Hartley getting settled into position
HUNTINGTON -- When Doc Holliday hires coaches for his Marshall University football staff, he doesn't worry about age.
Just resumes and a devotion to the game.
There's his fiery defensive coordinator Chris Rippon, a veteran of nearly 20 years in the business and producer of 22 players who have been drafted into the National Football League.
There's his hands-on offensive coordinator Bill Legg, the former mastermind behind the explosive Purdue offense of the mid 2000s.
And then there's Todd Hartley, Holliday's safeties coach, who once coordinated the Georgia defensive gameplan prior to its 44-20 Independence Bowl spanking of Texas A&M, the then-fifth highest scoring offense in the nation, in 2009.
And, yeah, Hartley's only 25-years-old.
"I worry about if they love football -- do they have great enthusiasm, do they have a passion for the game, do they love to get involved in kids' lives?," Holliday said, running down his checklist for the hiring process. "And (Hartley's) all of the above.
"Sure, he's a young guy, but he's very knowledgeable and we're glad he's here."
On the first day of his first-ever spring practice as a full-time collegiate coach, Hartley said his head was spinning, just trying to put a firm grasp on concepts and personnel.
And could you blame him? Heck, the guy had only officially been on staff for all of 12 days.
"It's been kind of hectic," Hartley said on March 29.
But 21 days and 11 practices later, the rookie can proudly say that he's adjusted.
"It's been great," he said. "It's been great getting to know the kids, getting a good feel for the team, good feel for the defense -- getting to know how we're going to be.
"Obviously, we're still missing 20 to 25 guys that we're going to have in the fall, but you still have the core of who you're going to be playing with now.
"I'm getting a feel for the personnel, a feel for the coaches, a feel for the scheme. ... I'm getting comfortable with finding my place, finding where I'm going to fit in. As each passing day goes, I'm getting comfortable with everything Marshall is."
What the Marshall safeties were in 2010 were a solid combination of Omar and Donald Brown.
Omar played the free spot and made 88 tackles and three interceptions. Donald manned the strong spot and collected 75 tackles and three picks.
But when Hartley arrived so did a pair of talented freshmen -- Evan McKelvey and D.J. Hunter.
Both have made considerable moves toward taking over Donald Brown's once-stable position.
"It's all about production," Hartley said. "If you go out there and produce, you earn the right to play with the first team. Because it's a right. It's a right to play with the first team, not a privilege.
"And coming out of winter conditioning, Donald really didn't earn that right. Evan did.
"D.J. was still kind of lost. He had played some corner and then was moving to safety so D.J. wasn't ready. So based off winter conditioning, Evan earned that right.
"And after the first couple practices and the first scrimmage, D.J. earned the right.
"And now Donald's been hurt and is working his way back, so who knows?"
Donald Brown returned to practice Tuesday after missing the last week because of back spasms.
Omar Brown, a senior who Hartley refers to as "the savvy vet," can't quite predict the race opposite him just yet.
"What I see is the coaches are still tying to fit the puzzle," he said. "Putting the pieces in the right place. All three of those guys have great play-making capabilities in them so it's going to be a good competition between those guys."
And the one who will be paying closest attention to that competition? It'll be Hartley, someone who's just a few years older than all of them.
But don't worry. Like Holliday, the safeties don't see age.
"I really don't see him as any different kind of coach," Omar Brown said. "He's still a coach no matter how young he is.
"We still have to go out there and do what he says because we have to earn his respect and he has to earn ours at the same time."
The end of Tuesday's practice offered a shining example of that.
While every other position player was finished and happily inside the Shewey Building, there was Hartley strictly making sure his boys were partaking in some, as Donald Brown called it, "disciplinary actions," aka numerous length-of-the-field runs.
"Oh, yeah," Donald said with a smile. "We respect him."
Prior to Marshall, Hartley had undergraduate and graduate coaching experience at West Virginia, with Holliday for a year, and Georgia.