MORGANTOWN — West Virginia, let the rivalry begin.
Forget about whatever it was that went on between West Virginia University and Marshall before. Forget about scores like 81-0 and 92-6. Forget about West Virginia’s eight victories and none for Marshall.
That was the appetizer.
We now have the main course.
John “Doc” Holliday, 52, a West Virginia University graduate and former coach and player, is running the Marshall program now.
They can start throwing the rocks – or, if you prefer, the coal.
From a WVU point of view, it’s a matter of one of ours is now one of theirs and that just won’t do.
Doc Holliday has waited a long time to get a team of his own, 52 years. He had some chances, including a shot to be named the Mountaineer coach when Rich Rodriguez jilted his school and deserted his state.
“We talked to him about it,” Ed Pastilong, the WVU athletic director, said after joking about applying for Holliday’s vacancy as assistant head coach, recruiting director and tight ends/fullbacks coach, a position that paid Holliday $394,881.69 in 2008 to the $362,637.99 his boss made, according to the State Auditor’s web page. “He got consideration for the job. I can’t say how the applicants lined up in the pecking order, but we felt he had strong qualities to be a head coach.”
In the end Bill Stewart was hired, and if you think Holliday doesn’t want to show WVU that he, too, could have done that job, well then you don’t know the competitive fire that burns in people at the top level of college athletics.
On the surface, WVU people were all saying the politically correct thing. Pastilong noted what a good friend Holliday had been and predicted he will do well.
“I only hope he has one bad day a year,” Pastilong said.
He was referring to the day WVU and Marshall play, and if you think that was a joke you are kidding yourself.
Like Pastilong, Stewart had nothing but kind words for Holliday.
“Doc has been a friend of mine for the past 30 years and these last two years have been really great to have him on our staff. His loyalty has been special for me and West Virginia University,” Stewart said, in a prepared statement.
“He has provided two years of dedication and hard work to the Mountaineers. Now he gets a chance to lead his own program, which is what every coach aspires to. That said, we can be proud that this environment helped cultivate a leader and new head coach.”
And then came the bottom line.
“We will be ready for him and his team when we square off next season,” said Stewart, throwing down the gauntlet.
This is going to be good, because it’s going to get bad.
Holliday takes with him knowledge of the playbook and the players. He knows coaches’ tendencies and the bunker mentality, which buttons the coaches like to push and which buttons he can push to set them off.
He will be recruiting many of the same areas, although one suspects that at Marshall he might not be able to get the same players as he got on a nationally competitive WVU, Florida or N.C. State team. He can give the ol’ BS but he can’t offer them the BCS.%
There’s talk, too, that he is going to take some of Stewart’s coaches with him, perhaps his long-time coaching friend Steve Dunlap to run his defense and the highly-regarded Chris Beatty to run his offense.
And graduate assistant JuJuan Seider, who delivered Jarrett Brown to WVU and has been here during his run, could well also wind up coaching the quarterbacks at Marshall.
If that happens, the rivalry could turn into a blood war, and no one would complain about that.
Can Doc Holliday turn Marshall’s fortunes around?
Perhaps. Holliday has a lot of plusses, but there is that one nagging question, and that is if he can coach or not.
It is a different world, being the head coach, a world of tough decisions, a world of media moments and fund-raising events. It isn’t anything like being a tight end-fullback coach, where you don’t worry if the defensive tackle is arrested at 3 a.m. the night before the big game.
Rest assured, things have changed now in the dynamics between WVU and Marshall.
“The Coal Bowl will definitely be interesting,” former WVU coach Don Nehlen said.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia, let the rivalry begin.
- Bob Herzel
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