Marshall football: Herd’s new coach sees talent on roster
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - At this point of his football coaching career, Chuck Heater wants to work with people he knows and win games. As Marshall's new defensive coordinator, he has the first part sealed, reuniting with his friend, Thundering Herd Head Coach Doc Holliday.
And he feels he can help with the second part, too, rebuilding a struggling defense so the Herd can vault back into the postseason.
"I enjoy being able to get good players to play well," Heater said. "And that's the assumption I have here."
Heater has known for a while how Holliday can reel in top talent. The two were on the same University of Florida coaching staff from 2005-07 and Heater watched Holliday recruit players like Janoris Jenkins and Major Wright to join the Gators' defensive backfield.
"I got better when I had Janoris Jenkins and Major Wright in the secondary," he said.
Heater thinks there's some talented personnel on Marshall's defense, too. Linebacker D.J. Hunter was named a Sporting News Freshman All-American, and the Herd returns two more players - defensive end Alex Bazzie and defensive lineman Brandon Sparrow, who earned honorable mention on the All-Conference USA team. That's pretty good for a Marshall defense that allowed 43.08 points per game in 2012. Only Colorado gave up more points per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
That led to former defensive coordinator Chris Rippon's resignation following the Herd's 65-59 double-overtime loss at East Carolina in Marshall's season finale. That was the fifth time in 2012 a Marshall opponent scored 50 points.
Heater comes to Huntington after two years as Temple's defensive coordinator. In 2011, the Owls were third in the FBS, allowing just 13.92 points per game. In 2012, the Owls gave up 31.18 points per game after jumping from the Mid-American Conference to the Big East and losing four key defenders to graduation.
Linebacker Tahir Whitehead was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions and defensive ends Morkeith Brown and Adrian Robinson and linebacker Stephen Johnson all signed NFL rookie free-agent contracts.
Heater, 60, was born in Weston and grew up in Tiffin, Ohio, becoming a star running back for the University of Michigan. His coaching stops included stints at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Colorado State, Colorado, Washington, Utah and Florida. He owns national championship rings as a member of the 1988 Notre Dame staff and the 2007 and 2009 Florida staffs.
He has spent the time since arriving in Huntington watching film and talking with other coaches and Marshall players. In watching last year's games, he didn't feel the defense was outmatched and should be able to improve. He'll stress aggressiveness, a trait Holliday said was among the most important for his new defensive coordinator.
"We like to play aggressively in coverages and like to be able to pressure and play tight coverage if we can," Heater said. "We like to be aggressive against the run. Philosophically, we want to force people to throw the ball and put people in third down situations that are manageable. We want to be tight in coverage and deny the ball."
That should make Heater and his defense a good fit at Marshall, said Temple defensive end John Youboty, who started with Holliday at Marshall, transferred and became an all-Big East second teamer this past season under Heater.
"He's an intense guy, like Coach Holliday," Youboty said. "He expects the best out of all his players and he demands the best out of all his players."
Heater wants to make sure each defender trusts the teammate playing beside him. It's trust that also brought him to Huntington. Knowing Holliday and the coach he is made it an attractive choice.
"There's a high level of comfort for me," he said. "I know where he's coming from and I know who he is. Sure the times will come when he'll have to ask the tough questions. But I know where he's coming from. It's all about solving problems."
He feels he can help solve the problems of Marshall's defense and help the Herd earn another winning record. He thinks Marshall is equipped to win in Conference USA, even with the changes in departing and arriving teams. It shouldn't be like when the Owls jumped from the MAC to the Big East and their conference schedule went from including Toledo, Buffalo and Kent State to including Cincinnati, Rutgers and Louisville.
"It's about winning," Heater said. "When you win, the sun shines a little brighter and the food tastes better."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.