March 9, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Adam Fuller hasn’t figured out this geography question yet – whether this river city tilts north or south -- but he sure likes being at Marshall.
Fuller, named last month as the Thundering Herd’s new linebackers coach, said Huntington reminds him of where he grew up – the historic textile-milled city of Lowell, Mass. He also said he appreciates the Marshall mindset here.
“I can tell the school is ingrained in the community,” Fuller said one recent day in his Shewey Building office. “However it’s embedded, because of the (1970 plane) crash, the past successes, I’m not sure, but I grew up in Boston, in Lowell.
“We lived in Richmond, Va., My wife (Hope) is originally from Brooklyn, and we get to Richmond and thought, ‘Wow, this is the south!’ … sweet tea and all that, this is southern living. We were in Chattanooga last, and that was the south.
“Then I came here, and I don’t know what Huntington, W.Va., considers itself, south, north, but it reminds me a lot more of home, Lowell, a tight-knit community. I told my wife this was more of where we’re from, that type of feel. It’s just that the weather hasn’t been as southern as I’d like so far.”
OK, maybe Marshall’s Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff, Jeff O’Malley, can help Fuller. O’Malley contends that if you’re in a place where you go into a restaurant and the “waitresses call you ‘Honey’ or ‘Sweetie,’ then it’s the South. And you get that here.”
Fuller will likely take note of that. He’s a detail guy. He’s been a head coach, for the 2008 season, at Division II Assumption in Worcester, Mass. He had been on a Richmond staff that won conference titles and reached the FCS semifinals, but then his boss, Dave Clawson, left for Tennessee.
“Assumption is in Worcester, an hour from Lowell, a small, private, really good academic school,” Fuller said of becoming a head coach. “At first it wasn’t my goal to move down that avenue. I was 27 or 28, but then I decided to interview.
“When I got done interviewing, it wasn’t one thing I wanted to do right now, but you know what? I was humbled by the job offer because I’m in this profession and that’s how it works sometimes. You just got a bonus because you won a conference championship and just finished in the final four of FCS football, going to not having a job possibly, so I’m going to take this into my own hands.
“So, I took it and I really enjoyed it … a lot of good people there. Then one of my good friends (Russ Huesman) got the head coaching job at Chattanooga. It’s not an easy decision (to leave) at that point, but I’m still glad to this point I made the decision.”
Fuller, 36, was the Mocs’ defensive coordinator for four years when he was hired by Herd Coach Doc Holliday. Fuller’s defenses had ranked high in the Southern Conference and nationally (FCS), and Fuller’s name had come up previously when Holliday was looking for the MU coordinator’s job that went to Chuck Heater.
Fuller’s tightest connection to the Herd was from “one of my best friends,” Geep Wade, who was the Herd’s offensive line coach in 2012 before moving this offseason to Middle Tennessee State. Wade and Fuller previously worked together at Chattanooga before Wade left the Mocs for Marshall.
“I hope I took (the Marshall opening) because it was a good job,” Fuller said, “but in this profession it doesn’t always work that way. Often, you find out about something from somebody. It’s an FBS school, and it’s an FBS school that’s known around the country for having a strong chance to win, to win championships.
“So, you’re just not going to uproot your family and go to anyplace to get to a three-letter school. It was the value of winning here at Marshall. They went to a bowl game two years ago and last year, they were great on offense, didn’t have the best of years on defense.
“To me, it looked like – and it is – a place that can win in a big way and then with Doc here and then a chance to talk to Chuck (Heater), their lineage and reputations in our profession, both have won … a combination of those factors are the reasons it became very, very appealing.”
Fuller and his wife have two sons (Jack, 6; Aidan, 3). Hope Fuller and the boys are still back in suburban Chattanooga until the school year ends, and Fuller spent the end of an interview trying to sell an old scribe his home in Ooltewah, Tenn.
Turns out he’s the same kind of salesman with the Herd linebackers.
“I coach with enthusiasm, said Fuller, who will recruit Atlanta, north Georgia and Memphis for the Herd. “I’ve always thought that what I try to do the best is try to make whatever concepts we’re teaching as simple and easy as possible.
“My job, no matter whether you’re talking at a high school coaches’ clinic or you speak at a national convention and you use all the terms … That’s all nice, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make sure a 19-year-old kid from Miami or Georgia understands what you want and how to do it, when all of it’s over.
“So, I’ve always tried to make sure I was extremely detailed, well-organized, which basically came down to, if I were a very good teacher, that would allow kids to be to play to their abilities.”
Fuller, a four-year letterman as a linebacker at Sacred Heart (Conn.) and a Football Gazette All-America pick in 1996, already is soaking in plenty in his first FBS job.
“I like Doc as a head coach,” Fuller said. “He’s demanding; he’s got a good relationship with the kids. He holds people accountable and he’s able to walk that fine line of being demanding, yet he’s approachable, too, with the players and I’m enjoying that part of it. And the investment we’re making in recruiting in the offseason is something that’s exciting, a little bit different from where I was.
“Chuck Heater … it’s awesome, his knowledge … I’m a football guy, what I chose as a profession. He probably thinks I’m foolish, but every time I get a chance to ask him about some of the Florida things (when Heater and Holliday coached for great Gators’ teams), it’s something I just enjoy.
“The places he’s been, the success he’s had, even at Temple (in recent seasons). Obviously, that’s how we’re going through this stuff (the Herd will use defensively).
“He’s a really good person, extremely intelligent, has a great way of teaching from a players’ perspective, not too complicated. It’s like, either it’s too much, or we’ve got to find a better way to teach it. If it takes you too long to explain it and it doesn’t sound right in that room, we’ve got to take it out and address it from the teaching method, clean it up.”
Fuller obviously doesn’t know whether he will be a head coach again one day, but the lessons learned – Assumption went 1-9 in his one year – he feels have helped him at Chattanooga and will do the same here in Huntington.
“One thing I learned being a head coach, against the grain of what I expected,” Fuller said, “was I thought I’d go in and be more detached from the individual relationships with each player, like now you’ve got to deal with 90 people, so now you’re not going to be able to have those nightly conversations with your position or your side of the football.
“It was the complete opposite. I realized that it enhanced relationships. I was with more kids, at more times, and had more conversations and more knowledge about their off-the-field lives than I ever had as position coach. Maybe it was just the way I approached the job. I don’t know.
“But I think it helped me mature a little bit in that way. Going through the hiring process at the other end, it helps me as an assistant coach today, to know there are certain things that need to be done behind the scenes from a relationship standpoint between coaches, between players. I learned a lot. It was a great experience.”
As far as the Herd goes, Fuller seems to have his compass pointing in the right direction.