HUNTINGTON — There will be a hint of nostalgia on the field Saturday when Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert sees Eastern Kentucky on the other sideline.
In fact, it will take Lambert back to the start of his collegiate coaching career, which came in the early 1990s with Marshall.
During that period, battles with Eastern Kentucky were the norm with the Colonels being one of the elite teams in Division I-AA (now FCS).
The common denominator to those tough Eastern Kentucky teams was head coach Roy Kidd, who preached physicality to his players.
Current Eastern Kentucky coach Walt Wells was an assistant for Kidd from 1997-2002, so Lambert expects the Colonels to bring that old-school mentality back with them to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest.
“They’re trying to bring that back to Eastern Kentucky,” Lambert said. “That’s what’s going to happen on Saturday. It’s going to kind of remind you of that, I think. Our intensity level and our physicality is really going to be important in this game, as it is every week.”
Those Marshall-Eastern Kentucky battles of the early 1990s had major historical implications with them as well.
In 1990, Eastern Kentucky and Marshall battled at the final game in old Fairfield Stadium with the Colonels earning a 15-12 win that essentially knocked Marshall out of I-AA playoff contention in Lambert’s first season on Jim Donnan’s staff.
The Herd came back the next season, however, and got revenge by earning a 14-7 win over Eastern Kentucky at newly-opened Marshall Stadium (now Joan C. Edwards Stadium) in the I-AA semifinals that sent them into the I-AA Championship game against Georgia Southern.
That game was considered an upset as Marshall got a late goal-line stand to derail the No. 2 Colonels, who came to Huntington for the contest due to the I-AA’s bidding process on playoff contests.
For Lambert those memories are fun, especially considering that one of the key cogs on Marshall’s defense in those games — safety Shannon Morrison — is now on the opposite sideline coaching secondary for the Colonels.
Morrison has actually been involved in the last four meetings between Marshall and Eastern Kentucky — as a player in 1990, 1991 and 1992 (a 44-0 Herd win in 1992 which started the I-AA postseason run that ended with the I-AA title) and the 2018 matchup in which he coached the Colonels.
At that time, however, Lambert was still the head coach at Charlotte, meaning this will be the first time that Marshall’s defensive coordinator gets to coach against Morrison.
“Shannon was a really, really good player here at Marshall and really had a lot of impact on our program here when we were here in the early 90s,” Lambert said. “He was a really good player for us and he’s done a really good job in coaching everywhere he’s been. I know he’ll be fired up for this game, that’s for sure.”
Lambert said that what he’s seen in Morrison’s coaching path is something he also saw on him during his days as a player.
“I always think back to him, Joe Chirico, Roger Johnson — that group that played for us at safety back then,” Lambert said. “It’s just a good group of people that really played physical football.”
As it turns out, many players at the collegiate level were now born in the 2000s, which means they don’t have the knowledge of what those battles from the 1990s and before entailed.
That’s why Lambert — and he’s sure Morrison on the other side, too — has ingrained that mentality in his players leading up to Saturday’s game.
“For our guys, they don’t remember those,” Lambert said. “They weren’t a part of that when we opened this stadium and played those guys and Georgia Southern. You had a lot of good rivalries back then. Eastern Kentucky was always a highly-ranked team that was really physical and I expect the same thing out of them this week.”