Q and A with Heater
HUNTINGTON -- In the 2012 football season opponents ran, passed and scored at will on Marshall's Thundering Herd.
Marshall was ranked near the bottom nationally in scoring defense, run defense, pass defense and total defense.
After an overtime loss at East Carolina in the season finale left the Herd bowl-less at 5-7, Chris Rippon resigned as defensive coordinator. In January, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday hired Chuck Heater to direct the defense (and coach the secondary).
Heater, 60, came to the Herd from Temple University. Before that, he spent time at the University of Florida where the Gators won two national titles. Heater's coached in 25 bowl games.
The Herald-Dispatch reporter David Walsh sat down with Heater for this Q and A interview.
Q: Is this the ultimate challenge of your career?
A: "There isn't any pressure because we don't have many slots below us. Just improve a couple and people might think it's OK. I don't feel that at all. I did a lot of research on it. I have a lot trust and confidence in Doc. He's going to recruit good players. I wasn't sure of all that happened here that led to the failure on defense they had a year ago. There were a number of factors. Once I researched and evaluated it, I felt I might be coming at the greatest time possible. We've got an offense that's tremendous and a defense that might be ready to get something done. So after researching the guys that were here and returning and new players coming in, I felt it was a great opportunity to come in.
"You like to think your coaching has value. If you have good enough players. If you don't have good enough players it doesn't matter. If you get them hurt like they did at times last year, the coaching becomes really secondary. You've got to have good enough players. They've got to be out there playing. And then coaching has value. You coach guys you're teaching. Hopefully it's reflected in what you see. I felt like I was at a point where coaching would have value and an opportunity to come in and do something great."
Q: Spread offense is the buzz word now. Five wide outs, no one in the backfield. What's it like having to come up with packages to slow that down?
A: "It's been around a while. It's not totally new. The spread pieces of it have been around for a while. It's really what we did at Florida. So I had to defend that every day. Spring practice, the fall. We played Oklahoma when I was at Florida in the national championship game. They were a fast tempo, spread, all that you know. So I've been around it, seen it, have some feeling about how to approach it, how to defend it. But the tempo I think is the newest piece of it, kind of what our people do. That creates issues for defenses as well in terms of how some people would like to structure themselves. Football is that way.
"We're working really hard to adjust. Offenses get ahead and defenses try to catch up. Then they go on to something new. Been at this thing for a while. If you have really good players offenses sometimes can win the day, but I'm still of the mindset if you have really good defensive players, and you get them lined up and play fast, defenses still rule the day. Some days you play good defense. We played Oklahoma that year and they were averaging 56 points a game. Most productive offense in country. We had a great defense and they scored 14 that day. You don't think you score 43 or 56 or whatever you're averaging against a good defense. Might score 28, but you're not going to hit those numbers on good defenses. On those days, you've got to be able to be as good as the defense you're playing against."
Q: In addition to the spread, offenses put the ball in play at a faster pace now. Look at Oregon. Instead of running 65 or 70 plays, offenses now get off 80 to 90 snaps a game.
A: "That's the part I'm not sure I've caught up to. Of all the schematic pieces to it, I'm pretty comfortable with. I'm pretty comfortable with the tempos now that I've dealt with our people. No one probably will do it any better than our people do. We did study of the top defenses in country, ran fast-tempo offenses, the top defense in country in the top 10 was Oregon. They were 25th. Texas A&M was 31st. Those aren't top 10 defenses even though those are the top ones. There must be some piece to it. If you're a top 10 team, usually you got defenses in the top 10, at least top 15. Those are the two top ones. That speaks to the fact there must be some tilt towards the difficulty of it on defense.
"You certainly need depth. There's no way can you ask your defensive linemen to play that length. I've never been a big sub guy in the defensive secondary to be honest with you. Frankly you probably need to consider that as well. If you're tired, playing a lot of plays. Speaks to fact probably better be able to rotate players on defense which is what they're able to do offensively as well. I'm still getting my head wrapped about that."
Q: What's going to be the Thundering Herd style?
A: "We're a man team. A couple of different concepts of it. We're a zone pressure team. Zone-blitz type pressure concepts. Confuse offenses more on third down than early downs. We don't want to make it totally clean for them all the time. Early downs just try to add people to be more aggressive against the run. Third down you like to be a little bit more disruptive in terms of their ability to ID you. That's yet to be determined. Philosophically, think early downs play tighter coverage, try to get enough guys in there to stop the run. On third down, you're trying to play more coverage and hopefully get off the field. Get them in enough third-and-long situations where you're getting off the field."
Q: How did you feel about your defense coming out of spring practice?
A: "The guys have been great. The players were responsive. They were not happy about last year. An attitude? Certainly the older players are that way. That's a good place to start. I've been real encouraged. The kids comprehended what we're trying to get done. I think there's enough talent. That's where you have to start. You have to start with a talent base. That's where coaching then kicks in. I feel like now you can see it reflected with techniques and fundamentals that you're trying to coach and teach and execution of the defense. I was encouraged all the way through at most of the concepts of what we're trying to get taught were implemented. Hopefully they'll stay focused through the summer, come back for the fall certainly further ahead than when we started in March."
Q: What does Chuck Heater want when the Herd runs onto the turf at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the opener against Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31?
A: "Hopefully we'll have some guys that will continue developing. Some guys have to keep coming on. We need the depth. Hopefully the kids will stay committed, work on the parts of their game they need work on, keep developing so we can utilize them in the fall. And then hopefully the kids are highly motivated to come back and go play. I think they will be. Hopefully the attitude will be right and hopefully individual guys will address the areas they have to get better in, whether it's getting stronger, adding weight, training harder or getting a proper mindset. Whatever the issue might be. Handling their issues off the field. That's the art of coaching. Being able to motivate guys to get past those issues. Aggressive, prove it, manage it and hopefully they become a better player as result of it if they've got the talent."
Q: How have you found the area, the fans and the overall experience with Marshall football?
A: "I've been every place once, they say. There's not been a place I haven't liked or enjoyed. My mind is that way. It's a neat place. It's a great community. People have a real emotional, visceral tie to this place for the obvious reasons. It makes it in a most unique sort of way a unique story in college football. Nobody has the history that Marshall has. Because of that, no one can understand it better than the people in this community. The people are nice people. Obviously if we don't stop them on defense, people won't be as nice."
Q: What happens when an opponent scores 40 or more points and the Herd faithful start thinking here we go again?
A: "People have a real mindset here internally and administratively to make sure they give Doc all the resources he needs to be successful. Football's important. You like that as a coach. It means something to people. Frankly you'd like to do it for a lot of reasons, but you'd love to do it for a community that you know that would appreciate it. Not just talk. I've been around a long time. When you walk into situation, that's a sense of what you have here. There's a certain number people here that will support you regardless. but you'd like to do it because you know it means something to them and it would make their day better."
Q: Trying to be an optimist and things are turned around sooner than later, what would it mean to be a part of that? Fans start crying for nine wins or more. Putting the uniforms away in November doesn't cut it.
A: "Every year's a different chapter in the book. The years where you exceed expectations are great years. Come in just hoping, wishing on a lot of different levels and then you exceed it, it's great, a lot of fun. Then the next year isn't like that. You expect more. That's OK. Recently I talked to (coach) Charlie Strong at Louisville. Charlie's talking about how they've got everybody coming back. That's unique. You have to deal with a team that's all back, had tremendous success. So you've got to deal with that. Every year you've got different dynamics, but fundamentally you've always got to start with do you have enough players to be successful? If you do, the art of coaching kicks in which is whether you're handling success or handling tremendous failure like you had last year on defense. Even the offense handling the success they had offensively. You've got to handle all that. That's where you've got to be a coach."
Q: When you see someone like Louisville do what it did. Houston made that run two years ago until they stubbed their toe late. Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl. The No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft was a MAC guy. Can that ever happen here again?
A: "Yes it's possible. You gotta go win your games. Win a lot of games there will be positives at the end of the season at a place like Marshall or any Division I place for that matter. We've seen that That could really be a lot of fun. Coaching is enjoyable when you're winning, when you're exceeding expectations. It frankly isn't as much fun when you're under high expectations and you're meeting those expectations all you're doing is enduring.
"Those years at Florida. You won, just took a sigh at the end of those games, got one off your back and go play the next week. There was tremendous pressure because of all the success. But that had to be handled and managed well. So it's all different dynamics, different chapters every year. This one here could be a great one if we can get going on defense and the offense maintains the level of success they've had. Then it could be a good story. That's yet to be determined."
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