Living in the state now, it’s utterly fascinating when the backroom politicking in God’s Country gets a public airing.
The latest example? Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Charleston Gazette-Mail is reporting that newly-elected governor Jim Justice, a Marshall graduate, as are his wife and daughter, “has sought to oust the head football coach, Doc Holliday, and install his longtime friend and former Herd coach Bobby Pruett.”
The West Virginia Democrat met with Marshall president Jerome Gilbert in early December, a meeting that reportedly was the initial step in the governor seeking to have Holliday replaced as the Thundering Herd’s head coach. “I probably shouldn’t comment on that,” Gilbert told the Gazette-Mail Wednesday night, adding, “it’s unfortunate that this information got out.”
A statement from one of Justice’s staffers said that “[i]t was not a meeting to say, ‘Fire the coach and hire Pruett. It was a meeting to say, ‘Ratchet up your game and do something to get yourself back to greatness.'”
A few months after that initial meeting, however, Justice reportedly “summoned five members of the school’s board of governors to his office at the Capitol” to again push for Holliday’s ouster. None of those present at the meeting would delve into the specifics of what was discussed.
Holliday, who played his college football at West Virginia, has been the head coach at Marshall since 2010, guiding the Herd to a 53-37 mark in seven seasons. He led the Herd to three straight double-digit win seasons from 2013-15, including a Conference USA title in 2014. The program also has a perfect 4-0 mark in bowl games under Holliday.
A 3-9 mark in 2016, however, led some, including Justice, to call for Holliday’s ouster.
The 73-year-old Pruett, who played his college football at Marshall, was the head coach at his alma mater from 1996-2004. His first season, and just before the move to the FBS level, the Herd, featuring Florida State transfer Randy Moss, went 15-0 and won the FCS national championship. All told, Marshall went 94-23 in Pruett’s nine seasons.
Following the 2004 season, Pruett retired. Four years later, he unretired to become the defensive coordinator at Virginia. Pruett, who will turn 74 in June, retired a second time after just one season and hasn’t coached at any level since.