March 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – With so many offseason changes on the Marshall football coaching staff, the tendency for many Thundering Herd fans is to shudder, wring hands and bite nails about what might happen in future recruiting years with broken contacts.
That might seem particularly true in Florida, where the Herd has had great success in recent times. Well, it’s not like there was just an earthquake and the fissure severed the Sunshine State on a line from Daytona Beach to Pensacola, and the peninsula – and Herd prime talent area -- just floated off toward Cuba.
Think of it this way: One thing hasn’t changed one iota on the staff.
That’s the man in charge of the Herd.
Coach Doc Holliday’s recruiting ties in Florida – particularly the Miami region -- go back more than three decades. He’s mined the state for stars at West Virginia, NC State, Florida, WVU again and Marshall.
“It’s like this,” said Antonio Brown, the head coach at Miami Jackson High, and a onetime Holliday wide receiver recruit to the Mountaineers who later played four NFL seasons. “Some guys might not know the name of a coach who comes down here recruiting. You tell the coach you work for Coach Holliday, and you’re in the door.
“It does not matter who the assistants are. It’s Doc Holliday’s name that speaks volumes. We had more than 21 guys from Florida up at West Virginia with me. I’d say we were all there because of Coach Holliday.
“He took me, a ghetto kid who had never even been to Orlando, much less West Virginia, and took me from a world of impossibility to an element of possibility. I got my degree and I’m a high school teacher and coach now. I also was blessed to play in the NFL (Buffalo, Washington). For him to set me down and tell me he was taking a chance on me and me then getting a college degree, that’s speaks volumes about Doc.
“And it goes back before me. It goes back to my coaches and other high school coaches who were in Miami 30 years ago. Coach Holliday has walked it just like he talks it.”
The list of high-profile names Holliday recruited personally besides Brown over the years – even a few outside Florida – just keeps growing:
John Browning, Lance Frazier, Mario Williams, Deonte Thompson, Janoris Jenkins, Reggie Rembert, Corey McIntyre, Robert Sands, Steve Grant, Major Wright, Browning Nagle …
Michael Johnson, a defensive back from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High, is regarded by most as the big fish in the 2013 Herd recruiting class. Holliday landed Johnson late, when the player seemed destined for Florida State.
"We have great contacts at Booker T.," Holliday said on signing day back in February. “(Head coach Tim) ‘Ice’ Harris is a personal friend, and (defensive line coach) Ben Hanks, I recruited out of high school is down there. We have a lot of friends in that school, and I recruited Michael's dad way back, when he was at Miami High, so I had a relationship with his dad.
"(Johnson is) a tremendous young guy who wants an opportunity to play early, and kids do things for different reasons. We were fortunate we hung in there with him, he visited and he liked it and he ended up signing with us. That was a good get."
Hanks said by phone Thursday that the ties Holliday has “are incredible. For Marshall, what most would say is a mid-level program, to come and get the players he has, like a Michael Johnson, like the quarterback there (Rakeem Cato), that just speaks to Doc.
“The doors down here are always open to him, because of his track record. He’s going to take care of our kids, make sure they get a good education in addition to playing football.
“Michael was going to go to Florida State two and a half weeks before signing day. He went up there and had a great visit and we talked, his dad, Michael, and they thought Marshall was a better fit for him because of Doc.”
With six members of the coaching staff gone during this offseason, Holliday has revamped the Herd’s recruiting responsibilities on the heels of a superb recruiting year – one judged by recruiting websites as the best among non-BCS programs.
Geno Smith, Undra Johnson, Alvoid Mays, Manny Lawson, Brandon Spikes, Stephen Tulloch, Marcus Gilbert, Kwame Smith, Lorenzo Styles, Damon Cogdell, Barrett Green, Marcus Hudson …
In Florida, the Herd will have four assistants working prospects.
*New offensive assistant coach Alex Mirabal – a Miami native and former high school coach and FIU assistant there for 20-plus years – will take Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
*A yet to be named assistant to the defensive side of the staff will send him to Orlando, central Florida and the Treasure Coast, down to the Fort Pierce area. He also will recruit Washington, D.C.
*New linebackers coach Adam Fuller will recruit from Tampa Bay south down the Gulf coast to Naples.
*Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has the area from Gainesville up I-10 to Pensacola and Tallahassee “the same area he recruited when Chuck was with me at the University of Florida,” Holliday said.
Heater also will “spot” recruit San Diego and Los Angeles with specific contacts the Herd has in those cities.
*Todd Hartley has most of Georgia, except the Atlanta area and the north part of the Peach State, where the new running backs coach – slated to officially join the staff next week – will have his “home” territory.
*Offensive coordinator Bill Legg takes Ohio.
*Defensive line coach J.C. Price keeps Maryland, and takes northern Virginia and that state’s Tidewater/Hampton Roads region.
*Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey has all of South Carolina, bleeding over into the populous Charlotte, N.C., area
*And here at home, all nine Marshall assistants have a region of West Virginia to recruit. Those assignments also include the Tri-State area, into northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio.
“We’ve got it all covered,” Holliday said.
“Alex will do a super job in south Florida. He’s been a high school coach and at FIU down there. He knows everybody and he’s respected. Our newest staff member also recruited Stew Butler, Remi Watson, Ra’Shawde Myers, Darryl Roberts … really good players for us.
“Adam Fuller is going back into an area he knows. He recruited the Gulf Coast for Chattanooga. Chuck is going back to Pensacola, Tallahassee, Gainesville. He had success there at Florida. Our running backs coach, who we’ll name next week, is a legend in Atlanta with coaches there.
“Todd Hartley did a super job for us in Georgia this year. He’s taking the rest of the state. IOT think Georgia can be as good for us now as Florida is. There’s no reason we can’t make Georgia a big area for us. We’ve gotten some excellent players out of there. There are so many players in there now.
“J.C.’s got an area he knows well and has recruited before. The coaches in Maryland, in Tidewater, Northern Virginia, all know him. Mike Furrey played in the NFL. He’s enthusiastic, a hard worker. I think South Carolina, Charlotte, can be an extension of Georgia. There are enough players in there it can really help us.
“Billy has Ohio … lots of players there. Billy already got in there and recruited two good offensive linemen (Cody Collins, Chris Huhn) for us this year.
“In West Virginia and the local area, every (high school) coach already has been called by one of us.”
Rakeem Cato, Kevin Grooms, Tommy Shuler, Keith Baxter, Craig Wilkins, Demetrius Evans, Gunnar Holcombe, Kent Turene, Corey Tindal, Sandley Jean-Felix, Jeremiah Benjamin, Kevin Anderson …
Herd quarterback Cato was the Conference USA Player of the Year; Grooms, at running back, was Freshman of the Year; Shuler caught 110 passes, a Marshall record and missed the C-USA season record by one reception.
“As a coach what you try to do when you lose staff members, you try to enhance the staff on the field and in recruiting,” Holliday said. “No question, I do think we’ve accomplished that. I appreciate what every coach has gone through and done here the last three years to help our program, but going into spring I feel really good about our staff.
“I like every addition we’ve made and I’m excited to get going again, get practice started (March 26), and have the chance to go out and watch them work. We have a great recruiting class coming in, but I really think I’m even more excited about the staff than that.”
A coach who knows Florida well said the Herd will continue to recruit strong at the tip of that peninsula.
“The amount of stature and recognition Doc has in the whole state of Florida, but specifically in south Florida goes back to when I played in high school close to 25 years ago,” Mirabal said. “He’s a legend down there, truly, and I’m not just saying that because I’m working for the man now.
“Everybody knows who Doc Holliday is and it’s not a coincidence when he was at West Virginia, they had boatload of kids from south Florida. He went to NC State, boatload of kids from south Florida. He went to Florida, and he was the Gators’ prime recruiter in south Florida. Now here at Marshall, it’s the same thing.
“The amount of south Florida kids we have on the roster, I bet if you’d go look at previous staffs here, they had nowhere near the number of kids Doc has here from south Florida. Marshall Football is Doc Holliday. He is the mouthpiece, we are only his representatives, and that’s whoever is recruiting in Florida. As long as he’s here, there’s going to be a vast pipeline to south Florida, because he has that kind of influence with those high school coaches down there.
“His word means something to them, his reputation is more important than mine, than any other coach he has or can put down there in that area. On the flip side, I’ve been in south Florida for 42 years of my life, 16 years as a high school coach, college coach for seven. People know me, but at the same time, my recognition in south Florida is now even greater because I am attached to Coach Holliday.”
In other words, Marshall Football recruiting in south Florida won’t go south, because Doc has the prescription – and has had for decades.