HUNTINGTON — Marshall head coach Doc Holliday and South Florida head coach Charlie Strong won’t have to introduce themselves when they meet at midfield prior to the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 20 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
In the coaching world, Holliday and Strong are two apples that grew on the same coaching tree.
That tree was the staff of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who had both Holliday and Strong on his defensive staffs as assistants from 2005-07. Strong was the associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator while Holliday was an assistant head coach and in charge of safeties.
Those three Florida teams saw plenty of success, going 31-8 during their tenure together on the defensive side of the football for the Gators.
That success included the 2006 national championship in which Florida earned a 41-14 win over Ohio State with a suffocating defense that limited the Buckeyes to just 82 total yards, still a record low for the championship matchup. One of the captains for Florida in that 2006 National Championship season was Marshall wide receivers coach Dallas Baker.
Fast forward to 2018, however, and now Holliday and Strong are both leading their respective programs using the same principles that they acquired during that success at Florida.
“A lot of us grew up among other coaches, but Urban was one of the guys that I’m sure molded a lot of us about the way that we’re doing some things, but they all have been successful,” Holliday said. “I think the key ingredient is to go to work every day and work to get your team better.”
The similiarities for Holliday and Strong don’t end with the Florida teams from the past.
Both coaches are in their ninth seasons as head coaches, and each has seen consistent success.
As both enter this week’s contest, Holliday has a 69-46 record — all with Marshall — while Strong has a combined record of 70-44 between three stops at Louisville, Texas and now South Florida.
Holliday said that all the coaches who were on that Florida staff have seen similar success.
“If you look at that staff that I was on with Urban at that time, (Steve) Addazio was there and hes now the head coach at Boston College and, of course, Charlie is the head coach at South Florida,” Holliday said. “We had a lot of guys that have gone on to be very successful.”
Each coach prides themselves on accomplishing the same things as head coaches. They believe the game is personnel-driven and they put a heavy emphasis on recruiting, which gives the matchup an even bigger flavor, considering that both recruit the Tampa area and all of Florida extensively.
Both also find defense to be the No. 1 key contributor to success on the field. Marshall’s defense has been consistently ranked in the top-25 nationally over the past few seasons, which has aided Holliday’s success.
When speaking about Strong and what he brings to the coaching ranks, Holliday didn’t hesitate on what stood out the most.
“Coach Strong never had a bad day,” Holliday said. “I wish I was more like him. I mean, every day and I never saw the guy have a bad day. He’s a great motivator, a tremendous recruiter, did a great job developing players, whether it be Louisville or wherever he’s been, so I’ve got great respect for what he does.”
In head-to-head matchups, Holliday owns a 1-0 record, having led the Herd to a 17-13 win over Strong’s Louisville team in 2011.
When the coaches meet for the second time on Thursday in Tampa, it will be a matchup of two coaches who have seen the pinnacle of success and know what it takes to win — as evidenced by their postseason track record.
Holliday is 5-0 in bowl appearances as he enters his sixth bowl game in nine years with the Herd while Strong has led his teams to bowl appearances in seven of his nine seasons, sporting a 4-2 record as the teams enter play this week.
“I’ve known Coach Strong for a number of years and his team will be well-prepared,” Holliday said.