Full-Court-Press for Ragin’ Cajuns’ Success
● By Aimee Cormier
By Jessica Nicole Andrus
Photos By Ben Rikard, Assistant Sports Information Director for the University
“I fell in love with the game and was fortunate enough to do something I have a great passion for and really enjoy,” shares Bob Marlin, head basketball coach for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
Under the bright lights of the Cajundome’s UL basketball offices, there is a case filled with awards and retired jerseys, all showcasing an illustrious history dating back to the days of the University of Southwestern Louisiana Bulldogs and legendary former head coach Beryl Shipley.
A plexiglass case displays last year’s Cajuns celebrating their Sun Belt Championship win. A serious fury of Carolina blue and sunny yellow confetti cascades over the team as former Cajun guard and new Orlando Magic player Elfrid Payton raises the trophy above his head with his brothers standing beside him.
Marlin, 55, acted as a proud father while his players and the university celebrated their first impending NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years.
“Not many people have won their last game and cut the nets down,” explained Marlin.
Marlin is married to the former Jennifer Murray and has two children: 22-year-old Matt, who is currently a senior at University of Texas who plans to attend graduate school at UL Lafayette and his 14-year-old stepdaughter Saylor, who is a freshman guard for St. Thomas More Lady Cougars.
The Ball Is In Bob’s Court
Speaking with Marlin, he continuously exhibits order—on and off the court. In his office is another trophy case, this time showing a small array of basketballs, all arranged meticulously to face the same way. Around his desk are stray papers of season records and half-court sketches of possible plays all neatly stacked with a small collection of legal pads.
Marlin’s 33-year coaching career has been filled with great triumphs. Having several head coaching positions, he led all of them to their respective conference championships. When questioned about how he has been able to exhibit so much success throughout his career, Marlin acknowledges his staff and his players.
“I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with good people,” explains Marlin. “I’ve had great assistant coaches and quality students and athletes and guys who are willing to work and sacrifice for the good of the team. We put certain expectations on players and we demand that they honor those expectations, whether it be in the classroom or on the court.”
It certainly seems like Marlin’s players are honoring that commitment. Within his first four years at the University, seven of his players had grade point averages in the the top 10 for men’s basketball. According to Marlin’s profile on ragincajuns.com, the head coach had 11 players named to the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll for having a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
“Our guys are winning in the classroom as well as on the court. That’s what it’s all about. It shows – you can win in both,” states Marlin.
Keep The Ball Rolling
Marlin’s players may be influenced by his strong work ethic as it is something he has exhibited from an early age.
Born in 1959, Marlin was raised in Tupelo, Miss. Growing up in the Mississippi countryside, Marlin had a number of responsibilities every day on his family farm, which included feeding his family’s 20 horses, seven birddogs and a couple hundred cattle as well as caring for their catfish pond.
From a young age, Marlin showed an interest in sports, but it was particularly strong in basketball. When he was 8 years old, he played on a city league. He explains that after showing an early success at the sport, his coaches encouraged him to keep playing, providing a sense of confidence in young Marlin.
He also shares memories of shooting basketballs into a small basket connected to a wooden pole on a concrete slab that his father poured near the driveway, because the children closest to Marlin’s age lived a distance away.
“The closest person my age probably lived about a mile or two away so it wasn’t like your typical neighborhood where you could go out and play with all the other kids and Mom sticks her head out on the front porch and yells, ‘dinnertime,’ you know.”
He attended Tupelo High School, where he graduated in 1977. While at Tupelo, Marlin played football, baseball, basketball and track and field. He quit football after his freshman year, choosing to concentrate more on basketball. He attended Mississippi State, graduating in 1981 with a Bachelor in Physical Education. He continued his education in 1983 at Northeast Louisiana University (now UL Monroe), where he earned a Master in Health and Physical Education with a minor in Guidance and Counseling.
While at Northeast, he acted as an assistant basketball coach for one year. He moved on to Houston Baptist University, serving as an assistant coach for six years under head coach Gene Iba. In 1989, he accepted another assistant coaching position at Marshall University in West Virginia under the direction of Dana Altman, staying for one year. From there, he was offered a head coaching position at Pensacola Junior College, leading them to their first national championship. It was the first time in 47 years for any of the 27 junior colleges in Florida.
In 1995, he moved on to the University of Alabama to act as assistant coach for David Hobbs for three years. His longest stay so far was as head coach at Sam Houston University for 12 seasons. During his last year, he led the Bearkats to a 25-8 season as well as to the NCAA Tournament where they faced Baylor, losing in the end, 68-59.
Exhibiting so much hard work and dedication, he was offered the head coaching position at UL by Scott Farmer and David Walker. This upcoming season will be Marlin’s fifth with the Cajuns. With Marlin, the Cajuns’ record has been 66-63. The team became Sun Belt Conference West Division Champions in 2011 and entered back into the NCAA Tournament in 2014 with their 82-81 overtime conference tournament win against Georgia State. They ended losing in the second round of the tournament to Creighton 76-66.
“We were proud of our team,” states Marlin. “We hung in there and showed confidence when things were going against us during regulation. Last year’s team was very competitive. They had a strong will to come back.”
Triumph And Glory
During Marlin’s career, he produced two students that were recognized as Player of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year by the National Junior College Athletic Association along with five All-Americans and two NBA draft choices, the most recent being former Payton.
“I mean, it doesn’t happen every year and we enjoyed that journey with Elfrid and look forward to following his career,” explains Marlin.
Payton was selected 10th overall for the 2014 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers before later being traded to the Orlando Magic. His first regular season game occurred on Nov. 5, the same night as the Cajuns’ exhibition game against Loyola.
Marlin said he hopes this year’s team will show the same strong will as they enter the 2014-2015 season. The Cajuns had their season opener on Nov. 14 against Louisiana College.
“It’s an exciting, exciting time,” explains Marlin. “I actually get to see how our guys look on the court with the lights on and people in the stands.
“We’re looking for an exciting season. We like our team a lot,” Marlin continues. “We feel like we have more size, more strength, more depth; we shoot the ball better. Hopefully we’ll be better defensively, rebounding the ball and we’re excited about putting together a group of talented players together for a common cause.”
Overall, the amount of success Marlin’s players have experienced over the years proves Marlin has been a great pick and saving grace for the Cajuns. But it has not been the draft choices or award titles under Marlin’s belt that means the most to him. It is the relationships with his players.
“The real highlights are the relationships that you develop with a player and they call you after 20 years, you know, ‘Coach, ‘I just wanted to tell you thanks for all you did for me,’ and you know a lot of times they don’t realize it while they’re there. We’re pushing and pushing and when they’re gone and they get a little bit older, you know, ‘those guys treated me right.’ They have good people at UL and Lafayette.’ So to get calls from past players and really invest in those relationships over time, that’s the reason I coach.”