June 3, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Summertime … and the livin’ isn’t easy on the Thundering Herd football staff.
While Herd fans look forward to the 2013 season and an Aug. 31 opener against Miami of Ohio, Marshall Coach Doc Holliday and his aides are intensely looking at 2014 and beyond.
“It’s a busy time for us,” said Todd Hartley, the Herd’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
The Herd offensive staff sat down late last week to do their rankings of Herd prospects on that side of the ball. The defensive assistants do the same early this week. Then on Saturday and Sunday, Marshall hosts its one-day “elite” camps.
“We’re a little bit ahead of where we were in past years,” Hartley said. “You’re never where you want to be or need to be, but we feel like we’re in good spot right now. We feel good about a lot of kids.
“Why do we feel good? Because we saw them on film and then we went and looked with our own eyes. I can’t stress enough that the best thing is to go see kids with your own eyes.
“That’s the lost art of evaluation, in my mind. Too many people are depending on (recruiting website) stars and lists and combines instead of going to watch a kid yourself.”
Hartley said Marshall has “offered” more than 100 prospects to date. The Herd has one (recruiting-based website) reported commitment for 2014, a wide receiver. Hartley said he expects that when all is said and done next February, MU will sign a 2014 incoming class of 20-25 players.
There’s been a change in how Herd football organizes recruiting. A decision to make more contacts earlier came in tandem with a plethora of changes in Holliday’s staff, with six newcomers among the nine aides.
“Recruiting is going great,” said third-year Holliday assistant Hartley, who moved into the coordinator role when JaJuan Seider
left the staff for West Virginia. “We have done so much more evaluation on the front end and that’s helped. Doc wanted us doing more on the front end, and it’s really worked out in my mind.
“The last two years was we went out during the spring to our areas, found these kids, got back, evaluated them on tape, and started recruiting them. This year, with the staff we have -- a phenomenal staff now; these guys really work hard on recruiting -- we did a lot better job evaluating kids on the front end, starting in January, when most of the new (coaches) got in. They hit the ground running, went into their areas and started to form relationships with high school coaches.
“So when we went out in the spring (after MU spring drills), we weren’t just going school-to-school looking for kids. We knew where those kids were. We knew where to go, so when we went out we were confirming, instead of just looking.”
Hartley said what he calls “the front end effort” should pay dividends.
“Back in January, we started getting names, watching tape,” the 27-year-old Georgia native said. “We had a whole database of prospects that we normally didn’t have during spring football, before we went out in May. It made a big difference.
“Our front end evaluation was phenomenal, so when we come back now, we have a better idea who we really like. We’ve confirmed whether he’s good enough or not good enough. We’re more sure of who we’re offering, and we have a lot better feel for our recruiting board, who we rank first, second, third at the positions … the organization is just really good right now.
“It’s really a credit to the staff; these guys really work recruiting. They take it serious, they’re organized, detailed, do a great job of calling coaches and a great job on social media and staying within the rules to contact these kids.”
Hartley said that with the classes in the program leveling out in Holliday’s fourth season – MU had only nine seniors in 2012 – the Herd can be “more lenient with offers.”
He used his alma mater, Georgia, as an example for how the Herd operates in recruiting.
“A lot depends on what level of program you are,” Hartley said. “When you’re at a Georgia, you have to be careful offering in-state kids because you know if you offer them, they’re probably going to commit right away. You’ve got to be more sure about who you offer.
“At Marshall, we can afford to be more lenient because if we offer them they’re probably not going to commit right on the spot. And we’re not going to offer a kid unless we’re cross-checking on the staff before the offer.
“When you looked at film, if he was a no-doubt, no-brainer, we offered. We had a couple of those before we went out. A majority of the kids we end up offering … it’s after you go and watch that kid in person at practice. Hey, the film says he’s 6 feet 4, 270 (pounds), well, that film might lie, so let me go look with my own eyes and make sure he’s 6-4, 270. If he is and I can confirm that, you offer him.
“We’re still in the beginning stage of the 2014 class. A lot of people we’re still out there evaluating right now. As summer goes along, people start committing, dominos start to fall, then that number starts to get whittled down a little bit.”
By the end of this week, Holliday and his staff will “have a really good idea of who we’ve offered, where they rank on our boards and so forth,” said Hartley, who recruits Georgia – except in the Atlanta area, which belongs to running backs coach Thomas Brown, who is from the Georgia capital city.
With Brown, Chuck Heater, Sean Cronin, Adam Fuller, Alex Mirabal and Mike Furrey new to the staff – joining Bill Legg, J.C. Price and Hartley -- the recruiting coordinator wondered about having to coordinate the coaches as well as the effort in recruiting.
His worst fears were imploded early.
“I didn’t want to be overwhelmed (in the coordinator’s role),” he said. “I didn’t know how the staff would mesh. Well, they’ve done a heck of a job.”
From players to coaches to the regular spectator Herd fans at spring practice, there have been raves about Holliday’s retooled staff. Hartley said as good as it’s been on the field, the hires might be even better from a recruiting standpoint.
“We ended up with a group of guys in areas where they’re familiar,” Hartley said. “You go in wondering how it will turn out. Well, the hires made not only made a great staff, the recruiting fits were phenomenal.
“We lose JaJuan, so we get Alex Mirabal, who was born and raised and worked in Miami at FIU for seven years, and knows every high school coach down there. We got Adam Fuller, who recruited Tampa and the Gulf Coast (for Chattanooga).
“Bill Legg goes to Ohio. He recruited there when he was at Purdue and West Virginia. Billy knows Ohio like the back of his hand. Chuck Heater goes to Gainesville, where he worked (at Florida with Holliday) and still has a home. Sean Cronin goes to Orlando and central Florida. He’s been there for us before (2010).
“Thomas Brown is in Atlanta, where he grew up, and everyone knows he played at Georgia. J.C. has Virginia where he’s from, he coaches and he knows all the coaches. I go back to an area I’m from, central and south Georgia. The only one in an area he hadn’t worked before is Mike Furrey, in South Carolina, and he’s already made good contacts there.”
The Herd coaches backstop on another, too. Holliday’s men have responsibilities to recruit at their positions as well as their areas.
“Doc wanted us to do more on the front end, like we have, and he really stresses that you’re recruiting an area, but you’re responsible for the position you coach, too,” Hartley said. “As the tight end coach, I’d better know what tight ends we’re recruiting, whether they’re in Billy Legg’s area or Sean Cronin’s area.
“We back-check with a sheet we started using this year, a prospect evaluation form. I do my notes on a kid from my area, give him a grade. That goes to a position coach. Let’s say it’s a linebacker, so it goes to Coach Fuller, who’s seen film on him. He approves or disapproves. Then it goes to Coach Heater, too (as defensive coordinator).
“We trust one another. The position coach sees film to confirm. The only position we go to see live cross-checking is quarterback. Coach Legg had three weeks this spring to go out and evaluate. Two of them were spent in Ohio, which is really not enough time, but the other week he spent going out and looking at the quarterbacks we were recruiting. He needs to see them live, as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.”
There’s another piece to the puzzle, too. While the Herd’s Senior and Doc Holliday Camps on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, will bring in plenty of Herd campers from West Virginia and maybe surrounding states, the Herd’s far-flung recruiting efforts need to see other prospects elsewhere.
“Doc encourages us to go to other camps,” Hartley said. “We’ll go to Georgia’s, Thomas Brown and me. There might be 400-500 kids there, and some of them we’ve already seen, already evaluated and maybe we’ve offered or are deciding to offer.
“Hey, a kid can’t drive 8 hours one way to our camp from south Georgia, then 8 hours back, so we say, ‘why don’t you drive 3 hours to Georgia’s camp and we’ll see you there?’ That’s really a good tool for us. We’re trying to get to Ohio State’s camp, Florida’s camp, Virginia Tech’s. A lot of out-of-state kids, that’s where we see those kids, because it’s so hard to get to our camp from those long distances.
“If they can’t come to us, we go to them.”