HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's philosophy is without frills, even down to the words he uses to call out his unit's alignments.
His quest is simple, too - teach a Thundering Herd defense that wallowed among the worst of the 2012 season to change its ways. If he has his way, that change will come from intensity on the practice field plus in-depth instruction in the meeting rooms. Heater is finding out this preseason he has a defense full of willing students.
Those players no longer want to be known as the weak link of the Marshall football team. They want to be as important to the Herd's reversal of fortunes as its potent offense. So they've embraced both sides of their new coordinator, the fiery coach on the field and the teacher off of it.
They'll finally find out this weekend if those lessons sunk in. The Herd opens its 2013 season at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network) against Miami University at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said that when Marshall Coach Doc Holliday first told the defense about its new coordinator, he told the players exactly what they were going to get.
"He's an intense guy," Taylor said. "He's going to coach us hard. That's what we've gotten and that's what we expected. It's been great from day one."
Holliday brought Heater to Huntington not just for that fire, but for his teaching acumen as well. The fourth-year head coach saw it firsthand when he and Heater were on the same defensive staff at Florida. Holliday coached the Gators' safeties while Heater coached the corners. Then-Florida Coach Urban Meyer, now Ohio State's head coach, has been quoted saying he'd sit in Heater's meetings just to watch him work.
Holliday put himself firmly in Meyer's camp when it comes to describing Heater's talent.
"I've never seen a guy who develops players like he does," Holliday said. "He's a great teacher. That year we played for the national championship, we were playing with guys that shouldn't have been playing in the SEC. They played at such a high level, we were able to win it. He develops, he puts a great product on the field and he gets them to play extremely hard."
Those Florida defensive players succeeded, Heater said, because they were willing to practice, play and learn at full throttle 100 percent of the time. The coaches put the pressure on them to do it, but it was the players accepting the challenge that allowed it to work.
"You don't want to be coaching effort," Heater said. "If you coach effort all the time, you can't get down to the nitty-gritty of what goes on. Those guys were guys that had grown a little bit, evolved a little bit, but at that time, they bought in. They found a way to finish things that made a difference in a lot of games."
Heater sees that devotion in his current players. They're soaking in his lessons because they want to erase the memories of 2012, when only Colorado allowed more points per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision than the Herd's 43.08.
Marshall allowed 41 points or more in seven of its 12 games last season, neutralizing the progress made by its offense, which sat among the FBS' top scoring units. The final straw came in the final game. Marshall couldn't hold East Carolina back from a last-second game-tying drive and lost to the Pirates in double overtime, 65-59.
The next day, then-defensive coordinator Chris Rippon resigned. Heater, who spent the previous two seasons as Temple's defensive coordinator, was hired in January.
On his arrival, he found a defense disappointed in last season's results and ready for change.