June 20, 2012
It was a hot weeknight, and at about 9 o’clock Tuesday, in the vicinity of Edwards Stadium and the Shewey Building, two men wearing Kelly green Marshall golf shirts, black Bermuda shorts and gym shoes were escorted toward City of Huntington Police cars by two officers.
Uh, oh … !
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It’s not what you’re thinking. It wasn’t an arresting development.
The green-clads were coaches Doc Holliday and Tom Herrion, beginning a program that they and Huntington Chief William “Skip” Holbrook hope will help relations between the city police department and Marshall Athletics.
The Thundering Herd football and men’s basketball coaches – their sports the marquee ones at the university – were the first of many from their programs who will ride at least part of a shift with a patrolman in the coming months.
The unnamed project – “Marshall Law” perhaps? – is designed to foster what Holliday said “used to be,” when Herd athletics had a stronger bond with the community that surrounds the campus.
"Tom and I are trying to find ways to give back to the community," Holliday said. "The common denominator in talking to Chad (Pennington) and other the ex-players here is the bond that the community had with the football team and the basketball team and Marshall University in general.
“We need to rebuild that, to rebuild trust. We want to work with the police. We should have two teams here working toward one goal. We want to have championship football team and championship basketball teams. And I know Chief Holbrook wants the best force he can have.
“We have to have respect for law enforcement. I do. Tom does. We all need that, and working with Skip, we’re going to do whatever we can to make this a better, safer community for all of us.”
Holliday said he and Herrion talked about the program that will interact with the police on a regular basis quite a bit during their travels on the recent Big Green Coaches Tour.
The plan has Marshall full-time assistant coaches and football players starting this weekend on shift rides with Huntington police. Holliday said the football team’s first two “riders” will be senior stars Aaron Dobson and Devin Arrington.
Once the summer bends closer toward the start of the fall semester and the football team begins August workouts, Herrion’s assistants and players will do the same.
Holbrook is hoping for a lot of one-on-one, because “we want there to be a lot of dialogue” between officer and athlete – which the Huntington police chief was as a Herd first baseman for four years during his undergraduate days.
The chief, a Huntington native and Huntington East High graduate, spoke to the football team last week and will speak to the basketball team later this summer.
“We’re making an effort to reconstitute a relationship and foster a relationship for the future, and what (Holliday and Herrion) are doing speaks a lot about the both of them,” said Holbrook, who explained that the two Herd coaches would talk to officers coming off and on their shifts late Tuesday night.
Holbrook, Holliday and Herrion “should be on the same team,” the MU football coach said earlier Tuesday.
“These guys have a tough job,” Holliday said of the police department. “I have great respect for what they do in the community, for what Skip's done in the program, what he's done with his officers.”
Holbrook said open communication is a key … for all involved.
“I think this is all about respecting each other and maybe having an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish,” the police chief said. “Most of the time, issues we’ve had come up are really minor. It all comes down to we’re trying to defuse or mitigate a situation before it gets out of hand.”
Herrion said there’s much more at work in the program – which is a more concerted effort in such a relationship than he has experienced at any of his other coaching stops – than chatting up police officers.
“Think about it,” the Herd men’s basketball coach said. “As coaches, we’re responsible for someone else’s children. We’re leaders, and our players are someone else’s. No one should forget that, and this is part of the education process. I look at this is helping them, and it’s also giving back to the community.
“Now that Doc and I have both been here two years, we feel it’s very important to do outreach in many areas, but particularly law enforcement, the job Chief Holbrook has to do. I think the two of us can facilitate a level of support as leaders in our community.
“Doc and I have talked about this a lot. We’re living in a different age where a little more education that we can give to our student-athletes is important, in concert with the respect we have, and need to have, for law enforcement. It goes hand-in-hand.”
Holbrook said he takes “a lot of pride in coming from Marshall, from Huntington, and I take pride in my job and I saw this going in a direction that was not positive for the university, the athletic department, our city and our police department.
“We’re going to take steps now to ensure that we have better communication,” Holbrook said, “and it starts at the top by me demonstrating that with my men, and the coaches demonstrating that with the student-athletes.
“When I talked to them, very simply put, I told them they have a higher standard they’ve got to carry themselves to. Some may say that’s not fair. I don’t. They’re student-athletes and they’re representing the school and the city and with that comes a bull’s-eye, in my opinion.
“Somebody’s always going to want to test them and there are going to be situations where we (the police) get introduced into it, when we ask them to disperse, to go home, when we ask them questions, and we expect cooperation then.
“Respect our wishes and if it’s something they feel we need to get to the bottom of, we’ll do that. They’ve got to have confidence in me that I’ll do that, and in the coaches that they’ll do that.
“That’s the message all of us are trying to drive home here.”