And, from Marshall … Doink Ahanahue?

January 29, 2015 by Derek Redd

Comedy duo Key and Peele has one of the funniest bits going with their East-West Bowl introductions. It was good enough to get a sequel, then a trilogy. With it, the world was introduced to legends like T.J. A.J. R.J. Backslashinfourth V and J’Dinkalage Morgoone.

In our third installment, we meet this year’s East-West entrant from Marshall …

Waitaminute …

(Shuffles through the roster)

When did Marshall sign Doink Ahanahue? I mean, with that hair, you’d think I’d remember him. And what position did he even play? Kinda looks like a linebacker from here.

And when did WVU start recruiting Louisiana? I can only assume that’s where they got Legume Duprix.

Still can’t believe Marshall missed out on Marmadune Shazbot, though. I heard his visit went really well.

Gameday, Part XIV — Champion vs. Champion

December 23, 2014 by Derek Redd

Shall we do this once more?

In about a half-hour, Marshall’s season comes to an end at FAU Stadium with Northern Illinois on the other side of the field for a rare C-USA champ-versus-MAC champ showdown. The Herd faithful already got one early Christmas present with news of Doc Holliday and Marshall agreeing to another contract extension. Will it get another with a third bowl win in four seasons?

The festivities were pretty nice around FAU Stadium. Here’s a look at some of the sights:

The band was a-jumpin'

The band was a-jumpin’

She's tall.

She’s tall.

Where the opposition had its fun.

Where the opposition had its fun.

Marshall's cheerleaders prepare to lead the team into the stadium.

Marshall’s cheerleaders prepare to lead the team into the stadium.

And for those who weren’t here to see Marshall make its walk into the stadium, here ya go:

And finally, a man who deserves a quiet holiday break …

Marshall SID Jason Corriher makes his way to the press box.

Marshall SID Jason Corriher makes his way to the press box.

As for the game, I don’t have any official confirmation, but I’d doubt if you see fifth-year senior Demetrius Evans on the field tonight. He’s been missing the last two practices and, if he’s not there, chances are he’s not playing. Everyone else looks good to go, which is good news for Devon Johnson fans, which would include the entire coaching staff and offensive side of the ball.

That’s it for now.  Stick around down below for some live bloggin’. Otherwise …

Happy Bowl Game, y’all.

Live Blog Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Sights and Scenes from the Boca Raton Bowl, Part IV — Media Day

December 22, 2014 by Derek Redd

The Marshall and Northern Illinois football teams started wrapping up their preparations for Tuesday’s Boca Raton Bowl on Monday with both a luncheon and a press conference. Well, it wasn’t so much a press conference as it was a quick free-for-all to grab the last few nuggets of information before the game.

Yup, looks like the right place.

Yup, looks like the right place.

A surprise was former Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger. The bowl will kick off at FAU Stadium and Schellenberger, who coached the Owls from 2001-11 was on hand to discuss the growth of the university and the stadium.

Schnellenberger is proud of FAU's growth.

Schnellenberger is proud of FAU’s growth.

Players and coaches from both teams were situated around the room to field questions from inquiring minds.

Doc Holliday took questions on a number of topics.

Doc Holliday took questions on a number of topics.

Rakeem Cato was a popular interview.

Rakeem Cato was a popular interview.

So was Tommy Shuler.

So was Tommy Shuler.

The NIU contingent waits to take questions.

The NIU contingent waits to take questions.

After pep rallies for both teams Monday night, it’ll be game day, our six-day excursion will come to a sunny end and it’s back up to the frozen north.

 

Sights and Scenes from the Boca Raton Bowl, Part III — Visiting the West Boca Medical Center

December 21, 2014 by Derek Redd

Aside from the bowling excursions and beach parties, Marshall’s football team also spent some time with some kids at the West Boca Medical Center in need of some holiday cheer. Ten Herd players — Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler, Darryl Roberts, Neville Hewitt, Jarquez Samuel, Chris Jasperse, Eric Frohnapfel, Sebastian Johansson, Clint Van Horn and James Rouse — traveled through the pediatric wing handing out gifts, autographed footballs and Marshall t-shirts.

The players get ready to spread some holiday cheer.

The players get ready to spread some holiday cheer.

There were plenty of goodies for the kids throughout the hospital.

There were plenty of goodies for the kids throughout the hospital.

 

Signed footballs and helmets were part of the gift supply.

Signed footballs and helmets were part of the gift supply.

When the players started through the hospital, some of the parents were just as pumped as the kids to meet the team.

The team starts the tour.

The team starts the tour.

Mateo and Jarquez Samuel share a laugh.

Mateo and Jarquez Samuel share a laugh.

It looks like Samuel found himself a new fan in Gabriella.

It looks like Samuel found himself a new fan in Gabriella.

Gabriella was pretty cute. When the players came into her room, she immediately threw her blankets over her head to hide. Every time they were pulled away, she threw them back over. It didn’t take long for her to warm up to the team, though.

Frohnapfel realized something special as he walked through the hospital. It was the same hospital where he and twin brother Blake, now a quarterback at the University of Massachusetts, were born.

Hospital officials take a picture with Doc Holliday and the hospital's former little bundle of joy.

Hospital officials take a picture with Doc Holliday and the hospital’s former little bundle of joy.

In the end, the players felt it was important to brighten the children’s day, even if it was for a little bit.

Bowl week is almost at a close. The two teams will hold press conferences Monday afternoon in advance of Tuesday’s game.

Sights and Scenes from the Boca Raton Bowl, Part II — The Beach Party

December 21, 2014 by Derek Redd

The Marshall football team got another chance to kick back a little before Tuesday’s Boca Raton Bowl game against Northern Illinois, this time with the Atlantic Ocean as the background. The bowl held a beach party for the Thundering Herd at Benny’s on the Beach on the Lake Worth Pier.

A full view of the party spot.

A full view of the party spot.

The view from the pier.

The view from the pier.

When the Herd arrived Saturday afternoon, they were greeted by cheerleaders and other girls draping leis around the players’ necks.

Sure, it might be on the other coast, but aloha Herd.

Sure, it might be on the other coast, but aloha Herd.

The entertainment for the party was the band Jangle Leg, which touts itself as “Bluegrass Gypsy Trash for yer earholes.” Their performance was anything but trash. If you like bluegrass, folk and blues, this is your group.

The gang's all there.

The gang’s all there.

This bass player is my new spirit animal.

This bass player is my new spirit animal.

Among the festivities, and after the food, the players got to try their hands at some saltwater fishing.

A.J. Leggett and Rakeem Cato bait their hook.

A.J. Leggett and Rakeem Cato bait their hook.

It was quite obvious that some guys were more experienced at this than others, as you can see below with Chris Jasperse.

The team will spend some time Sunday morning at the West Boca Pediatric Center, then head back to St. Andrew’s School for afternoon practice.

Sights and Scenes from the Boca Raton Bowl, Part I — The Welcoming Party

December 19, 2014 by Derek Redd

Marshall’s football team got its first taste of the Boca Raton Bowl atmosphere with its welcoming party Friday afternoon at the CineBowl in Delray Beach. The team hopped right off its jet at Palm Beach International Airport and right onto buses on their way to the party.

That’s the Herd trekking from the buses to the party site, complete with an unexpected extreme close-up of Marshall AD Mike Hamrick.

As you’ll see, this isn’t your typical bowling alley. No florescent lighting or day-old nacho sauce in this joint. The players, coaches, staff and their families lined up at buffet stations for plenty of good food.

The Herd grabs some lunch.

The Herd grabs some lunch.

The venue is a combination of a bowling alley/movieplex, complete with an IMAX theater. The Marshall folks stayed on the bowling side of things. They rolled a few frames while ESPN was splashed across huge screens, messed around with air hockey and arcade games and pretty much just decompressed after the flight.

Told ya it was pretty swanky.

Told ya it was pretty swanky.

Some players were better than others at the whole bowling thing. Eric Frohnapfel, who admits he’s no Pete Weber, gutter-balled his first try, then smacked a few pins in the corner. Other guys like Chris Jasperse and Michael Selby, as you can see below, are pretty darned good.

Marshall practices Saturday afternoon, then heads to the Lake Worth Pier for a beach party. Plan on seeing some sights from there, too.

2014 football season lucrative for coaches, too

December 11, 2014 by Derek Redd

Plenty of folks are licking their chops at the upcoming Boca Raton Bowl matchup between C-USA champ Marshall and MAC champ Northern Illinois. There’s another group that might be smiling, too — the Marshall coaches’ wealth managers.

There were plenty of bonuses to go around with the Thundering Herd’s journey to the C-USA title, starting with head coach Doc Holliday, who made nearly $100,000 in bonuses from this season.

According to Holliday’s contract, he makes $10,000 for winning the East Division, $30,000 for winning the conference title and $30,000 for reaching a bowl game. The conference title and bowl game escalators both increased by $10,000 from his previous contract. In another addition from his extension, he gets $25,000 if Marshall sells more 10,500 season tickets. Put that together, and Holliday made an additional $95,000 this year.

The only escalator he didn’t hit was the $50,000 he would have made for reaching an access bowl.

Marshall’s assistants also came out ahead, each getting a month’s salary as a bonus for the season. Speaking of assistant coach salaries, USA Today released its new salary database for assistant football coaches. It’s pretty cool, as you can see. It’s sortable by category and has the info for nearly every team in the country (private schools like Stanford, Vanderbilt and Rice aren’t obligated under open records laws to provide that information). Here are some tidbits I found just by peeking around it for a few minutes:

– Of the C-USA schools that reported (Rice didn’t), Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and offensive coordinator Bill Legg are the third- and f0urth-highest paid assistants in the league. Heater is third at $202,656, and Legg is fourth at $201,456. The top two highest-paid assistants in C-USA are Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Nick Holt at $303,000 and Middle Tennessee defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix at $287,600.

– By the way, Holt’s contract makes up almost a third of the $978,480 that WKU pays to its assistants.

– UTEP spent the most on its assistants in C-USA, totalling $1,167,375. Marshall is fifth at $1,056,938. Here are the schools that reported their salaries, in order:

UTEP — $1,167,375

North Texas — $1,148,300

Middle Tennessee — $1,131,886

Florida International — $1.065,400

Marshall — $1,056,938

Southern Miss — $1,025,000

UAB — $1,011,000

Louisiana Tech — $999,700

Western Kentucky — $978,480

Old Dominion — $919,640

Florida Atlantic — $820,600

UTSA — $786,175

– And here are the salaries of Marshall’s assistants, according to the database:

Chris Barclay, running backs — $80,000

Mike Furrey, receivers — $82,762

Sean Cronin, defensive line — $88,456

J.C. Price, defensive line — $88,956

Todd Hartley, tight ends/recruiting coordinator — $89,350

Adam Fuller, linebackers — $111,456

Alex Mirabal, offensive line — $111,846

Bill Legg, offensive coordinator — $201,456

Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator — $202,656

– The highest-paid assistant coach in the database is Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster at $1,369,500, followed by Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart at $1,355,850. Five assistants made more than $1 million — Foster, Smart, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron ($1,315,967), LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis($1,312,300) and former Clemson offensive coordinator (now SMU head coach) Chad Morris ($1,301,250).

– Eight coaches in the database made less than $50,000. Two, Texas Tech’s Matt Brock and Georgia State’s Brock Lough, made $35,000.

Regarding the C-USA MVP (or When 140 Characters Isn’t Enough)

December 10, 2014 by Derek Redd

Conference USA announced its individual awards Wednesday afternoon, which included a weird occurrence. Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato was named the C-USA offensive player of the year. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty was named C-USA MVP.

But when all-conference teams were announced the day before, the list was configured in a way that spurred me to tweet this Wednesday afternoon …

I got a few responses, mostly explaining that “best” doesn’t always mean “most valuable.” And that returns us to a longstanding debate of the definition of “Most Valuable Player.” How does one determine value? Can one player be ranked ahead of another, yet the lower-ranked player be considered more valuable?

I’d respectfully say no. It’s one thing to have that debate between players at different positions, which has been seen in NFL MVP-Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year votes. The quarterback puts up ridiculous numbers, but the running back means more to the team. Both are considered the top players at their respective positions.

The difference here: The same coaches who voted Cato over Doughty for first-team quarterback honors voted Doughty over Cato for MVP.

And that’s not to discount Doughty’s accomplishments. He led the FBS with 4,344 yards and 44 touchdowns, which are absolutely mind-boggling stats. He was also one of just four FBS quarterbacks to throw at least 509 passes. Cato numbers aren’t shabby either — 3,622 yards and 37 touchdowns — and he got those in 414 attempts.

The big difference is in the records. Cato’s Herd went 12-1. Doughty’s Hilltoppers went 7-5, mainly because WKU’s defense was one of the nation’s worst.

Hmmm, crazy stats. Lesser record due to bad defense. MVP Award. Where have we heard this before.

Oh, yeah, when Cato won the 2012 conference MVP award when Marshall went 5-7 and Cato led the nation in passing.

So there’s precedent there in one form, but not in another. When Cato was the conference MVP in 2012, he also was the first-team quarterback.

And while Doughty’s presence under center is a huge reason the ‘Toppers won seven games, don’t understate Cato’s value in Marshall’s 12 wins. Many of the reads Cato makes in the Marshall offense are post-snap, which means it’s his choice whether it’s a run play, pass play or keeper. And he has to make that choice in mere seconds. And with that in mind, Marshall finished second in total offense and fifth in scoring offense.

Devon Johnson led C-USA in rushing, despite three games where he carried the ball a total of seven times. He should have been an offensive player of the year candidate, too. But if there’s any counter to the argument, it’s that in those three games where he either didn’t play or barely played, Marshall struggled on the ground just once, with 121 yards against Louisiana Tech. The Herd ran for 335 yards against Southern Miss and 291 yards against WKU.

Honestly, if the coaches flip-flopped the awards and made Cato MVP and Doughty offensive player of the year, I’m not even writing this blog post. Both QBs are fantastic and both deserve recognition. It’s just that in doling out the awards as they did, they’re saying the second-best quarterback is the most valuable player in the conference, and that’s just a head-scratcher.

 

 

Mike Hamrick with strong words for Boca Raton Bowl critics

December 8, 2014 by Derek Redd

Marshall held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the football team’s upcoming Boca Raton Bowl matchup with Northern Illinois. Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick was there, as was coach Doc Holliday and players Darryl Rouse, Neville Hewitt, Chris Jasperse, James Rouse, Tommy Shuler and Rakeem Cato.

It’s a champion-versus-champion game, Marshall the Conference USA champ and NIU the Mid-American Conference champ. But some Marshall fans took to social media and the message boards to grouse about the Herd’s destination and opponent, that they’d have rather seen the team play 6-6 Big Ten team Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

During the Sunday-night conference call announcing the game and Monday’s press conference, Hamrick spent a lot of time reinforcing the idea that this Marshall-NIU game was the best possible scenario for the Herd. I asked him Monday if it frustrated him that he seemed to have to defend Marshall’s bowl game. He had some pretty pointed words for those critics. Here’s his response, in full, below:

I don’t like negativity. I can remember getting here six years ago, I would look at our schedule and try to count six wins, and see if we could get six wins and go to a bowl game. And if we could, it was great. Now these guys win 12 games and a championship and under the circumstances we’re under, we’re going to play in what I think is a very, very good bowl game at a very, very good location in a very, very good place.

And any negativity towards that is, to me, an insult to these players, is an insult to this coach, is an insult to me and is an insult to this university. These guys were one point away from winning every game. We’re 12-1. How many teams in this country are 12-1? You’re counting on your fingers. There’s not very many. And our fans – and we’ve got some great fans, and we’ve got some not-so-great fans like everybody else – but our fans need to go to Florida and they need to support these guys when they’re playing their last game. Because the culture of this program was in the dumpster when I arrived here. And it’s been changed. And there’s six guys here and a coach who’ve changed it. Won the first Conference USA championship out there Saturday.

And for our fans not to get behind these guys in their last game is a shame. It’ll be a shame. But I know there will be many who will, because I’ve talked with many this morning that will. So I’m not going to sit here and defend … our goal was to play in the access bowl. Yeah, we’re disappointed about that. We lost a game in overtime by one point. We lost a game. But, you know what? To go play another champion who played in the 2012 Orange Bowl, who’s been to seven straight bowls, who’s won three of the last four Mid-American Conference championships, I’m not going to apologize to anybody for that. Our fans need to go to Boca and they need to support these kids, because there’s six great kids sitting up here and a great coach sitting at this table right here.

Sure, I wish we were tied into the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl or whatever, but you know what? We’re not. That’s where we are right now with our conference and our program. But we’ve got a chance to go play a good team and we’ve got a chance to go play a champion from another conference that’s compared at our level. And we need to get down there and we need to show people what Marshall University and Marshall University football is all about. And I’m convinced these guys and this coach will do that.

Where should the Herd go bowling?

December 7, 2014 by Derek Redd

In winning its first Conference USA title, Marshall’s football team should have its pick of bowl destinations among conference-affiliated games. Actually, C-USA said earlier this season that the champ would get that choice. Now, as the season has gone on, I’ve heard that the conference office will have at least some influence on the destination. So where should the Herd spend bowl season?

It depends on everyone’s preference.

C-USA went this entire season without a win over a Power 5 conference. Even the Sun Belt can say it accomplished that. C-USA has one last shot to rectify that situation in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which pits a C-USA team against one of the Big Ten’s lower tier of bowl-eligible teams.

One would think that the conference champ would have the best chance of any conference team in scoring a win over one of the big boys. And, for most of the season, Marshall has shown the firepower necessary to run with that crowd. And here’s the other thing: Marshall played zero Power 5 foes this year after Louisville pushed its visit to Huntington to 2016. That’s one of the reasons a 12-1 C-USA champ isn’t in the conversation for the Group of 5 spot in the “New Year’s Six” Bowls.

Marshall could get its one chance to prove it can hang with the big boys (granted, they’d do it against a team like 6-6 Illinois or 7-5 Rutgers) in Dallas. So it should be a no-brainer, right?

Here’s the other factor: Bowls like butts in seats.

That’s why a lot of folks are saying that UTEP is pretty much locked into the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. And that’s what made last season’s Military Bowl pairing so tantalizing for its committee. You had Marshall, sitting only a few hours away, versus Maryland, playing a bowl in its backyard. And the announced attendance of more than 30,000 reflected that.  So which team would put more keisters in the Cotton Bowl? Would it be the C-USA champ whose fans would have to hop on flights to watch?

Or would it be the C-USA runner-up, Louisiana Tech, which has a big fan base in Shreveport, which is less than a three-hour drive from Cotton Bowl Stadium? Would that be enough to shift the Bulldogs there and the Herd elsewhere? And where else could Marshall go?

Well, we all know Doc Holliday likes Florida. Twenty-nine players on his roster are from the Sunshine State. And C-USA has a slot in the new Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium. More than a quarter of the roster getting a chance to play its final game at or near home in the middle of one of Marshall’s most fertile recruiting grounds? Sounds pretty good, right?

Welp, there’s a catch. Marshall would likely play a Mid-American Conference team. It’s already played three. And that’s one thing critics of its schedule harped on all season. That raises another question: Would Marshall fans fly to South Florida, where it was 80 degrees yesterday and you can see the beach from FAU Stadium, if they had to watch the Herd play another MAC team? And would Marshall and C-USA want to give their critics more ammunition by keeping the Herd away from Power 5 competition?

(Another possible factor: The Boca Raton Bowl is Dec. 23, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl is Dec. 26. Boca would have fans back home in time for Christmas Day. You’re celebrating in the Lone Star State with the Heart of Dallas.)

C-USA has three other primary bowl affiliations: The New Mexico, Hawaii and Bahamas bowls. UTEP looks likely for New Mexico. And the conference would be downright crazy in shuttling its champion to either Honolulu or Nassau. Do you really want to force your best team’s fan base to either shell out tons of money for a Hawaii trip or have it scrambling for passports for the Bahamas, or risk empty stadiums for your marquee team in either market?

Could there be some wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to trade the Herd to another bowl? Possibly, but if I’m C-USA, I’d have to have a guarantee that Marshall would play a marketable opponent. And even then, why do that when you can put Marshall in Dallas in a bowl where its namesake is a nonprofit organization that boasts the C-USA commissioner as the president of its board of directors?

So it probably comes down to competition versus location. Does C-USA want Marshall to play a power conference team? Then ship ‘em to Dallas. Wanna send a big chunk of the team home for the holidays? Put ‘em on the beach in Boca.

The destination should be announced around 3 p.m. Sunday. The rush to Kayak.com for flight prices will begin soon after.