HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall football coach Doc Holliday will get his first look at players when they report to campus Sunday for preseason workouts.NCAA rules limit college football coaches from having interaction with their players during the summer. The strength coaches are the only ones who may work with athletes.On the other hand, college basketball coaches can spend two full hours of instruction per week during the summer."I think that's a bad rule and it needs to change,'' Holliday said when he addressed the media for the first time this summer ahead of Monday's opening of practice. "I think it's a shame you can't, and I'm not talking about going out and practicing and all that."I'm just talking about getting around the kids and getting in the weight room. We can't even watch them work out. It's crazy. Basketball's found a way to do it. I don't think we need to go out and be able to practice three days a week in the summer, but I think we need to get involved with our kids and get around them.''A coach's guiding hand is especially important in today's world where so many college athletes are running afoul of the law."It scares me to death, every time I pick up the paper somebody's got an issue,'' said Holliday, who is entering his fourth season at Marshall. "There's nothing you worry about more as a football coach than the decisions your players are making."When you're isolated from them and can't spend as much time with them, that creates even more problems for you. I think the more I'm around them the better chance I've got to make sure they're doing a great job academically, make sure they make great decisions off the field.''Holliday said he has heard rumblings that the NCAA may give football coaches eight hours a week to work with players like they do in the spring."When they take away all that time you can spend with them away from you, the job as a head coach becomes harder,'' he said. "I think it would be a lot better for us to be around these kids. Give us the opportunity.''
nnMarshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato has had quite an offseason.Cato, the first underclassmen to be named the Conference USA player of the year after the 2012 season, is on the preseason lists for the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards, which are given to the national player of the year, and the Davey O'Brien Award, which is handed to the country's top quarterback.Holliday doesn't see the attention as a distraction."I think he's fueled by it, but also I think he understands he'll trade all that in to go win a championship or a game,'' said the Thundering Herd coach who has posted 5-7, 7-5 and 5-7 records the past three years.
"He's a young guy that understands. He's a very competitive guy at whatever he does. I think it's even more important to him as a football team we find a way to win and I think that's what he's concerned about.'' nnThe Herd offense should get a boost with an improved offensive line."This is the first time since I've been the head coach that I also think our offensive line can be a strength,'' Holliday said."To be a good offense we had to play at an up tempo every game last year. When we slowed things down we got out of synch and we weren't quite good up front. I think to be a great offense we have to be able to change tempos. We've got to be able to slow it down at times to help our defense a little bit. I think the offensive line being a strength now can help us do that.''Holliday said the offensive line should be fresh during key stretches late in games.
"[Offensive line coach] Alex [Mirabal] thinks he has 10 offensive linemen and as many as 12 that can actually go play and function in a game,'' Holliday said. "I think that's huge.'' nnConference USA will have a new look this season.Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Central Florida are leaving for the American Athletic Conference. Those schools are being replaced this summer by Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte and Old Dominion."I look at the conference right now and it's going to be a better fit for us,'' said Holliday. "I think the conference is in great shape. We lost a few teams, but Louisiana Tech was pretty good last year. They beat a bunch of people."Middle Tennessee, didn't they beat Georgia Tech a year ago? Some of these teams that we've brought in have won some big, big games. Pull up North Texas' facilities, they're unbelievable. [North Texas coach Dan McCarney] can get in a car and drive to Dallas. There's not a more fertile recruiting ground in America. The same thing with [Texas-San Antonio coach] Larry [Coker] in San Antonio."Look at the recruiting base at Old Dominion and the Tidewater area [in Virginia]. There's not a state in America that has more talent than Louisiana does, and Louisiana Tech is sitting right there in the middle of it.'' Holliday said the new league makeup will also be more fan friendly."Our fan base now has got four or five games where they can get in a car and drive to,'' he said. "A year from now we're going to be talking about getting into a car and driving to Middle, Western Kentucky, Charlotte and Old Dominion.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.