I Know These Guys
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some of Doc Holliday’s recruits at West Virginia might end up haunting him.
Holliday lured several high school standouts out of Florida to play for the Mountaineers in his two seasons as director of recruiting — now many are significant contributors for WVU.
So Holliday, Marshall’s first-year coach, figures to be proud and regretful when the Thundering Herd (0-1) and West Virginia (1-0) play on Friday night in Huntington.
Holliday is downplaying his relationship as the state’s only two FBS schools renew a series that could be called anything but a rivalry. West Virginia is 4-0 against Marshall since they resumed playing in 2005 and 8-0 all time.
“All that stuff goes out the window once the game starts,” Holliday said. “If I have to make any plays out there on Friday night, we are probably in trouble. We have to make sure our players make plays. I don’t know if I could make a play right now.”
Marshall couldn’t make many plays in a 45-7 loss to Ohio State last week, while West Virginia breezed past FCS Coastal Carolina 31-0 and moved up two spots to No. 23.
Watching film of the Mountaineers, Holliday saw players making plays that he personally steered to Morgantown.
Geno Smith completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards and two scores in his first start Saturday.
Robert Sands, a 6-foot-5 safety, forced a fumble and was making big hit after big hit, so much that he had to leave the game after hurting a thumb and shoulder on consecutive plays. But he should be ready for Marshall.
Stedman Bailey, a redshirt freshman and high school teammate of Smith’s at Miramar High in Florida, got his first start at wide receiver.
“There are about four or five of them that I wish I hadn’t (recruited), because I would like to have them here right now,” Holliday said.
That special bond still exists for the Mountaineer players, even if they want to give Holliday fits.
“I’m happy for him,” Sands said. “He’s getting his first shot as a head coach. Every assistant coach wants to be a head coach someday. Doc’s been around the game for a long time, and he finally got his opportunity — he seized the moment.”
Going to Marshall meant Holliday was taking all that knowledge of West Virginia’s system with him. Holliday was in charge of tight ends and fullbacks in addition to being WVU’s recruiting coordinator and associate head coach.
Of course, knowledge means little when trying chase down Smith or speedy running back Noel Devine.
“You have got to have great pursuit,” Holliday said. “All 11 players must be running to the ball relentlessly. Noel Devine at some point is going to make some plays.”
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said having an ex-assistant on the opposing sideline is overblown.
“I know the playing’s done by the men in the arena and the guys on the sidelines have direction in that, but when it comes down to blocking and tackling … it’s usually handled by the folks on the field, not the guys off the field,” Stewart said.
Still, Marshall’s players could use a morale booster after last week’s thrashing at the Horseshoe and they’ll use Holliday’s presence as an edge against the heavily favored Mountaineers.
“I think coach Holliday is definitely more familiar with them more than he would be anybody else we face this year,” said Marshall tight end Lee Smith. “Just because he’s been in that locker room and been around them doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows them any more than he would Ohio State’s defense. I think it’s safe to say we do have a little bit of an advantage.”
And among the teams’ fans bases, Holliday may have even found at least one defector.
Holliday grew up near current WVU assistant coach Steve Dunlap in Hurricane, about 30 miles from Marshall’s campus. The pair played high school football together and remain close friends. Dunlap’s sister even sent Holliday a text message before the Ohio State game.
“Now Steve will probably be mad at me,” Holliday said. “But I think she is rooting for us Friday night.”