By Jim Weber
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is pretty popular in Morgantown these days after turning the Mountaineers from a boring team that went 9-4 every season under Bill Stewart into a high-flying Air Raid attack that has QB Geno Smith leading the Heisman Trophy race and WVU embedded in the national title conversation one month into the season.
I’m a huge fan of Holgorsen’s and said last year that the fiasco that led to Holgo’s promotion as head coach one year earlier than expected would be a blessing in disguise.
But there’s another man who deserves as much credit as Holgorsen for West Virginia’s success this year: Doc Holliday.
If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s a former West Virginia linebacker from the 1970s who had two stints as a WVU assistant (1979-99, 2008-09) and is now the current head coach at rival Marshall. More specifically, he was the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for the Mountaineers in ’08 and ’09 after becoming a legendary recruiter under Urban Meyer at Florida.
Why do I bring this up?
Playing at Miramar High School just north of Miami and ranked the No. 146 overall recruit in the country for the Class of 2009, Smith was convinced by Holliday to take his talents from near South Beach to rural Morgantown, WV. Even more impressive? Holliday convinced Smith to pick West Virginia over the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Florida State.
Sure, Holliday had some help in landing Smith and Bailey. The coach at Miramar is another former West Virginia LB, Damon Cogdell, who was recruited to Morgantown by Holliday in the 1990s. And Smith was best friends with Bailey in high school, meaning the two essentially turned into a packaged deal.
But Holliday definitely put in the work to pull off a huge recruiting coup.
“(Holliday) was always showing up at my house, building a rapport with me. That went a long way with me, especially with my mom,” Smith told The Times West Virginian in August.
“I’d come home and she’d say, ‘Doc’s been by,’ and I hadn’t even been at home. I’d been at practice. It was him just checking up on me. That’s something a lot of recruiters don’t do.”
Bailey sounded equally as impressed when talking to the paper about Holliday’s recruiting:
“He was a cool guy, very down to earth. He knows how to talk to us guys and says all the right things. And when we came up here he made us feel at home,” Bailey said.
Connecting with teenage kids doesn’t usually come naturally for 50-something men (ask your parents). It’s even more improbable for a man coming from tiny Hurricane, WV, to connect with two kids growing up 20 minutes from Miami.
Without Smith and Bailey, Holgorsen’s offense wouldn’t even be close to the best passing offense in the nation (441.5 YPG) and third-highest scoring offense (53.0 PPG). It would probably look a lot like Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Washington State that can’t get into high gear as The Pirate switches between Paul Wulff leftovers, Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel at quarterback while averaging just 25.0 PPG.
How good is this duo? Smith is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and is on pace for 5,184 yards, 60 touchdowns and zero interceptions by the end of the regular season. Bailey is on pace to catch 123 balls for 1,905 yards and a mind-boggling 30 touchdowns.
As for Holliday, he’s now trying to recreate the magic he found at West Virginia with two Miami-bred sophomores in QB Rakeem Cato and WR Tommy Shuler. You guessed it, they were teammates in high school. So far, so good. Cato leads the nation in passing yards (1,920; granted, he’s played one more game than Smith) and Shuler is tops in the FBS in receptions (51).
The Thundering Herd aren’t back to the success they saw under Bob Pruett but keep your eye on the school in Huntington as well. In Holliday’s third season, the Herd has plenty of young talent, their own explosive offense (41.0 PPG) and nearly beat Ohio University on Sept. 15.
And while Holliday and Holgorsen now find themselves on the opposite side of a rivalry, if the Mountaineers find a way to win the Big 12 in their first year in the conference, it would only be fitting if Holgorsen left a Big 12 title ring under Holliday’s Christmas tree after all West Virginia’s Secret Santa has done for his alma mater.
Top Photo: Charles LeClaire/US Presswire