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Holliday leaving WVU staff to become Marshall head coach

December 17, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- After nearly three decades in someone else's program, John "Doc" Holliday is finally a college head coach.

Holliday, the associate head coach at West Virginia, was introduced as Marshall's new coach on Thursday. He replaces Mark Snyder, who resigned Nov. 29 after going 22-37 in five seasons.

Holliday, 52, was overcome with emotion when he was introduced at an afternoon news conference, saying he wasn't sure if he would ever get an opportunity to lead a team on the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

"There's only 120 of them," Holliday said. "There's not many head jobs in America that are out there. Until it actually happens, you're never sure."

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Holliday signed a five-year contract for $600,000 per season. Known as a solid recruiter in the state of Florida, he has the task of restoring respectability to a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2003.

Marshall saw a steady decline in attendance under Snyder. Marshall's stadium was half empty for its final three home games and the team averaged 22,236 in attendance this season, the lowest in Snyder's five seasons, and 2,000 fewer per game than a year ago.

In tight financial times, Holliday will also have to tackle the issue of Marshall's lack of an indoor practice facility. And he must deal with skeptical fans who loathe his longtime ties with cross-state foe West Virginia.

"I'm a Marshall guy now," Holliday said. "They'll get to know me. I'll work my tail off."

Athletic director Mike Hamrick called it a "gutsy" hire.

"In this search, I didn't get caught up in formulas," he said. "I got caught up in who is the best person to shake our fan base. We weren't interested in where they were from and where they had been. He didn't go to Marshall. But Bo Schembechler was from Ohio."

Holliday, who grew up 30 miles away from Marshall's campus in Hurricane, played linebacker at West Virginia from 1976-78. He spent 20 seasons as an assistant under Don Nehlen and again for Bill Stewart the past two years. In between he spent five seasons as an assistant at North Carolina State and three seasons as associate head coach for safeties under Urban Meyer at Florida.

"I think it's a great opportunity for Doc," Nehlen said Thursday. "He's paid his dues."

Holliday was passed over for the West Virginia head coaching job after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan in 2007. He was hired by Stewart, Rodriguez's successor, as recruiting coordinator and associate head coach and was one of the nation's highest paid assistants at $406,000. He was in charge of tight ends and fullbacks this season. He also has served as a coach of safeties, linebackers and wide receivers.

Stewart couldn't blame Holliday for wanting to leave.

"Now he gets a chance to lead his own program, which is what every coach aspires to," Stewart said. "That said, we can be proud that this environment helped cultivate a leader and new head coach. We will be ready for him and his team when we square off next season."

Holliday's first two games are at Ohio State and in the home opener against West Virginia. He doesn't know yet what type of offense he'll install, but indicated he may borrow from his past.

"I've been around a lot of great people and I know what gives defenses problems," he said. "We're going to put a great product on the field."

Holliday and Hamrick, who became Marshall's athletic director in July, played against each other in high school football in the Charleston area and have been longtime friends. When Hamrick was athletic director at East Carolina, he tried to hire Holliday but was overruled by his administrators and John Thompson was eventually hired.

In 2005, before Snyder was hired, Holliday removed himself for consideration for the Marshall job.

Marshall is a decade removed from its pinnacle. Led by quarterback Chad Pennington in 1999, the Thundering Herd went 12-0 and finished No. 10 in The Associated Press final poll. Marshall won five straight bowl games from 1998-2002.

This year Marshall lost three of its final four games and became bowl eligible on their third attempt in a 34-31 win over SMU. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter is the interim coach for Marshall (6-6) in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit against Ohio on Dec. 26. Holliday said he has no initial plans to attend the bowl game.

Minter had expressed interest in the head coaching job. Among others to interview with Hamrick were Florida State assistant coach Rick Trickett and Butch Jones, the Central Michigan head coach who was hired Wednesday at Cincinnati to replace Brian Kelly.

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