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HUGHES: Marshall shows willingness to win with hire of Charles Huff, ousting of Holliday

HUNTINGTON — Marshall fans had a lot to be thankful for in regard to now-former head coach Doc Holliday. The man racked up 85 wins in his decade-long tenure in Huntington, but the team’s new hire was, to use an analogy from another sport, a home run. Charles Huff was exactly who Marshall needed to hire. The former assistant head coach and RB coach at Penn State and Alabama was hired on Sunday with his contract approved by MU’s board of governors the morning after.

Diehard Herd fans may have asked why Holliday wasn’t renewed, citing his bowl record and second-most victories in school history. Holliday had such a reverence for the community and what the program represents, and I believe it clouded judgments of him. Here’s the truth: It was time for him to go.

One Conference USA Championship win in 11 years didn’t cut it. Former conference foes in Houston, Tulsa and Central Florida found a home in the American Athletic Conference following fruitful runs in C-USA. Marshall was stuck in the conference always competing but was never good enough to rise to the level of those programs. Marshall never outright exceeded expectations in Conference USA like UAB has over the past three years. The Blazers have made it to the title game and won it two out of those three seasons. For those unfamiliar with the recent history of UAB football, the program was shut down in 2014 and revived only two seasons later. In that short span of time, a mass exodus of football players happened, as they left the university to play football elsewhere. Four years later, Bill Clark’s Blazers are looking like the next C-USA dynasty. What was Marshall’s excuse?

Holliday never got the job done when it mattered most. Yes, he brought the program back from obscurity. Yes, he oversaw the best time in recent MU history. He just couldn’t win the big games.

Holliday’s work as a top recruiting mind helped bring exciting talents to Joan C. Edwards Stadium in recent years, but that well also dried up. According to 247 Sports, the Herd ranks ninth in the conference in recruiting with a national rank of 120. On Rivals, Marshall isn’t even in the top 100, nationally.

This is where the hiring of Huff makes sense. When Holliday was on his way out, I thought the university would hire internally and give defensive coordinator Brad Lambert the position. After all, Lambert’s defense was one of the best in the country. He was the safe pick. He had ties to the university from being on Holliday’s staff.

Then, the Herd got out of its comfort zone and hired a man without any prior connection to the team or the state.

Huff has recruited a premier list of talent to Penn State and Alabama with Saquon Barkley, Devonta Smith, KJ Hamler and Miles Sanders just to name a few. I’m not saying he will bring that level of talent to Huntington. I do know that kind of resume will speak to young men who are on the fence about joining some other mid-major school. Huff also comes from Nick Saban’s coaching tree and has national championship pedigree to his name. Holliday was at Florida during the Gators’ 2006 run to the BCS title, but another factor to consider is Huff’s age.

Huff is 37, and can bring his experience to a busy Marshall running backs’ room to help kickstart an offense that sputtered to end the season. Holliday, 63, did an admirable job at Marshall and has nothing to fret over. His passion for Marshall football helped put the team back on the map. However, this new hire signals that Marshall wants to win.

MU President Jerome Gilbert reportedly prompted the search for a new head coach, and he was happy to usher in a new era. On his Twitter account, Gilbert welcomed Huff into the fold on Sunday, writing:

“This is an exciting day for Marshall University football and I can’t wait for Coach Huff to get here. He is going to energize the Herd fanbase and I know folks are going to love him and his style of football.”

Marshall chose not to settle for just being good, it chose a brighter future. I’m all for it, and so should you.

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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