June 6, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As a schoolboy in nearby Hurricane, Doc Holliday never read “Great Expectations.”
Now, Holliday is living that famous Charles Dickens’ title.
Holliday’s fifth season as Marshall’s football coach is predicted to be one that’s very special.
Publisher Phil Steele -- when his annual preview magazine hits the newsstands -- has the Thundering Herd ranked No. 19 nationally and playing Auburn in the Orange Bowl. Other pundits have the Herd as the Group of Five conferences rep in the Peach Bowl.
Marshall is an overwhelming pick as the Conference USA favorite following a 10-4 season and Military Bowl victory over Maryland, and now with a talented roster that has two-deep experience at most positions.
A lot of coaches would be trying to tamp down the fire. Not Holliday.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been as a coach,” Holliday said of a career that stretches back more than three decades. I’m proud to be here at Marshall and thrilled people are talking about us.”
The Herd’s incoming freshman class reports to campus on Sunday, and by Wednesday the Herd coaches will have the players on the bright, new $750,000 AstroTurf job at Edwards Stadium. The 2014 season opener at Miami (Ohio) is 12 weeks from Saturday.
“The expectations are great,” Holliday said Friday in his Shewey Building office that overlooks that new turf. “As a coach I’m going to embrace them, and our team’s going to embrace them. Orange, Peach bowls? Great, at least they’re talking about us. It beats the alternative.
“When I got here, they were talking about us, but it wasn’t in those terms. It’s all good. We want people talking about us. We finally got to where they are talking about us. And it’s not a bad thing at all.
“I like it when I see something and someone says we’ve got the opportunity to play somebody in the Orange Bowl, in the Peach Bowl. Marshall hasn’t had that before, being talked about with bowls like those. That means people are starting to think highly of this program, which is what we all want.”
Holliday, 57, said that with those expectations comes a responsibility that stretches beyond the locker room and the coaches’ offices, but also into the 38,248 seats at “The Joan.”
“When I was offered the job, I took it because expectations are extremely high here and I’d never want to be head coach at a school where that isn’t the case,” Holliday said. “We want expectations high, and there’s a lot of passion about this program.
“We couldn’t get there because we just didn’t have the players. Now, we’re got them, now the expectations are real and honest. They’ve become real because of what our players have done and they deserve credit for that.
“But as a coaching staff, team and fan base, we have to understand that with those expectations comes responsibility on everybody to do their part. My part as head coach and our staff’s part is to make sure our football team doesn’t become complacent in any way.
“You come to work and improve, because you don’t stay the same in this game. You get better or get worse. It’s important for us to continue to get better individually, because that makes you better as a team.”
The Herd not only has one of the nation’s top-producing offenses, but last season made a five-win improvement by playing more aggressively – and with solid results – on defense in in special teams.
Holliday pointed out that the Herd is looking for stronger support, carrying an eight-game home win streak into the Sept. 6 Edwards Stadium opener against Rhode Island. Only 10 FBS teams have longer current home win streaks than Marshall.
“Our fans have talked about playing for championships and winning championships and all those things, and they have a responsibility in that to go buy tickets,” Holliday said. “We haven’t lost a game here in a year and a half, and it’s important when we come into this stadium that we do protect the ‘M’, that we do have a sellout crowd, because that’s what championship teams do.
“It’s important this place is sold out and when we go on the road, we take a bunch of fans with us. That helps us get where we all want to go. The fan base has a responsibility to show up. That’s their part. We all have a part in this – players, coaches, staff, fans -- and we all have to make it happen together.”
Holliday said he looks forward to the start of August camp, and said that most all of the Herd players who missed all or part of spring practice will be “good to go” by then and most are having full participation in summer conditioning.
The coach said there is only one exception – backup center Cam Dees, who has had multiple knee surgeries and missed last season and much of spring drills, can no longer play football due to an injured knee that remained troublesome after surgery. Holliday said Dees plans to remain in school as a medical redshirt and finish his degree work.
The Marshall coach said that although most Herd fans find the team’s Military Bowl win over Maryland and first season of double-digit wins in 11 years to be most gratifying, he said other things are just as satisfying to him.
“To get it to the point where people are talking about us the way they are, I’m proud of that and I’m excited about it,” Holliday said. “I’m even more excited that we have the highest APR in the history of Marshall football (975 for 2012-13 and 948 multiyear rate), and that we’re on track to graduate this year at 94 percent.
“The APR (Academic Progress Rate) is in as good a shape as it’s ever been, and it’s going to get better. For the most part our kids are making great decisions, and that’s part of it. And I can’t say enough about what Dr. (Stephen) Kopp (MU President) and (Athletic Director) Mike Hamrick have done.
“A lot of programs are standing still right now, and this one is not. Walk on campus, the new buildings, the facilities, see what’s happening, the new engineering building going up for example. On the athletic side, the new turf in the stadium, an indoor facility as nice as there is in the country, the academic center, sports medicine translational research center, our hall of fame.
“I hope people appreciate what Dr. Kopp and Mike have done to get these things done in the economic climate as it has been in recent years. I think that’s really exciting to me.”
Holliday said he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the naysayers who not only said Marshall couldn’t raise more than $20 million privately for the Indoor Athletic Facility, its other components and a new soccer stadium, but also thought Holliday couldn’t get the football Herd into the kind of climate in which it enters the 2014 season.
“I had people saying, ‘Why are you taking that job?’” Holliday said. “A lot of people were wondering why I could take the job, saying it wasn’t a good job. You know what? If I didn’t think I could get it to the point where it is right now, I wouldn’t have taken it, because that’s not what I’m all about.
“There’s nobody who hates to lose more than I do. I’m not going to put myself in a situation where I can’t get it done. I felt we could get it done, but to be honest, until I got in here and started figuring it all out I didn’t know how long (it would take).
“It took us a couple of years to get the offense fixed and an extra year to get the defense fixed. Chuck Heater came in as defensive coordinator and did a great job with our staff of turning this thing around, and I know people don’t give Bill Legg the credit he deserves (as coordinator) for what he’s done with the offense. It’s our whole staff. I’ve got a great staff, good people, great coaches.
“Last year, we played three players who were here when I got here. A lot of our players have been on this campus three years or less. I can tell you the worst feeling I ever had as a football coach was two years ago (2012) when we had to outscore people. I hated that. I never want to feel that again because in order to win championships you’ve got to play great defense. That’s where it all starts.”
Holliday asked if perhaps he should read “Great Expectations.”
It’s not necessary. He knows what they’re all about.
“I’m excited and having more fun coaching football than I ever have before,” he said. “And I don’t want that to change.”