HUNTINGTON — The roots of Nick Saban showed themselves strongly in the Conference USA Media Kickoff for new Marshall football head coach Charles Huff on Wednesday afternoon.
In response to Marshall being voted No. 1 in the East Division in the preseason poll released this week, Huff had a very Saban-esque response.
“There’s a lot of rat poison out there right now about our team and our players, which is awesome for everybody who does not put on a helmet,” Huff said. “For us, it’s about focusing on the details.”
The ‘rat poison’ reference came about in 2017 when Saban responded to media praise following Alabama’s 25-17 win over Texas A&M.
Since that time, Saban has used it, as well as other coaches nationally, including former Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin, who is now at Ole Miss.
Huff became the latest to use the reference on Wednesday during Conference USA Media Days, saying predictions mean nothing in the grand scheme of what his team is trying to accomplish.
“Expectations are a privilege,” Huff said. “People expect losers to lose and they expect winners to win, so it’s a privilege to have those expectations, but it doesn’t change the day-to-day work that we have to do to get there. No team is going to come out and say, ‘Oh, they picked you guys to win some games, so we’re going back in the locker room.’”
Perhaps the reference is more relevant to Huff in this case because he comes into a situation where Marshall has had several successful seasons and been selected within the top two in the East Division for several years, but has not won a Conference USA Championship since 2014.
Last season, the Herd won the East Division title, but stumbled down the stretch, losing its final three games.
The team started 7-0 and was ranked No. 15 nationally and had three weeks between games before losing to Rice, 20-0, and falling in its final two contests — the 2020 Conference USA Championship to UAB and its bowl game to Buffalo.
Given that Marshall started strong, but struggled to finish, Huff is focusing on each day as its own personal challenge all the way from now until December.
“Over the history here, Marshall has had some very successful seasons,” Huff said. “We’re trying to close the gap and that gap is not very wide, but we’re trying to do it by improving on the little things, blocking out the noise, not tasting the rat poison and working every day to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Defensive back Brandon Drayton is one of those players who has been around for several years and experienced many of Marshall’s near-misses in the East Division and Conference USA.
Drayton said the feel is different with Huff at the helm and the team is looking to make sure the end result is one to be proud of at the end of 2021.
“We need to not focus too much on what the media is saying — just focus on us — and come in every week with a hungry mindset to execute our job on the field,” Drayton said.
Huff said the only way to ensure the result matches the expectations is to start at ground zero and work their way up.
“The tough part about closing that gap or getting to that next step is that what you did last year, it really doesn’t matter,” Huff said. “You’ve got to start all over and you’ve got to do everything you did last year to get to the point to where you were and then you’ve got to do a little bit more to get over the hump.
“Yes, we were 7-0 last year. Yes, they did play in the conference championship game, but none of those points matter.”
The Conference USA Media Kickoff continues with the West Division’s virtual interviews on Thursday afternoon.
Marshall begins its 2021 preseason practice on Aug. 5 in anticipation for the 2021 season opener, which is Sept. 4 at Navy.