Early history (1895–1934)
Boyd Chambers, the coach who called the "Tower Play".
Marshall first fielded a football team in 1895. The team didn't have a coach that year or from 1897–1901. The first coach in Marshall football history was George Ford from 1902–1903.
Boyd Chambers was Marshall's head football coach from 1909–1916. He is best known for calling the "Tower Play", where one receiver lifted another up on his shoulders to complete a pass, during the 1915 season.
Arch Reilly led the Herd to an undefeated 8–0 record in his only season as Marshall's head coach in 1919.
Charles Tallman would lead the Thundering Herd from 1925–1928, compiling a 22–9–7 record before moving on to coach . Tallman's Thundering Herd won conference championships in 1925 and 1928 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a league Marshall helped to found in 1924. The WVIAC existed until 1999's 75th anniversary, but was then supplanted by most Division II colleges in the state who joined the new Mountain East Conference, a league based on bringing football schools together.
Tallman was succeeded at Marshall by former Michigan All-American John Maulbetsch, who posted an 8–8–2 record in his two years (1929–1930).
Tom Dandelet led the Thundering Herd from 1931–1934, compiling a record of 18–16–2. Dandelet's 1931 team won the final conference championship in the WVIAC. He later worked as Dean of Men at Marshall for the next two decades. Of note is Dandelet played for the Ironton (Ohio) Tanks in the mid-1920s, when the Tanks often played against National Football League teams including the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, who moved to Detroit to become the Lions in 1934.
Cam Henderson era (1935–1949)
Cam Henderson led the Marshall Thundering Herd for a total of twelve seasons (Marshall didn't field a football team from 1943–1945 due to World War II) and posted 69 wins. Henderson coached the likes of College Football Hall of Fame member
Bebop Hunt – who set a Marshall and National record with 27 touchdowns in 10 games in 1940, a record not broken nationally until Lydell Mitchell had 28 TDs in 1971 (12 games) for Penn State. It was a Marshall record until Randy Moss had 29 touchdowns in 1996 in 15 games. Frank Gatski was another Henderson standout, and was Marshall's first NFL HOF member, who won 11 championships in 12 years. Winning 10 with the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC and NFL and one with the Detroit Lions in 1957. Bill Smith was Marshall's first All-American on the AP "Little" (small colleges) All-American team in 1937 during his time at Marshall. Henderson's teams were tough and physical and liked to run the football. Henderson's 1947 Herd was 9–2, then received a bowl bid from the second Tangerine Bowl to face Catawba College (the winner of the first bowl game in Orlando, Florida). Henderson's 1946–47 basketball team won the NAIA National Championship with a 32–5 club, and earned a bid to the Helm's Foundation's Los Angeles Invitational, so Henderson took the team by train to Denver, flew into LA and also won that tournament. His top assistant, Roy Straight, took the football team minus the two starting ends who went with Henderson and, after a four-day bus trip to Orlando, lost the Tangerine Bowl on Jan. 1, 1948, 7–0 to Catawba, despite out-gaining and having more first downs. In fact, the Marshall defense was so brilliant, converted quarterback now end Donnie Gibson won the MVP Award for the game for his play at end in place of future 4X NFL All-Pro Norman "Wildman" Willey, who had a career with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1950–57 and set a record (unofficial) with 17 sacks against the New York Giants. After a 6–4 1949 season, Henderson resigned as the head football coach but continued to lead Marshall's basketball program until 1954–55. Henderson's Buckeye Conference Championship in 1937 would be the Herd's last until 1988, and his 9–0–1 team record that year was the only other undefeated season between 1919 and 1996 and is one of eight in MU history.
Pete Pederson era (1950–1952)
Coach Pete Pederson, who replace Cam Henderson as football coach (while Henderson continued to coach basketball until 1955) tried to take the Herd's wing-T offense and use the NFL-popular T-Formation, but he only had one winning season, going 5–4–1 in 1951 with many players left by Henderson. The Herd was mostly mediocre during this time period, winning no conference championships, going 2–8 in 1950 and 2–7–2 in 1952 before Pederson was let go. Home attendance was up and down. During this time, Marshall joined the Ohio Valley Conference (1948) but left the OVC after the 1952 season to join the Mid-American Conference in 1953, in which Marshall competed in until 1968.
Herb Royer era (1953–1957)
Herb Royer, a former honorable mention AP "Little" All-American for Cam Henderson in 1937 for the Buckeye Conference champs, took over the Marshall program in 1953. Royer came to Marshall after leading West Virginia Tech to a WVIAC title and successes in the high school ranks in W.Virginia. Top players for the Pederson era (some of whom carried over to the Royer era) included Bob Sang, Floyd Davis, Ed Prelaz, Len Hellyer, Oggie Thomas, Jim Swierczek, Kenneth Wheeler, Frank Mazza, John Vaglienti, Milan Zban, Albie Maier, John Chamara and Bill Zban. The Big Green went 2–5–2 in the transition year leading Marshall to join the Mid-American Conference. Royer, who also played in a 1938 College All-Stars vs. the NFL Philadelphia Eagles, got the Herd to 4–5 in 1954, slipped back to 3–6 in 1955 and 1956, but posted a record of 6–3 in 1957 and finished a Herd best second in the MAC (also happened in 1964 for Coach Charlie Snyder). Royer asked for upgrades following the 1957 season, but Marshall was always underfunded. When the administration did not provide additional funding for the program, Royer followed up on a preseason promise to resign if no dollars could be found for football, moving to California to teach and coach for the next two decades. Top players under Royer included Henry Hinte, Albie Maier, Bill Harris, Bob McCollins, Jim Simpson, Herb Hess, Vernon Howell, Sonny Sirianni, Len Hellyer, Bill Zban, Bob Waggoner, Jim Maddox, Cagel Curtis, Dick Jackson, George Templin, Bob "Gunnar" Miller, Ray Dunlap, Bob Wilson, and Roy Gaines, from Barboursville and was the first African-American to letter for the Herd football program. He, Howard Barrett (left the program in 1956) and Ray Crisp (broken leg prevented his playing varsity football joined the Herd junior varsity football program in 1955). Goines joined the Herd just a year after Henderson had recruited Hal Greer to the Herd basketball team from the same school he and Goines played at, the Huntington Douglas HS for black students in the area. Greer and Goines became the first multi-year letter winners among African-American players south of the Mason–Dixon line, in West Virginia and at Marshall. Goines lettered for the Herd in 1956 and 1957 at defensive back. By 1960, tackle Wilson Lathan became Marshall's first African-American captain, and he was recruited by Royer in 1957. Royer was 21–31–2 in his five years, teaching for a decade in California before returning to teach at Marshall.
Charlie Snyder era (1959–1967)
became the Marshall coach when Herb Royer resigned after the 1958 season. His first Marshall team dropped to 1–8 in 1959, moved to up 2–7–1 in back-to-back years in 1960 and 1961, improving to 4–6 for the 1962 season (but still 0–5 in the MAC). Snyder (28–58–3) posted a 5–4–1 record in 1963, 3–2–1 in the MAC (second most wins in the league except the 1957 4–2 mark). In 1964, Snyder posted the first back-to-back winning seasons since 1940 and 1941, going 7–3 (most wins since Snyder was a senior and captain of the Tangerine Bowl team in 1947), and Marshall was second in the MAC for the second and last time in 1960 with a 4–2 mark (tying the '57 team's high-water mark). But the underfunding of football at Marshall really began to hurt the program in 1965, when two-platoon football became the new rule for NCAA teams, although Snyder's 1965 team opened the season 4–0, lost five in a row after quarterback Howie Lee Miller broke his leg against the Quantico Marins in game four but won the final game with long-time rival Ohio University (playing the Bobcats since 1905) to finish 5–5. Snyder slipped to 2–8 in 1966 and bottomed out at 0–10 in 1967 and was relieved. Top players included Bob Maxell, Roger Jefferson (long time successful HS FB Coach in W.Va. at Stonewall Jackson, Charleston and Capital High Schools), Zeke Myers (worked in Marshall University administration), Everette Vance, Ralph May (successful Nationwide agent for Southeastern Region, came back to MU with Coach Bob Pruett and re-launched the M Club as well as working on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Marshall before finally serving as Director of the Big Green Scholarship Foundation), Bill Winter (played four seasons for Charleston Rockets in the Continental Football League), Jim Cure (3X All-MAC first team receiver), Bobby Pruett (five years in Continental Football League's team in Roanoke, Va., then later a long-time college assistant and finally a 9-year successful head coach at Marshall, winning an I-AA National Championship, a Southern Conference title, five MAC titles and winning 5 bowls in seven bowl games in Pontiac, Mobile, and Texas), Howard Miller, Tom Good (who had a cup of coffee with the San Diego Chargers, then three years in the Continental Football League's Charleston [W.Va.] Rockets), Andy Socha, Dennis Miller, Tim McLaughlin, Richie Robb (later the Mayor of South Charleston, W.Va.), Mickey Jackson (an assistant coach at Ohio State and Marshall), Jack Mahone, Charlie Jones, Millard Fleming, Jim Maddox, Millard Fleming, Bob Hamlin (first 1,000-yard passer in Marshall history, later an attorney), George Hummel, Jasper Wright, Alpha Mayfield, Larry Coyer (40-years as an assistant coach in the NCAA D-I, NFL and USFL), George Riggs, Granville Zopp, Harper Hill, and Bob Lutz (long-time successful coach of the Ironton [Ohio] Fighting Tigers in HS football). Snyder prospered after leaving Marshall, working as an Associate AD at Toledo after moving there as an assistant coach in 1968.
Moss and Tolley eras (1968–1970)
Perry Moss led the Thundering Herd for one season, posting a 0–9–1 record before being replaced. Moss was part of the huge attempt to overhaul the Herd by boosters, actually having players coming in nationally for scholarship scrimmages. Moss had won the Continental Football League title in 1966 with the Charleston (W.Virginia) Rockets, then in 1967 with the ContFL team in Orlando. He coached Arena Football many years in Florida. He also hired Jim "Shorty" Moss from his ContFL staff to work at Marshall and brought in All-American Florida State end William "Red" Dawson to coach in '68, and Dawson – a coach featured in the "Ashes to Glory" documentary and the "We Are Marshall" motion picture – stayed with the program until after the 1972 season, helping coach during the dark days of 1970–72 at Marshall.
Rick Tolley was Marshall's head football coach for two seasons, coming to Marshall from his post as defensive line coach for and posting records of 3–7 and 3–6 before being killed on November 14, 1970 in the infamous plane crash in which all 75 passengers, including 37 players, five coaches, administrators, family and friends (along with the Southern Airways five-person crew) were killed traveling home from a game against . The one remaining game of the season, an away game at , was cancelled. Marshall spent a full 15 years recovering from the crash, was the nation's worst football program in the 1970s, and did not have another winning season between 1964 and 1983.
The November 14, 1970, plane crash that killed all 75 passengers on board, including 37 players of the Thundering Herd football team, five coaches and many fans, boosters and families, is well documented (see link above). The event and its aftermath were dramatized in the 2006 Warner Brothers motion picture, We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox. It was also depicted in the 2000 award-winning documentary Ashes to Glory by Debora Novak and John Witek. There is a plaque at the in honor of those lost in the 1970 crash, the Marshall Memorial Student Center and Memorial fountain (dedicated in 1972) on the MSC plaza are both in memorial to the lives lost and on a facade on the stadium's west side is a bronze memorial dedicated to the plane-crash victim, dedicated in 2000.
Even with a short window of one year for Moss, and two for Tolley, a number of outstanding players came to the Herd including Ted Shoebridge, Dickie Carter, John Hurst, Art Harris, Larry Carter, Skipper Williams, Jeff Terns, Marcelo Lajterman, Wayne Bennett, Jerry Stainback, Roger Childers, Larry Brown, Greg Finn, George Riggs, Larry Sanders, Dennis Blevins, Kevin Gilmore, Bob Harris, Ed Carter, Scott Reese, Mike Blake, Freddie Wilson, Tom Zborill, Bobby Hill, Barry Nash, John Repasy, Chuck Saylor Robert VanHorn, and Pat Norrell – many of whom died in the crash.
Jack Lengyel era (1971–1974)
In the wake of the crash, Marshall was given special permission by the NCAA to play incoming freshmen at the varsity level for the 1971 season. This team was dubbed the Young Thundering Herd and led by the few upperclassmen who didn't make the trip. Several players from other Marshall sports programs rounded out the team's roster. head coach Jack Lengyel was chosen to lead the crippled program. Lengyel, not surprisingly, struggled with a 9–33 record but won the first home game played after the 1970 tragedy, a 15–13 victory over , winning on the last play of the game on a Reggie Oliver pass to Terry Gardner, sprung thanks to a block from Jack Crabtree, an offensive tackle on the left side of the line. Lengyel resigned after four seasons when there was pressure from Athletic Director Joe McMullen (who hired Lengyel, and coached his at Akron) when McMullen wanted to make staff changes and other interference with Lengyel's team.That same 1971 season, the Herd upset a 6–1–1 Bowling Green team at Homecoming, 12–10, possibly costing the Coach Don Nehlen Falcons a chance at a bowl bid. It was the second upset of BGSU head coach Nehlen, later the ultra-successful head coach of the WVU Mountaineers and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, as the Marshall football win over BGSU at homecoming in 1969 broke a 0–26–1 losing streak going back to 1965. Many great players played on these not so great (record wise, with a high water mark of 4–7 in 1973) including Oliver, Gardner, Crabtree (whom offensive line coach Jim McNally, a guru of OL play with a number of NFL teams and in books, called the most overachieving tackle he ever coached in 1999), John "Fuzzy" Filliez, Jon Lockett, Eric Gessler, Roger Hillis, Mark Brookover, Jesse Smith, Steve Morton, Rick Meckstroth, Dave Griffith, Nate Ruffin, Randy Kerr, Chuck Wright, Allen Meadows, Bill Yanossy, Bill Forbes, Bob Tracey, Ned Burks, Lanny Steed, Bob Eshbaugh, Felix Jordan, Dave Walsh, Charles "Chuck" Henry, Bob Krone, Mark Miller, Jim Mercer, Greg Johnson, Sydney Bell.
Frank Ellwood era (1975–1978)
Frank Ellwood took over as the Marshall head coach following Lengyel's resignation and also struggled. His teams failed to post a winning record, capping a decade in which the Thundering Herd posted a dismal 23–83 record. The high water mark was a 5–6 record in 1976, aided by Morehead State using an ineligible player in the Eagles opening win over the Herd and an upset of No. 20 Miami-Ohio, a team Marshall had not beaten and only tied once in games between 1940–75. The most important part of the decade was Marshall leaving being an independent since 1968–69 when the Herd was tossed out of the MAC for those 144 alleged recruiting violations in 1967. Marshall received a one-year probation from the NCAA, but the MAC dismissed the program and would not hear appeals in the early 1970–72 era. Marshall joined the Southern Conference in 1977, immediately winning the SC Cross Country championship that year, winning in baseball the following spring and advancing to two SC finals under Stu Aberdeen. But football would go 0–26–1 in the first five years of the SC, finally tying Western Carolina in 1980 on a 59-yard field goal, then getting its first win in the SoCon over Appalachian State in Boone, N.C. on Nov. 7, 1981. Elwood made headlines when at the Southern Conference rouser in Johnson City, Tenn. he predicted the Herd would win the 1977 SoCon title (off of the 5–6 season in '76). Marshall lost the first SC game 28–20 at Appalachian State and did not win a game in league play until they won at Boone five years later. Some outstanding players were members of not so great teams including Shawn Burke, Paul Wheeler, Mike Kesling, Matt Gaines, Dan Wells, Howie Harrie, JC Felton, Mike Bailey, CW Geiger, Herman "Bud" Nelson, Danny Wright, Steve Williams, John "Fuzzy" Filliez, Ray Crisp, Jr., Dave Crisp, Todd Ellwood, Mike Natale, John Huth, Ed Hamrick, Mike Hamrick, Wayne Sparks, Bill Yanossy, Bill Forbes, Kevin Smith, Greg Kendziorski, Ed McTaggert, Dave Kirby, Kenny Lawson, Greg Johnson, Billy Stephenson, Mike Sprouse, Dennis Bellamy, Jesse Smith, Hobart Phillips, Mark Brookover, Harold Wetzel, Paul Kuzio, Kevin Jackson, Syl Drobney, Bobby Coleman, Bob Campbell, Mike Johnson, and Sam Kinker.
Sonny Randle era (1979–1983)
Under the tutelage of head coach Sonny Randle, the Thundering Herd failed to post a record better than 4–7, but gained some momentum, getting better each year. 1–10, 2–8–1, 2–9, 3–8 and 4–7 were the year-by-year records of Randle's tenure in Huntington. Randle stepped down after five seasons. Randle inherited a program with no where to go but up, having lost every game in the first two years of the Southern Conference in 1977 and 1978. In the first spring football for Randle's Herd, the players on the squad dropped from 80-to-40 in 20 brutal practices, but did beat the Alumni in the annual Spring Game. Randle brought in many top players in his first two seasons, including freshman walk-on Ron Lear who rushed for over 1,000 yards – the first walk-on freshman in NCAA history and players like Carl Lee, Terry Echols, Larry Fourquean, Jim Hynus, Troy McNett and others – and by the time those players were seniors the team was 3–8, then 4–7. The non-Southern Conference non-loss came on a still NCAA Freshman record 59-yard field goal by frosh kicker Barry Childers – a player who could hit 50+ yard field goals with either leg. His kick gave the Herd a 13–13 tie at Western Carolina on Oct. 25, 1980. The next year, the Thundering Herd traveled to Appalachian State – the site of its first loss in Southern play back on Oct. 1, 1977 – and behind 245 yards of rushing out of running back Larry Fourquean, the Herd got the 17–14 SoCon first win over the Mountaineers. The Huntington police picked up the team buses at Hurricane on I-64, and gave the team an escort all the way to Gullickson Gym and Hodges Hall, the coach's offices in the former and the players mostly rooming in the later. "That was King Kong we knocked off our backs today", Randle said to a crowd estimated at over 3,000 to cheer the win. Randle finished 4–7 his fifth year, and beat VMI in his final game 56–7 on Nov. 19, 1983, missing a winning season with a 7–3 loss at Eastern Michigan and a 23–16 loss to UT-Chattanooga. Randle players who stood out include Carl Lee, Syl Drobney, Mike Natali, Jimmy Devine, Ron Lear, Pat Velardi, Barry Childers, Alan Huff, Larry Fourquean, Gilbert Orr, Danny Wright, Ted Carpenter, Carl Fodor, Darnel Richardson, Tony Stott, Brian Swisher, Terry Echols, Scott LaTulipe, Troy McNett, Jim Hynus, Billy Hynus, Moke Riggs, Jessie Bandy, Donnell Ross, Glenn Bates, Tony Lellie, James Wynes, Marty Palazeti, John Ceglie, Rocky Williams, Danny Abercrombie, Sam Manos, Steve Stoll, Juan Stout, Dan Staggs, Rob Bowers, Todd Evans, Carl Fodor, Randy Clarkson, Robert Surratt, Jeff Borman, Ted Jackson, Dean Roberts, George Elliott, Brian Hite, Mark Taylor, John T. Logan, Garfield Lewis, Mike Copenhaver, Eugene Pertee, Poncho Borgese, Tony Evans, Bill McCourt, Brad Morrison, Clifford Wright, Jeff Durette, Danny Tennant, Dickie Rollins, Tony Henderson, Erik King, David Hawkins, Jimmy North, Greg Liebe, Mike Staggs, Dale Rice, Tim Campbell, John Sharretts, and Greg Wiley.
Stan Parrish era (1984–1985)
Stan Parrish came to Marshall from his post as an assistant coach at . Parrish benefitted from Marshall and the Southern Conference being dropped to I-AA status in 1982, which allowed the Herd rid itself of the teams like Kent State, Miami-Ohio, Louisville, Western and Eastern Michigan and pick up instead NAIA West Virginia Tech as an opener for both 1984 and 1985 as well as playing Eastern Kentucky on a regular basis. In 1984, Parrish's first year, the Thundering Herd posted their first winning record in two decades, a 6–5 record, winning his final two games of the year in spectacular fashion. The Herd won at Illinois State in a storm following a 30-minute tornado warning, taking the wind in the first quarter to get a field goal and a 10–3 win. Then the Herd won at Johnson City, Tenn. in the ETSU Memorial Center, or "Mini-Dome", with a 31–28 win for the sixth win of the season. The next year, Marshall posted a 7–3–1 record, which included a perfect record at home, a 5–0–1 start and at one point were ranked #3 in the country. Plans for a new on-campus stadium for Marshall were made after the 1985 season. Parrish left after two seasons to accept the head football coach position at , the only school that had competed with Marshall for worst team of the 1970s. Parrish would later say leaving Marshall right then was his greatest mistake as a coach, as he lasted only 1986–88 with K-State before leaving the Wildcats. Parrish recruited future Marshall All-American, NFL player, and College Football Hall of Fame member Mike Barber as well as moving to center Sam Manos, who would win honors as a second-team All-American in 1986 and added Marshall players who bloomed under George Chaump like Keith Baxter, Cecil Fletcher, and Reggie Giles. Other greats of the Parrish era included Mike McCoy, Randy Clarkson, Carl Fodor, Tim Lewis, Robert Surratt, Mike Salmons, John Mitchell, Mike Copenhaver, Darryl Burgess, Garfield Lewis, John Halford, Todd Brown, Rob Bowers, John Ceglie, Chuck Felty, Jay Gleich, Billy Hynus, Scott LaTulipe, Bill Salmons, Steve Staley, Brian Swisher, Furness Whittington, and Tony Bolland. Parrish was the head coach at Wabash before coming to Marshall, then was the head coach at K-State, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan (interim), also coached at Purdue, Rutgers, and Michigan as well as the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs as an assistant for nearly 30 years.
George Chaump era (1986–1989)
George Chaump left to come to Marshall in late 1985. Under Chaump, the Thundering Herd posted yearly records of 6–4–1, 10–5, 11–2 and 6–5, which included two runs into the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, losses in the championship game and quarterfinal, respectively. Chaump was 6–4–1 in his first season with sophomore John Gregory at the helm, a former LA Dodgers farmhand who transferred from SE Louisiana when they dropped football. When Gregory was injured in mid-season, Tony Petersen – a California juco – took over led the Herd to four victories before losing out on a possible I-AA berth with two losses at the end of the season. In 1987, Gregory would be redshirted while Petersen would lead the Herd to its first 10-win season after starting 1–2 with losses at Ohio U. and at EKU. Marshall won six of its final eight to move into the I-AA playoffs, then knocked off James Madison (41–12), Weber State (51–23), and winning at Appalachian State – who beat the Herd earlier in Boone, 17–10 – beating the Mountaineers 24–10 to advance to the I-AA Finals in Pocatello, Idaho. In a classic shootout on ESPN, Louisiana-Monroe's Stan Humphrey out-dueled Petersen for a 43–42 win. Petersen won the Southern Conference Offensive Player and Athlete of the Year. The next year, in 1988, Marshall opened the season 8–0, went on to win its first game over Furman in front of a Fairfield Stadium crowd of over 19,000, 24–10, at homecoming, then beat Appalachian State, 30–27, on a Dewey Klein field goal. The Herd upset North Texas, 7–0, but fell to Furman in the quarterfinals, 13–9, as the Paladins went on to win the I-AA title. Chaump's final record in 1989 was 6–0 at home, but 0–5 on the road and he finished at Marshall, 33–16–1. Chaump departed after four seasons to accept the head football coach position at , but had some great players like CFB HOF and All-American Mike Barber, the I-AA Player of the Year in 1987, and All-Americans Sean Doctor, Mark Snyder, Nick McKnight. All-Southern Conference players include Greg Adkins, Barber, Ron Darby, Doctor, Cecil Fletcher, Reggie Giles, John Gregory, John Halford, Stanley Hall, Bruce Hammond, Eric Ihnat, Dewey Klein, McKnight, Bill Mendoza, Andre Motley, Tony Petersen, John Spellacy, Madison Sayre, Snyder, Von Woodson and other players like Keith Baxter, Darryl DeBose, Vincent Bodie, Todd Fugate, JR McVickers, Kevin Gault, George Barlow, Eric Gates, Larry Huffman, Kerry Parks, David Johnson, Ricardo Clark, Jim Torres, Shawn Finnan, Larry O'Dell, Rory Fitzpatrick, Rondell Wannamaker, Tim Flaherty, Kenny Green, Jerome Hazard, Mike Talkington, Keith Powell, Scott Heckel, Jay Gleich, John Cook, Rod Barnes, Norm Franklin, Michael Bryant, Ken Pepe, Erric Tyler, Matt Downey, Jarod Thomas, Mike Gill, John Humphreys, Jeff Fruit, Tim Mitchell, Matt Caton, and Layne Vranka.
Jim Donnan era (1990–1995)
Led by head coach Jim Donnan, who came to Marshall from his post as offensive coordinator at , Marshall won the Division I-AA national championship in 1992 over Youngstown State (31–28) and was national runner-up in 1991, 1993 and 1995. Marshall set an I-AA record with five straight seasons making at least the semi-finals of the I-AA Playoffs from 1991–95 (and added one more in 1996). Donnan was named NCAA Division I-AA Coach of the Year twice during his tenure at Marshall and resigned after the 1995 season to accept the head football coach position at . Donnan was elected to the as a coach in 2009, largely for his successes at Marshall. although at Georgia he led the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowls with four wins in those games, the first time that was accomplished at UGA, and won an average of eight games a season, the first Bulldog coach to accomplish that. Great players for Donnan included tight end Mike Bartrum (12 years in NFL as TE/LS, also pitched for Herd), Eric Ihnat (injuries cut short career with Chicago Bears), Curt Nethercutt (Huntington cop), Jermaine Wiggins (Super Bowl winner with New England Patriots and long NFL career after two years at MU, two at UGA). Quarterbacks included Michael Payton (College Football Hall of Fame) and Todd Donnan, Jim's son, who joined his dad in the MU HOF. The running backs included Orlando Hatchett, Glenn Pedro,
Orlandis Gary (transferred to UGA for last two years, long NFL career) and Chris Parker, the all-time leading rusher at Marshall who had injuries cut short career with Jacksonville Jaguars. Offensive lineman blocking for those players included Phil Ratliff, Chris Deaton, Pete Woods, Trevor Thomas, Johnny McKee, Kevin McCarty, Aaron Ferguson (pitcher/first baseman for Herd baseball), William Pannell, JD Cyrus, John Wade (long NFL career at center), Jamie Wilson (injuries ended his NFL career early with Carolina Panthers), Mike Webb, and Bert Scarbrough. Receivers included Troy Brown (3 Super Bowl wins with the Pats in 15-year career), Ricky Carter, Tim Martin (also played outfield for the Herd baseball program, then signed with Detroit Lions), Andre Motley, Will Brown, Ricardo Clark and Brian Dowler, son of the Green Bay Packers' great, Boyd, who came to MU from Florida State. Defensive standouts include Bob Lane, Byran Litton, Donahue Stephenson, William King, Shannon King, Shannon Morrison, Roger Johnson, George Thomas, Derek Grier, Joe Chirico, B.J. Cohen, Roger Garrett, Jim Bernadoni, Keenan Rhodes, and many others.
Bob Pruett era (1996–2004)
Randy Moss, star wide receiver at Marshall under coach Bob Pruett
Bob Pruett left his post as defensive coordinator at under Steve Spurrier to become head football coach at Marshall, where he served for nine seasons from 1996 to 2004. During his tenure at Marshall, the Thundering Herd compiled a record of 94–23 (.803 winning percentage), featured two undefeated seasons, won six conference championships, won 5 of 7 bowl games, and captured the I-AA National Championship in 1996. Marshall moved to Division I-A and the Mid-American Conference in all sports in 1997. The 1996 team, with Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, , , Eric Kresser, and many other players who played professional football, was 15–0, had no game closer than a two touchdown win and was ranked No. 1 all-season. Marshall won the MAC title five of its eight seasons (1997-98-99-2000–2002) and were runners up in 2001 in the conference before moving to Conference USA in 2005. Since moving back to Division I-A, Marshall has finished in the Top 25 four times: 1999 (10th AP/10th coaches' poll), 2001 (21st coaches' poll), 2002 (24th AP/19th cocaches' poll), 2014 (23rd AP/22nd coaches' poll). Marshall fell to in the 1997 Motor City Bowl, 34–31, but won the next three games in Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome, beating 48–29 in 1998, beating No. 25 21–3 in 1999 to finish 13–0 and beating in 2000, 25–14. Marshall and East Carolina matched-up in one of college football's greatest bowl games in 2001 at the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, a 64–61 double overtime win by the Herd over the Pirates of Conference USA. It is one of the highest scoring bowl games of all-time, and the Herd rallied from a 38–8 halftime hole behind Byron Leftwich's five touchdown passes. Marshall would fall to the Bearcats in the 2004 Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium, 32–14, in Bob Pruett's final game as head coach before his retirement.
Mark Snyder era (2005–2009)
Marshall University vs. Cincinnati Bearcats 2008 (before game)
Mark Snyder came to his alma mater to become head football coach from his defensive coordinator position at . Snyder coached the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw, Marcus Fitzgerald and Cody Slate during his time as head coach at Marshall. Snyder's best season was a 6–6 2009 season, which turned out to be his last. He resigned after five seasons, that included only one bowl berth, the 2009 Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.
Doc Holliday era (2010–present)
On December 17, 2009, Marshall officially named , an assistant coach at WVU under , as the next head coach for the Thundering Herd football team. Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said Holliday had signed a five-year contract and would be paid $600,000 per season. Holliday, a WVU alum, almost defeated Stewart's Mountaineers in 2010, but an untimely fumble by freshman Tron Martinez led to the Herd blowing a 16-point lead in the games final minutes, breaking the hearts of Herd fans. Holliday then led Marshall to a 10–4 season in 2013, capped with a victory in the Military Bowl. In the 2014 season he led the team to a 13–1 season, winning the school's first C-USA Championship and the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl against 52–23.