Written by Justin Prince. Photo by Joshua Murdock.
Marshall University football coach John “Doc” Holliday will no longer man the sidelines in Huntington, West Virginia.
In a post on his Twitter account Monday morning, Holliday announced that the school’s President Dr. Jerome Gilbert made the decision to not extend the Hurricane, W.Va. native’s contract effectively ending Holliday’s tenure with the Thundering Herd.
“To the Marshall students, alumni, fans and football community, thank you for your support of our program and players over the last 11 years,” Holliday said via his twitter feed. “I’ve always said that this program means more to our community than any other program in the country. It’s your continued support that makes it that way.”
Holliday’s departure has understandably split the fan base, with some Marshall supporters feeling as if the school is making the wrong decision by moving on from the 2020 Conference USA Coach of the Year.
Since taking over the program in 2009 after a period of lackluster football under previous coach Mark Snyder, Holliday amassed a record of 85-54 which included three straight 10 win seasons between 2013-2015.
However, Holliday’s detractors will point out that despite winning an average of 7.7 games per year, the Thundering Herd only managed to win one CUSA championship in 2014 behind the arm of record setting quarterback Rakeem Cato. For many fans, this was unacceptable and the pressure for Holliday to recreate his 2014 success had only intensified after a low point in 2016 when the Herd went just 3-9.
The feeling of many Herd supporters was that 2020 was a Conference USA Championship or bust year for Holliday and seven games into the season it looked like Holliday would do more than deliver. Marshall was undefeated and ranked as high as #15 in the Associated Press poll. All signs pointed to not only the Herd and Holliday recreating the success of 2014 but perhaps even surpassing it.
But, then came a December 5th home game against a sub .500 Rice team that saw the Herd’s freshman quarterback struggle for the first time all season, throwing five interceptions in route to a 20-0 loss to the Owls. Then rumors of a locker-room brawl that spilled into the Joan C. Edwards Stadium parking lot and an ominous cancellation of a game against Charlotte from availability of players due to COVID-19 and injuries. Still, Marshall was East Division champions and had an opportunity to claim a conference title on December 18th inside the friendly confines of the “Joan.”
Once again, Holliday’s Herd struggled to move the ball on offense and didn’t even complete a pass until after halftime of the championship game against the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. The Herd’s outstanding defense kept Marshall within striking range, but ultimately it was the Blazers that would be crowned CUSA Champs winning 22-13. It was UAB’s second title in the last three years.
A bowl game followed, that Marshall would also lose after another subpar offensive performance, but Holliday’s fate may have been sealed before the Camilla Bowl loss to the Buffalo Bulls.
The issue, now, for the University is how do they replace a coach who was in many senses very successful even though Marshall has only won one Conference USA Title since joining the league in 2005. For many Herd fans this was an unacceptable and the growing sentiment was that while Holliday had certainly raised the Herd’s profile from where it had been under coach Snyder, the program had stagnated.
Now Marshall will look to rejuvenate its proud program with its next coaching hire. If Holliday didn’t win enough titles for Thundering Herd fans, he did at least make Marshall a very attractive job for new candidates as whomever the next coach is will be inheriting a roster loaded with talent. They will also be inheriting the very same expectations that Holliday faced at the end of his tenure. This is not a program looking to rebuild, it’s a program looking to take the next step.