coached one season in Tennessee before coming home and later learning about the opening at Ashland.
Renfroe and Heaberlin were given the duties of coaching the offensive line and they were free to do it their own way.
“He was very open to suggestions but he had the final say,” Renfroe said. “Vic learned a lot from being with Coach (Herb) Conley. He told me what had been done in the past as far as terminology but he said ‘They’re yours.’ We set up our own drills and everything.”
During Marsh’s early years, Renfroe, Heaberlin and Don McReynolds made up the coaching staff. McReynolds and Heaberlin came to Ashland with Mike Manley in 1980. Marsh was a holdover from the Holtzapfel staff and was immediately put in charge of the defense.
Manley left for a job at Morehead State in June and the head coaching position was given to Marsh.
Marsh kept McReynolds as his offensive coordinator.
“He used about 85 percent of what I called,” McReynolds said. “We’d always go through a routine of what we’re gong to coach and what we were going to install on offense. He left it up totally to me and Randy with his overseeing, of course. He kind of let us run with it.”
As the years went on, the staff grew closer. Sundays would turn into a practically all day and all night film session.
“When Manley came in and left after that first year, things seemed to fall into place when Mark came on,” Heaberlin said. “There were only four of us but everybody knew their roles and nobody stepped on anybody else’s toes. Considering it was his first h ead coaching job, he fell into it very easily.”
Each of the coaches had their strength and they worked well together.
Marsh would run the scout team quarterback just to get a better look at things. He would flip his whistle behind his back and take the snaps. Renfroe remembered a practice when Chris Hutchinson “blew up the center” and knocked down Marsh. “He quickly jumped up and told them he was coming right at him,” Renfroe said.
Players loved Marsh for his fiery personality even when he got in their face. It was usually over a mental mistake, which he despised.
Ashland’s coaching staff always prided itself on preparation and teaching fundamentals. They would grow methodically as a team and would always be a much better team in the end.
As a staff, though, they were able to speak their minds, Renfroe said. “We had arguments. It wasn’t the ‘Brady Bunch’ all the time. (But) We worked like crazy. Our Sundays were supposed to start at 1 o’clock but as the season went on it was noon, then 11 and we’d go until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. A lot of times we may have outcoached ourselves.”
McReynolds would sometimes take naps in the coaches office before games and the high-strung Marsh didn’t always like it. He woke McReynolds up once and asked him what the first play would be. McReynolds, still a little sleepy and startled, said he needed to go to the bathroom. As he walked past Heaberlin’s desk, his fellow assistant was tapping his pencil where he had written down the play they had been discussing. Marsh pressed McReynolds, who rattled off the play that had just been tipped to him as the best choice.
“Vic said ‘That’s great. That’s just what I was thinking!’’’ McReynolds said. “I don’t think he ever knew that story.”
Renfroe said McReynolds was a skilled offensive coordinator “who should have been an offensive coordinator in college. He was always thinking three and four plays ahead.”
McReynolds said his relationship grew strong with Marsh through the years.
“He was originally really concerned with defense because that’s what Mike (Manley) let him do,” McReynolds said. “The defense was Vic’s and he gradually handed that over to Randy after he became the head coach.”
McReynolds and Marsh didn’t always agree on the call and the coaches would often discuss plays with each other on the headsets. But the final word was Marsh’s and everybody respected that.
Marsh would never run a play in a game that hadn’t been successfully practiced, McReynolds said. In the 1988 overtime loss to Covington Catholic, McReynolds tried to talk Marsh into running a fake field goal late in the game but, because the team hadn’t run it in pratice, Marsh said no.
The Tomcats missed a pair of late field goal attempts in regulation and fell 6-0 in overtime. That was one of only seven times that one of Marsh’s teams were shutout in 180 games.
“We had such a good game plan, worked so hard and really prepared,” McReynolds said. “The kids upheld the game plan to a T. We had an opportunity there. We win that and we probably win state with that group. But that was as good a game as I’ve seen in Putnam (Stadium).”
Renfroe said Marsh was more than somebody he coached under. He was also a good friend.
“He’d pick me up every day over at Nichols Place, where Connie and I lived, in that old red truck with no wipers,” Renfroe said. “We’d pray every day it wasn’t raining. There were other things he did for me, too. His friendship means a lot to me.”
Heaberlin said the players reacted well to Marsh’s style and so did the assistants. “He made us feel very much a part of it,” he said. “Vic set his own rules up. He did well adjusting to temperament of kids with his overall disposition. It was a strong thumbs down on everybody but he changed a little.”
‘Fair with everybody’
Most of all, Heaberlin said, he was always fair with the players.
“He would say ‘If you have a problem, come to me but be ready for the answer.’ He was fair with everybody. You played because it was Friday night and we needed you in a particular spot. You can’t say enough about him the way he treated you as a coach, a player or a parent. He was always very fair.”
That group of assistants wasn’t with Marsh during the 1990 championship season. Lee Evans, Dave Arthur and Steve Salyers replaced them but worked the same way — hand in hand. Those assistants, like his first ones, had the same feelings about Vic Marsh and how he made them a part of the Tomcat tradition.
Marsh was open to suggestions from them as well. It was Arthur who made the suggestion prior to the 1990 season that they switch to the wishbone by moving Charlie Johnson, probably their best blocker on the line, to fullback and have a backfield of quarterback David Brown, halfbacks Juan Thomas and Chris Hutt and Johnson. It turned out to be a championship manuever as those Tomcats were one of the nation’s best rushing teams ever.
“He let us coach,” McReynolds said. “He wasn’t trying to make us into mini-Vics. We had a job and we did our job. We felt secure enough in our position we weren’t threatened about somebody taking our place.”
Marsh’s relationship with his assistant coaches ended up translating into success for the program — and he would be the first one to give them all the credit.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.