Then Heater and his staff took the reins. The players understood who was in charge with Heater at the front of the meeting room. And with his resume - including stops at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida - the players listened. He not only continued building attitudes, he rebuilt the defensive scheme, shifting to a base nickel package and employing more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. His calls became simpler, letting one or two words convey messages during games that it used to take six to deliver.
Senior corner Monterius Lovett said Heater and his defensive staff have made so many things easier for the players, and they're able to respond with better performances.
"Everybody's just taking coaching from Coach Heater," Lovett said. "He's a great coach. He calls the right plays and puts us in the right positions. Everyone's out there playing hard and doing their jobs and just doing what they have to do."
An infusion of new talent helped as well. Newcomers like Arnold Blackmon and Gary Thompson at defensive end, Neville Hewitt at linebacker and Corey Tindal in the secondary all have made significant contributions in the first four games. Other players like linebacker Evan McKelvey, safety A.J. Leggett and defensive lineman James Rouse are now healthy and able to play at 100 percent.
"What's good is to see those young kids come along," Holliday said. "We had some freshmen come in and play an awful lot (at Virginia Tech) Saturday. Josh Brown played a lot. Arnold Blackmon, not a freshman but a new guy, played a lot. And Gary Thompson played an awful lot. Those guys are providing depth along with (tackle Jarquez Samuel), who is playing well and Rouse, who is playing extremely well."
Marshall finished last season ranked 94th in passing yards (253.5 allowed per game), 105th in rushing yards (203.25 allowed per game), 103rd in total yards (456.8 allowed per game) and 123rd in scoring (43.1 points allowed per game). Through four games this season, the Herd defense is 32nd in passing (184.5 ypg), 17th in rushing (100.5 ypg), tied for 15th in total defense (285.0 ypg) and 33rd in scoring (19.3 ppg).
Holliday believes there's still room to grow. Lovett agrees, and said both the unit's winning attitude and more selfless attitude - much less finger-pointing and caring about individual stats - should help it improve. The defense understands the errors it's made in the first four games, like Ohio's 11-for-19 third-down conversion rate and Virginia Tech's 3-for-4 fourth-down conversion rate. The players feel eliminating those will go a long way.
"We're feeling very confident about the defense," Lovett said. "If we take away the mistakes that we made, we'll be great. The defense is good right now, but we'll be great if we take away those mistakes."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.