Hot stove with Doc Holliday
HUNTINGTON -- There's no question Marshall Thundering Herd head football coach Doc Holliday would rather be talking about bowl preparations.
But since the Herd (5-7) isn't going to a bowl, Holliday talked about the 2013 season during a press conference Wednesday in the Shewey Building at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"I hope they hurt," the coach said of the team watching bowl games over the holiday break. "We shouldn't be watching, we should be playing, and we've got to do what we have to do to make sure that never happens again. That was the message (the team) got on Sunday."
Sunday was the last team meeting before the holiday break.
One piece of unfinished business left over from the end of the season was the status of quarterback Rakeem Cato, who suffered a knee injury in the third quarter against East Carolina, a 62-59 double overtime loss that eliminated Marshall from post season play.
Holliday said Cato will not need surgery and will be ready for spring practice.
As a sophomore in the 2012 season, Cato passed for more than 4,000 yards and led an offense that was in the top five nationally in most categories, while the quarterback himself was named Conference USA player of the year and C-USA MVP.
"He was back working out before the team left Sunday," Holliday said. "He had an ankle and a knee after that game, but he's fine."
Defensive back Derrick Thomas, who was hospitalized in an automobile crash Tuesday, also should be fine, Holliday said.
The big question is the Herd's search for a new defensive coordinator, after embattled coach Chris Rippon, who headed up one of the most porous defenses in recent memory, resigned at the end of the season.
Unfortunately, Holliday said, there isn't a whole lot to be done immediately because a lot of the coaches the Herd is interested in are still coaching as their teams prepare for bowls.
"We have a lot of guys who are really interested that are excellent," Holliday said. "I think after Christmas, and the bowls are finished up and all of that, probably the second week of January, we'll solidify that. There are really qualified guys who think this is a great job and they're excited about it, so we'll be fine. We'll get a good guy in here about the second week of January."
Holliday said he is looking for experience and aggressiveness in a new coordinator.
"We want a guy who is very technique sound, fundamentally sound -- we're going to have some players, and we'll be fine," he said. "We'll name a coordinator here who has coordinator experience, or is a coordinator right now, who has been very successful. That will happen."
The coach also confirmed he is moving fullback Devon Thomas to linebacker in the spring, along with two other players, to see if they can complement a corps that was exploited this season with the exception of All-American selection D.J. Hunter, who was moved up from safety, and Jermaine Holmes. The Herd also has a few linebackers who were ineligible in 2012 who will be on the 2013 spring roster.
"The defense has to get fixed," Holliday said. "I felt after two years, offensively, everything we needed to have was fixed. Now we have to do the same thing with the defense. Devon Johnson will go there and he either starts or he comes back (to offense) -- whatever we have to do to get that thing where it needs to be.
"You have to get your best 11 people on the field ... if we get that defensive end who can pressure the quarterback, get the linebacker situation and safety situation settled, I think we're in pretty good shape ... the key this spring and this winter is going to be getting everyone lined up in the right place. There's going to be enough athletes out there on defense that we're going to be OK."
The Herd will have highly-touted recruit A.J. Leggett, who missed all of the 2012 season with an injury, at defensive back. Returning DBs include Thomas and Keith Baxter, among others. Holliday said any one of those players might be moved to safety, where Boston College grads Domique LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha played for a single season this year as grad students.
Holliday confirmed the signing of junior college transfers Arnold Blackmon, a 6-foot-2, 235 pound defensive end from Texas, and safety Taj Letman, a Georgia native from Holmes Community College in Mississippi.
Letman will be eligible to play for three years for the Herd.
"We felt like we were going to take one defensive end who could give us some pass rush from the outside, and we felt like we met that goal," Holliday said. "And of course we've got to get a couple of safeties in here and Taj fills one of those spots."