Jan. 14, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Doc Holliday's Marshall football coaching staff remains intact - at least for now.
His 2014 recruiting year is just about a wrap.
He returns a large majority of the talent and plenty of leadership qualities from the Thundering Herd's first 10-win year in 11 seasons, a year that ended with a Military Bowl triumph over ACC-to-Big Ten jumper Maryland.
Yet, on Tuesday morning in his Shewey Building office, Holliday was working the phones on "speed answer." In one 10-minute stretch, he took three calls.
"Give me five minutes," Holliday told one caller. "Five minutes, pick up the phone, and it will be me."
The veteran coach is pointed toward fifth season at Marshall in an offseason interlude like never before. And that's not just a reference to a month-long NCAA-mandated "dead period" in recruiting, a span that seems to be leaving the Herd's longtime prospect-landing master somewhat frustrated.
"I do feel a little lost," Holliday said. However, he still manages to say, "It's all good," when asked about what's going on.
"I really like where we are," Holliday said. "We have high expectations and I like those. I don't want to be somewhere where there aren't high expectations. People are starting to pay attention to Marshall football again and that's what we want, what the school wants and what the community wants.
"It's probably been 12-13 years or so since people were mentioning Marshall in a preseason top 25 and expectations are good. As a team, a staff and a program, we embrace those expectations."
The Herd got a tie for No. 25 in one of those "way too early" polls for 2014 from CBSSports.com. A similar USA Today poll had Marshall getting votes, with only two teams (UCF, BYU) below the five power conferences making the rankings. The others on the "also getting votes" list were Arizona, Boise State, Duke, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Pitt, Southern Cal, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Utah State and Virginia Tech ... some pretty good company for the Herd.
In the final USA Today Coaches' Poll for 2013, Marshall placed fourth outside the top 25 - 29th overall -- and in front of teams like Texas Tech, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Texas, and Miami.
Holliday is accurate about "official" preseason attention. No Herd team has been in one of the two (AP, coaches) August preseason polls since 2002, when the Herd was No. 19 by the media and No. 21 from the coaches.
Speaking of coaches, Holliday lost seven (plus two strength coaches) following a 5-7 season in 2012. This time, so far so good on retention - but the Herd coach has his fingers crossed.
An early wave of hires is just about over. Now, there's another period of some shifting that occurs after National Signing Day (Feb. 5 this year).
"You don't want to jinx it ... I don't think there's any question this is the best staff since I've been here at Marshall," Holliday said. "These guys have done a tremendous job, a great job recruiting, and with players off the field, and obviously in coaching them up.
"And anytime you can keep a staff together ..., the stability and continuity is critical. That being said, when you have really good coaches, you're going to lose some at some point. That's inevitable, and it shows that other people respect your program and says you've hired good people - and we have.
"One thing about this staff is when I hired these guys - and it was the same thing a year ago - they gave me a two-year commitment, and I have guys I feel will honor those commitments.
"After that, I'll understand if they want to go, but I think it's important to this university and our program ... and right now, it's become a really good job, the opportunity to win championships is here, go to bowl games. We've got good players. So guys want to be here."
Those staffers will hit the road to visit every West Virginia high school later this week, while Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg travel to Ohio to check prospects before circling back as others go to more distant locations - primarily Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia -- to do face-to-face work.
"We walk into a school now, they know who you are," Holliday said. "No doubt recruits want to be part of football programs playing for championships, programs that have a chance to go to bowls ... the opportunity to play on a national stage.
"One thing about Marshall is we've got great tradition. Walk in every home out there and people tell you about the program in the '90s ... Randy Moss, Chad (Pennington), Byron (Leftwich). It was good to see Byron (at a Military bowl practice) ... We're getting back to that. No doubt the Military Bowl helped."
Holliday said the Herd wants to wrap up another lineman or two and a cornerback before signing day. Otherwise, Marshall has 12 commitments besides four early arrivals, and the class will be bolstered by seven 2013 signees or enrollees who were non-qualifiers but now will be "initial counters" in this class.
Meanwhile, Holliday likes the fact the Herd has a head start on the 2014 signing class with four enrollees this week - quarterback Cole Garvin, offensive lineman A.J. Addison and defensive linemen Jason Smith and Malik Thompson.
Garvin is an early high school graduate from Tyrone, Ga. The other three are prep school products.
"It's great to have the opportunity to get Cole in here, a quarterback to get spring ball under his belt," Holliday said. "Addison's a guy who we think really has great potential, and anytime you're an offensive or defensive lineman and at any time have the opportunity to have six more months in their weight room, that's huge. It's important for those guys."
Holliday said he doesn't expect many position changes for 2014, but one could be at offensive left tackle, where the graduation of veteran Garrett Scott leaves a hole. Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said he plans to start spring drills in late March by sliding starting left guard Sebastian "Swede" Johansson to that tackle spot.
"The one thing with Swede is he gives you an option because he's so athletic, he can slide out there. Guys like (guards) Blake Brooks and Michael Selby went into the bowl game and played extremely well, played well prior to that, too. We've got personnel inside, a lot of guys to play inside, so Swede can play at tackle."
Holliday again pointed to the Herd taking advantage of the Dec. 27 opportunity in the Military Bowl, a national telecast on ESPN with no other football game in that Friday afternoon time slot.
The bowl's Nielsen TV rating was 1.7, which translates to 2.58 million viewers. It was the most-watched of the six postseason games with Conference USA teams. The Military Bowl delivered the Herd more than five times the viewership of the C-USA Championship Game at Rice (449,000 viewers, 0.3 rating) on Dec. 7.
"It was a great time slot, the only show on," Holliday said. "At that point, a lot of fans aren't bowl-weary yet. They're anxious to see a couple of good teams play ... the national exposure, having the opportunity to win. We'll reap the benefits down the road.
"We've got a lot of players back, they had the opportunity for this bowl experience. To be on the national stage is good for this football team. It's got to help us."
Holliday said the Herd not only points toward 2014 with more respect and a five-win improvement from 2012 to '13 (only Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri topped that plus-5 number). Of the 19 players who served as game captains in 2013, 11 return in 2014. Of 58 captaincy opportunities, 37 return.
The top three in captain rankings - quarterback Rakeem Cato, center Chris Jasperse and defensive tackle James Rouse - return for 2014.
"Bottom line is we've got a lot of guys who were leaders and we have to continue that kind of leadership to have the kind of team we had this season," Holliday said. "We've got to continue to develop there. There's a lot of talent on this football team now.
"To continue to become a great team and have the kind of program we want, we need to continue with the kind of leadership we had. The potential is there. We had a lot of good leaders this year who weren't seniors, who are still here."
Holliday said he and his coaching staff will lean on those team leaders to begin shaping the Herd's attitude and drive toward 2014.
"It's great to have people talking about us prior to the season," Holliday said. "No. 1, we can use that to our advantage as coaches. As a team, we can't get complacent in any way, shape or form. People telling you that you're a top 25 team won't get you there. Bottom line, it's the work that goes along with it ... Three things keep you from reaching goals.
Complacency ... you think you're arrived and you haven't. My job as head football coach is to make sure our coaches and players don't become complacent.
"Selfish ... It comes in a lot of different ways, putting yourself before the team. It's not stats and thinking about yourself more than the team.
"Accountable ... Don't make bad decisions. Everything we do is a direct correlation to how we act off the field on the field. If we're accountable in the classroom and community, chances are we'll be accountable on the field.
"Do those three things, keep working and we've got a chance to be pretty good."