Derek Redd: Holliday, Herd will emphasize 'team'
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall football Coach Doc Holliday isn't afraid to adapt when the situation calls for it.
"I've always felt and always believed that, if you don't like where you are, you have to change something," Holliday said.
And Holliday doesn't like where his team has finished in two of his first three seasons as Marshall's head coach. In three years, the Herd has reached one bowl and had to sneak in with a 6-6 record in order to do that. That doesn't cut it for a football program that enjoyed seven bowl games in its first eight years in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Frankly, Holliday has his current job because the Mark Snyder era left the Thundering Herd with just one bowl appearance in five seasons. So, entering his fourth year, Holliday decided change was necessary.
And names on jerseys weren't.
Neither was picking season captains at the beginning of the year.
Holliday announced at Marshall's annual "Paint the Capital City Green" event last week that the last names that normally adorned the backs of players' jerseys would disappear. A few days later, he announced captains for Saturday's game against Miami University and that coaches would vote each week for another foursome, with the players voting for permanent captains at the end of the year.
Will that help the Herd score one more touchdown this season, or help the defense from keeping one out of the end zone? In terms of the playbook, it's meaningless. In terms of the team's spirit, Holliday said it's essential.
"There's a lot of teams out there that are talented teams, as far as athletes and personnel go," Holliday said. "But in order to win, you've got to have a great team. We wanted to really emphasize team."
Marshall was chock full of great athletes last season. Quarterback Rakeem Cato was Conference USA's most valuable player. Receiver Tommy Shuler was an all-conference first-team pick. So was tight end Gator Hoskins.
And where did that get the Herd at the end of the season? It got it a spot on the couch watching 70 other college football teams play in bowl games. And if they looked a few hours north to Morgantown, they saw a West Virginia University team in nearly the same predicament: Nationally renowned players in quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but a team that failed to live up to its lofty preseason hype.
If the Herd needed a reminder of who it played for, Holliday was happy to oblige.
"I told our players, you wanna figure out what your name is, do something," he said. "Play really well and we'll figure out who 12 and 1 are."
Now, some folks outside the football program feel they shouldn't have to work in order to figure out the identities underneath those jerseys. Some took to social media to call it a high school ploy, that the handful of duplicate jersey numbers on the team would make it impossible to tell the players apart. Some even claimed it was a stunt to spike program sales.
First off, if a Division I athletic program is so hard up for cash that it's taking names off football jerseys so more people will buy game programs, that joint is in bigger trouble than anyone can imagine. Marshall's not in that mess. As for duplicate numbers, the two guys who share the number 11 are 5-foot-7 receiver Devon Smith and 6-foot-5 defensive lineman James Rouse.
A high school move? Tell that to Notre Dame, which normally keeps its jerseys nameless. The University of Southern California goes name-free, too. Penn State went without names until last season. Those are some teams with some pretty strong traditions.
Removing names from jerseys and putting captainships up to a weekly vote create a more democratic atmosphere in the Marshall locker room. They're gestures that promote the Herd as a whole, not the individual members, and let them know anyone has the opportunity to lead. Holliday showed the team and the fans that when he brought more than two dozen players to last week's Charleston event.
That's what he felt was his leadership base - seniors, juniors and sophomores, stars and supporting cast members. Senior defensive end Alex Bazzie doesn't have a problem with any of it.
"We understand this community has a lot of history," Bazzie said. "The program has a winning history, when Chad Pennington and those guys were here. When you hear those guys talk about their winning experiences, they talk about Marshall. They talk about the Herd. Chad Pennington doesn't go up there and say 'Chad Pennington did this,' or 'Chad Pennington did that.' He goes up there and says, 'Our team, the Herd.'
"We're representing the team, he added. "When we get that victory at the end of the day, it's the team that won. It's not an 'I' thing, it's a 'we.' And as long as 'we' matter, there is no 'I.'"
But those names might not be gone forever. Holliday said that, if the team performs well and reaches a bowl game, the names will go back on their backs as a reward.
That's Holliday's hope, and he'll weather the conspiracy theories over game programs to get there. He figures if the Herd wins, names on the backs of jerseys will be the last thing anyone worries about.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.