By MARK MAYNARD
ASHLAND — Vic Marsh won a lot of big games during a successful football coaching career at Ashland.
He led the Tomcats to 112 victories – more than any other coach in school history – and the 1990 Class AAA state championship. Marsh’s teams were always prepared and they showed it on the field.
Preparation was the Vic Marsh trademark.
But he has found there’s no preparation for what’s about to happen in two weeks when he takes his place on the Elks Sports Day Wall of Fame with so many of Ashland’s other sports legends.
That happens the weekend of June 14-15 on the 39th annual Elks Sports Day celebration.
Vic Marsh, the master of cool and preparation as a coach, is already wringing his hands.
“I am really nervous, I hate to admit it,” he said. “There are so many people up there who have been a big influence in my life. To be up there with them is quite a humbling experience.”
Marsh never sat out to become the winningest coach in Ashland Tomcat history but it happened anyway. He had his share of talent including Juan Thomas, generally regarded as maybe the greatest Tomcat of the modern era.
But Marsh said it was the underachievers who tugged at his heartstrings.
“There were kids who had very little talent who made themselves starters and good players,” he said. “That’s what high school football is all about, watching them develop as players. Those are the kids I always loved.”
Not that he wouldn’t take a dozen like Thomas, who was the centerpiece of the 1990 championship team.
“There’s only one Juan Thomas,” Marsh said. “Juan and I stay in contact; I love him to death. He was a worker.”
Maybe Marsh liked the underachiever because that was him. He wasn’t big enough or good to challenge athletes like Bill Lynch and Bill Swimm for playing time in the backfield at Coles Jr. High, so he became a 125-pound guard.
Marsh played three years at Ashland from 1963-65. It was the last three years of Rex Miller’s tenure as head coach. He grew up in the Central Avenue neighborhood where that gang of kids played sports on the playgrounds of the area, like Coles Hill.
“It was a pretty tough neighborhood,” Marsh said. “You learned to get tough or how to run fast.”
Marsh was one of those players in high school like he loved to coach. He had to work for every second of playing time he earned. He was a student of the game, always interested in how the game worked, although coaching never entered his mind until late in college.
“It (coaching) never entered my mind in high school,” he said. “Certainly it never occurred to me that I’d have the opportunity to coach at Ashland. I have been totally blessed. The good Lord blessed me from the get-go.”
Marsh had a rude introduction to coaching after he got out of college. He was hired as the first head coach at West Carter in 1973 and the Comets weren’t ready. They finished 0-11, being outscored 461-94.
“I was looking for a job and I was pretty cocky,” he said. “I got humbled real quick.”
West Carter started the program without the benefit of a youth league. Marsh said the late Jack Fultz was his principal at West Carter and his mentor.
“People thought he was against starting the program but he really wasn’t,” Marsh said. “He just wanted to make sure it was done right. They wanted too much too fast. It was a mess.”
And so was Marsh’s confidence. He resigned at West Carter and returned to Ashland with wife Karen, leaving coaching in the rear-view mirror. Marsh went to work in a home improvement store when he learned there was a coaching opening at Coles Jr. High.
Herb Conley, one of those faces on the wall to which Marsh will be forever indebted, gave him a chance to coach in the Ashland system. He was there for three years from 1974 to 1976 where he also scouted with Putnam coach John Tuttle and Bill Burch for the Tomcats.
“Bill Burch was a master of scouting,” Marsh said. “He taught us to look for little things. Scouting on those Friday nights was an education. That and those Sunday (coaches) meetings watching Herb and Mike (Holtzapfel) and Bill Tom (Ross) prepare. That’s where I learned it all. You don’t pick that stuff up reading a book.”
Marsh was elevated to the varsity staff after Conley left coaching to enter administration. Holtzapfel took over and the results were not good with seasons of 3-7, 3-7 and 1-9.
“At the end of the 1-9 year, it was suggested that we resign,” Marsh said. “I wanted to apply for the (head coaching) job but I was told I was too young.”
Mike Manley, who happened to be a year younger than Marsh, was hired as the new coach. Marsh had been in charge of the winter weight program and Manley made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He comes in and asks me to coach,” Marsh said. “I said, ‘They don’t want me.’ His words were: ‘Don McReynolds and I will run the offense. The defense is all yours.’ I couldn’t pass it up.”
Manley, who Marsh called “an offensive genius,” brought McReynolds with him to Ashland. However, Manley stayed only one season, going 9-3, but was offered a coaching job at Morehead State. He didn’t leave until late May and Marsh, almost by default, would become the next Tomcat head coach. McReynolds and Randy Heaberlin stayed with Marsh as assistant coaches and he brought on Mark Renfroe, a former Boyd County star and University of Kentucky lineman. It turned out to be an outstanding staff that had the Tomcats playing at a high level every Friday.
“At that point, I was as confident as I could be,” he said. “I learned offense under Mike, wishbone under Herb and defense under Herb.”
The Tomcats opened the 1981 season against Leslie County in the Recreation Bowl and highly regarded quarterback Mike Whitaker.
“It was all I could do the two weeks building up to that game and trying not to show any fear,” he said. “There was so much hype. The Courier-Journal was calling, the Lexington paper was calling … I wasn’t used to giving interviews.”
Ashland defeated Leslie County 27-14 to begin the Marsh era with a victory. Three-sport star Scott Crank was put in at free safety and helped tame Whitaker. Crank was named the Recreation Bowl’s Star of Stars.
Marsh finally relaxed, realizing he was well prepared for Ashland’s mighty expectations.
“It was the expectations. I played at Ashland, I knew what the expectations were. That’s why it makes it such a great job, there are great expectations. It does pressure you. But the job is to try and win games.”
He did it more than anyone else, including the 14-1 season in 1990. His son, Scott, was a sophomore contributor that season. Marsh’s Tomcats had a lot of big moments even in defeat. The 6-0 overtime loss to Covington Catholic in the 1988 semifinals ranks as one of the greatest games ever played in Putnam Stadium.
“I think that game set the stage for the next two years,” Marsh said. “Juan and Charlie (Johnson) were sophomores on that (’88) team. They got a taste of what it was like.”
Ashland’s 19-14 victory over Bell County in the 1990 state semifinal game was another of the great ones at Putnam Stadium.
Who knew that scrawny boy who grew up on Central Avenue would someday take his place beside the Ashland legends?
Vic Marsh is still shaking his head in disbelief at the notion.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 32 6-2648.