Pennington helped bring Furrey to Herd staff
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -Of all the new assistants on the Marshall coaching staff, Mike Furrey took the least traditional route to get there.
It's not every day that a sitting head coach at an NAIA school gets a shot at a major-college job, even if Grayson, Ky., is just 30-some miles down Interstate 64 from the MU campus.
But Furrey did have an eight-year NFL resume, both on and off the field, and that brought him respect from many teammates and opponents. Among those was a pair of accomplished Thundering Herd alums.
"Chad Pennington had a lot to do with that," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "I didn't know Mike, to be honest with you. Chad called me and asked me to talk to him. I did it as a favor to Chad, and I got him in here and was so impressed I hired the guy."
Furrey, an Ohio State walk-on who transferred to Northern Iowa and set receiving records there, was trying to break into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and XFL receiver when he crossed paths with Pennington.
"Chad and I met in 2001. I spent some time in training camp with the Jets," Furrey said. "At a workout, Chad actually threw the workout, and I ended up getting signed to the team from the workout. So we had a good friendship from there.
"Through the years, Chad and I ran into each other at charity events, doing things with the league, so we've kind of had that connection, hit and miss with each other."
Furrey called Pennington about the MU opening. "It was more of a 'Why don't you sit down and talk, talk football and go from there,' and that's really what I did. I don't think it was really an interview. They actually called me back and invited me there for a formal one, and that was the end of the story."
Pennington wasn't the only connection - when Furrey finally established himself in "The League," it was with the St. Louis Rams and long snapper Chris Massey. In three years with the Rams, he struck up a rapport with the East Bank High graduate.
"I've known him since '03," Furrey said. "We've had a pretty good friendship, and it's good to be at his alma mater."
Furrey played for the Rams for three years, even branching out from wide receiver to safety, and then he went to Detroit and caught 98 passes in 2006. He played in Detroit through 2008, in Cleveland in 2009 and signed with the Redskins, but his career ended with a concussion in training camp.
In the fall of 2010, he tutored wide receivers and the secondary - hey, he played both in the NFL, right? - at Madison-Plains High School in London, Ohio, southwest of his native Columbus. In December 2010, he landed a head coaching job at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson.
Not everybody gets a head gig that fast, but not everybody would have wanted the job of growing the KCU program from near scratch. The Knights went 0-11 in their infant season of 2010, playing home games at Morehead, South Point, Ohio, and yes, Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
By the end of 2010, Furrey had the Knights at 7-4 and helped raise funds to build a turfed field beside I-64. Last month, he stepped onto Holliday's staff.
Like all the other five new position coaches, he has much work to do, both this spring and in the preseason. Issue No. 1: He has to help the Herd replace NFL prospect Aaron Dobson at the "X" position and Antavious Wilson at the "Z."
No. 2, he has to develop depth at all positions, including behind Tommy Shuler, that wizard of a slot receiver. And he has to do that in the Herd's rapid-fire offense.
With Dobson and Wilson gone, Shuler is the leading returning receiver by far, with 110 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns in 2012. The No. 2 man is Demetrius Evans, who had 32 catches for 284 in what was really his first year.
The other returning wide receivers combined for just 42 receptions, but they are part of a good competition for depth-chart spots.
Furrey's No. 1 message: Simply put, the speed of the game.
"The biggest thing is to play with speed," he said. "A lot of guys start watching TV and watching ESPN, and might catch a glance at a guy running a route on Sundays, a little hop in their step, being really lazy and yet catching balls.
"You can get away with that one time. Everybody wants to do that all the time, because they think it looks really neat and it's really cool. In the end, it's human nature and it takes away from you playing fast, lining up and knowing what to do and go."
Holliday trusts that Furrey's message will sink in.
"He's been very successful in everything he's set out to do," Holliday said.
Running back Kevin Grooms was attending to personal matters, Holliday said, and did not participate in Tuesday's practice.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.