West Virginia associate head coach Doc Holliday may have spent the past eight seasons away from Morgantown, but when it came time for the annual Backyard Brawl between WVU and Pitt, he was never too far from his Mountain State roots.
Holliday, a former WVU linebacker, has certainly seen his fair share of Brawls. The Hurricane, W.Va. native played in three from 1976-78, and spent the next 21 years on the WVU sideline as an assistant coach. After the 1999 season, he left Don Nehlen's staff and moved on to North Carolina State to coach wide receivers for Chuck Amato. Holliday later joined the coaching staff at Florida as safeties coach and recruiting coordinator.
Ironically, though, it was the 100th edition of the Backyard Brawl which – in a way – ultimately led Holliday back to his alma mater.
In fact, he remembers December 1, 2007 quite vividly.
"I did (watch it)," Holliday recalled earlier this week. "I came up to see (current WVU lineman) Josh Jenkins for Florida, and I was at the state championship game at Wheeling Island (where Jenkins led the Big Reds to a second consecutive state title). I flew back to Gainesville, met my wife for dinner and watched it with her at a restaurant in Gainesville."
Of course what transpired on that chilly night at Milan Puskar Stadium was a 13-9 Pitt win. The Panthers came to town as a 28-point underdog, only to spoil West Virginia's chances of reaching the BCS national title game.
"Anytime you get put in that position where you have a chance to win it all, it's great," Holliday said. He would know a thing or two about games with national title implications as he was an assistant on WVU's 1988 national runner-up and won it all in 2006 as an assistant for Urban Meyer and the Gators. "Pitt did a great job coming in here. They got it done."
The fallout from the game not only crushed the national title hopes and dreams of the Mountaineers and their fans, but ultimately ended up being the first of many dominoes that resulted in Holliday coming back.
Conventional wisdom suggests that had the Mountaineers won, then-head coach Rich Rodriguez would have never left for Michigan. Consequently, much of the coaching staff would still be the same, and Holliday – in all likelihood – would still be in Gainesville.
Instead, he's back home. Friday at high noon will give Holliday an opportunity to be back on the sidelines for what he says is one of college football's best rivalries.
"It's just an hour up the road, just like Florida-Florida State," he explained. "Anytime you get schools that close together, you get fans and their passion, too.
"It's a big game, going back for a long, long time."
Among his favorite memories from the Backyard Brawl are the times he spent trying to track down a college and pro football legend, albeit with little success.
"I chased Tony Dorsett around one year, but never did catch him," Holliday recalled with a chuckle. "Pitt, back in the 70's when they won the national championship, I don't know that I ever got a hand on (Dorsett). We beat them the year before that. It was a tight game. Boy, they had a lot of good players.
"There were some great ones involved in those games and there will be some great ones involved in the future," he continued. "The most important thing as a coach, though, is to make sure we get our kids prepared and ready to go on Friday."
Holliday and the rest of the WVU staff have been hard at work doing just that all week. That being said, one can't help but think that at some point before or after Friday's game, Holliday will have some nostalgic feelings as he participates in his first Backyard Brawl in nearly 10 years.
"There have been a lot of great memories," he concluded. "It was a great game to be a part of and I'm looking forward to being in it again."