Jim Justice, the new governor of West Virginia, has reportedly begun pushing to replace Doc Holliday, the head coach of the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Holliday is 53-37 (35-21 C-USA) in his seven years in Huntington. The Herd hovered around .500 in his first three years with one bowl berth in 2011, a 20-10 victory over then-Sun Belt member FIU in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. After that, however, the Herd exploded with three straight double-digit win seasons that included three bowl wins, two division titles, and a conference title. The highlight of that span was Holliday’s 2014 squad that went 13-1, won the C-USA title, blew out an 11-win NIU team in the Boca Raton Bowl, and finished ranked #23 in the final AP Poll.
However, Marshall tanked in 2016, going 3-9. Although several of us here at Underdog Dynasty thought there was some trouble behind the scenes in Huntington, none of us suggested Holliday was on the hot seat.
However, Governor Justice has other ideas. Justice, a Marshall alum himself, wants Holliday replaced by Bobby Pruett.
Bobby Pruett was the Herd’s head coach for nine years from 1996-2004. In his first year, Marshall went 15-0 and captured the I-AA national title. They then moved up to I-A and joined the MAC. Marshall appeared in the MAC championship game each of its first six years in the conference, winning the title every time but once. Marshall finished with fewer than 10 wins only once in that span, and found itself ranked in the final AP Poll of a season twice and the final coaches poll three times. The highlight of that stretch is Marshall’s 1999 13-0 season that saw the Herd finish at #10 with wins over Clemson and BYU. Marshall also defeated South Carolina during that span. Pruett’s final two years didn’t go quite as well with 8-4 and 6-6 finishes, but the Herd did defeat #6 Kansas State. During Pruett’s eight I-A years, the Herd only missed a bowl game once, although they had an 8-4 record that year. He went 5-2 in bowls.
It’s not hard to see why Justice would want to see the “glory days” of Pruett return. He did go 94-23, after all. But Doc Holliday hasn’t been that bad himself. Is one bad season enough to warrant such a drastic move?
It’s worth noting that Gov. Justice and Coach Pruett are longtime friends. Pruett helped campaign for Justice during the election, even appearing alongside former WVU head coach Don Nehlen in a campaign ad. So, Justice may have ulterior motives for this whole thing.
In Pruett’s defense, he doesn’t seem to want anything of it. The 73-year-old has stated on the record that he’s retired and knows nothing about this whole ordeal.
Despite this, Justice, who was the governor-elect at the time, had a meeting with Marshall University president Jerome Gilbert in December. Although the details of this meeting were not disclosed, Justice held another meeting three months later with five members of Marshall’s board of governors. Justice reportedly asked the board members to fire Holliday, but he didn’t stop there. He also asked for the firings of President Gilbert and Marshall’s AD, Mike Hamrick, who was the person who originally hired Holliday. It seems a fair assumption that Justice asked Gilbert to fire Holliday, but Gilbert refused, thus prompting Justice to seek Gilbert’s firing, as well.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for Marshall football. Assuming Holliday makes it to September, he sure as hell better win games. Another losing season would add lighter fluid to the fire that Justice is stirring up.
We had felt there might of been something going on behind the scenes at Marshall that was partially responsible for the monumental collapse that was 2016. Was this it, or is it just the tip of the iceberg? I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if more came to light in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted.