Pruett led Marshall to a 15-0 season in his first year in 1996, coaching the Herd to a Southern Conference and I-AA National Championship as the Herd prepared to jump to Division I-A football for the first time since 1981. Marshall kept right on winning under Pruett in I-A, recording a 10-3 mark in 1997, his first of five Mid-American Conference titles and sending the Herd to its first bowl in 50 years in losing to Mississippi in the first Motor City Bowl. The Herd would win the 1998 MCB over Louisville for Marshall's first bowl victory, then record a national best four more wins to make five bowl victories in a row, including wins over BYU and Cincinnati in Motor City Bowls and wins over East Carolina and Louisville in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
Pruett was emotional at the announcement of his retirement, held at the Marshall football offices on Wednesday morning.
"It's not heath related," said Pruett to a hastily called press conference at the Shewey Athletic Center on Wednesday morning. "I'm 62 years old. I've got about 10 years to live or 10 years to die and I want to live. The future very bright for Marshall. We've got an outstanding recruiting class and good players here." Pruett met with his players early this morning to tell them first, then with MU President Farrell and his staff. Pruett recommended Kueck for the head coach ing position, with spring football scheduled to start Friday at 3:00 p.m. as the Herd prepares for season one in Conference USA this fall.
"It's a bittersweet day," said Kueck, who in 30 years has coached at C-USA members Southern Methodist, Southern Miss and Rice. "Very few assistant coaches don't aspire to be head coaches. It's bitter because you may not know how close Bob Pruett and I are." Kueck was offensive coordinator for the Herd in 1996, then spent the next five years at in Dallas with the Mustangs of SMU and in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with the Golden Eagles of USM. "When I left in 1996, Bob and I talked every Sunday for five years. I'm really going to miss seeing my friend every day."
Pruett thanked many individuals who helped him build the Marshall program, both as an assistant for Sonny Randle here at Marshall from 1979-82 and as head coach. Pruett, a three-sport, nine letter winner here at Marshall, also became broken up many times in the press conference but never more than when he mentioned his wife Elsie, who he met and married while they were Marshall students. "I want to thank my guiding light and the love of my life, who is Elsie," said Pruett. " I couldn't do anything without her."
Pruett coached MU to four top-25 rankings and finished 10th in the nation in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls in 1999, when the Herd posted a second undefeated season under Pruett of 13-0. He had the highest winning percentage of any D-IA coach with at least six year's experience, winning over 80 percent of his games at Marshall. Marshall has had 12 players drafted into the National Football League under Pruett, with Josh Davis and Johnathan Goddard likely to follow this year, and sent 30 players to the league. That would give Marshall a player drafted in six consecutive years, including NFL stars like NY Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich. Pruett is a member of the MU Athletic Hall of Fame and was honored as National Coach of the Year in 1996, 1997 and 1999, as well as being four time West Virginia Coach of the Year and twice named as MAC Coach of the Year.