Marshall football: Herd coaches starting to mesh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When the Marshall football team trots out onto the Joan C. Edwards Stadium turf today to open spring practice, most of the faces will be familiar ones.
With just eight seniors departing from the 2012 roster, the guys wearing jerseys will have a good idea as to who everyone is.
It's a little different story with most of the guys wearing the whistles.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday saw a near total turnover of his coaching staff in the offseason - only three assistants from last season's staff remain - and he replenished that roster with coaches holding quality resumes. The Thundering Herd takes the field for 15 spring practices over the next month, culminating in its intrasquad game at 2 p.m. April 27.
The Herd will begin to bounce back from a 5-7 season that left it out of the bowl picture for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.
As much as the coaches and players have to get better acquainted with each other, the coaches must do the same among themselves. Those personalities already have started to mesh, said new offensive line coach Alex Mirabal, and matching those personalities became an integral part of building the 2013 staff.
"One thing we've done, and they did it when they interviewed me ... Xs and Os are Xs and Os, but is he going to fit in the room?" Mirabal said. "If the answer is yes, you can work through everything else.
"They're all great people, great human beings," he added. "It's been easy to sit down exchange ideas and go from there."
Mirabal, Florida International's former offensive line coach, replaced Geep Wade, who left Marshall for new Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee State.
He joins first-year Marshall offensive assistants Mike Furrey, the former Kentucky Christian coach and NFL veteran who replaced Purdue-bound Gerad Parker as wide receivers coach, and Thomas Brown, the former Tennessee-Chattanooga and Georgia State assistant who replaced JaJuan Seider as running backs coach after Seider returned to West Virginia.
Todd Hartley, who spent last season as Marshall's safeties coach, will coach tight ends and serve as the Herd's recruiting coordinator this year.
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg holds that job by himself this year after sharing it with Tony Petersen, who became Louisiana Tech's offensive coordinator.
The defensive staff is almost a complete makeover, starting with new coordinator Chuck Heater, the former Temple defensive coordinator who replaced Chris Rippon in Huntington. Heater also will coach the secondary after Hartley moved to offense and former cornerbacks coach Lytrel Pollard left for Southern Mississippi. Former UTC defensive coordinator Adam Fuller will coach Marshall's linebackers, and J.C. Price returns to coach Marshall's defensive line.
Sources have said the Herd plans to add former Temple defensive line coach Sean Cronin - a former Herd assistant and Heater's son-in-law - to the staff, but no formal announcement has yet been made.
Players and coaches have been introduced to each other through mat drills and skill development sessions, but during these 15 practices, the players will don helmets and pads and get an idea of what they'll see when they begin the 2013 season in August.
"It'll be new for the group we're working with," Fuller said. "That's the process you go through. You expect questions to come up, but you know that's coming. It's different, and you have to be ready for ebbs and flows and they way relationships begin."
Marshall's defensive staff begins a rebuilding project today, rejuvenating a unit that ranked 101st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and 119th in scoring defense in 2012. The group allowed at least 41 points in seven games last season and at least 51 points in five.
Fuller said defensive coaches watched every game from last season, not evaluating schemes, but evaluating players.
The staff now can spend the spring teaching both schemes and technique, pointing out what positives there were last season and using the negatives as learning tools.
"They're looking forward to redeeming themselves," Fuller said.
"We weren't successful on the defensive side last year, and we need to make sure they're playing with confidence. No matter what side of the ball you play on, you have to play with confidence."
The Herd's offense should be brimming with confidence after last season, one where it finished first in the FBS in passing yards per game, sixth in total yards per game and seventh in points per game. Quarterback Rakeem Cato was named Conference USA's most valuable player, while running back Kevin Grooms was named the conference's freshman of the year.
Yet confidence won't lead to complacency, Mirabal said.
"It won't even be an issue," he said. "That's an ugly word, complacency. We don't want to rest on our laurels."
Mirabal feels that once the Herd steps onto the field today, everyone will be ready to improve.
"I'm a firm believer that kids want to be taught and pushed," he said. "When you gain the players' respect and have the players' respect, they'll allow you to push them. Once we put on the pads and get on the field, we can take it to an even higher level."
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TWO PLAYERS from the 2012 roster won't be on the field today for practice.
Holliday told Marshall's athletic website that defensive tackle Marques Aiken and wide receiver Jermain Kelson have left the team. Aiken graduated and decided not to return, while Kelson left "for personal reasons."
Aiken was a two-year starter, playing in all 12 games last season and starting 10. He recorded 37 tackles, 61/2 for a loss and two sacks. Kelson played in 11 games, starting one, and caught seven passes for 69 yards.
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.