MORGANTOWN – Marshall University’s football team is 9-0 overall, 6-0 in the Conference USA, and ranked No. 20 in the national polls. Only No. 1-ranked Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State also remain undefeated.
Some observers are very impressed by what they have seen of the Thundering Herd, coached by former West Virginia University linebacker and assistant mentor Doc Holliday. Others think Marshall is overrated, however.
They insist that the Herd’s schedule is simply too soft.
So I decided this week to find out what Don Nehlen, WVU’s retired Hall of Fame coach, who now is a popular state-wide football commentator, thought about the matter.
“I haven’t seen them play in person,” Nehlen said. “But I’ve seen them play on television, and they are very good.
“They’re darned good in my opinion. I think I may see Marshall play Rice on Saturday in Huntington. Rice has won six in a row.
“This might be a little better game. Doc’s team has really blown everyone out.
“Their statistics through nine games are undoubtedly in Marshall’s favor.”
Like others, he’s well aware that Holliday’s crew has scored at least 35 points against every opponent and average a 38-point winning margin.
“He’s doing a great job of coaching down there, and he’s such a great recruiter,” Nehlen stressed.
“He was on my staff (at WVU) for years and years.
“Doc did a great job for me in the 1980’s in Florida, no question about it,” he acknowledged. Holiday founded what became a recruiting line of major proportions in the Sunshine State.
It’s a line that’s been productive not only for WVU but also for the Thundering Herd.
Holiday, who lettered in 1976, -77 and -78 as a Mountaineer linebacker, served as a graduate assistant in 1979-80, then served as a full-time assistant for Nehlen from 1982 through 1999.
He returned as an aide to Bill Stewart in 2008 and 2009.
Nehlen recalled that in his 21 years at WVU, he sent a team into competition against Marshall just one time. That was in 1997 in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers prevailed by a 43-31 score. The series was not renewed after 2010 when West Virginia needed overtime to eke out a 24-21 victory at Huntington.
Asked whether he thinks the two schools should resume the Mountain State series, Nehlen had this to say:
“If we’re going to play Towson State and folks like that, it makes sense. One thing that’s obvious is there’s no question that they have more to gain than we do.
“We have more to lose than they do.”
He did say, however, that Holliday is “a great Mountaineer” as a WVU alumnus and is now obviously making that football program stronger.
Playing Marshall also would keep a non-Big 12 opponent’s payoff inside the state.
“I agree totally with that,” he said. “That’s easy to say when you’re not coaching, that’s for sure.
“When you open the season with Marshall every year, the whole state would be excited about the first game,” Nehlen predicted.
I hope Oliver Luck, his quarterback in 1980-81, is tuned in.
Nehlen, a Canton, Ohio, native who has made Morgantown his home happily since 1980, is the winningest by far of WVU’s 34 head football coaches. His record is 149 victories, 93 losses and 4 ties. He’s the only mentor that has reached triple figures in his 21-year tenure from 1980-2000.
Nehlen has earned numerous honors, including the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as well as the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Nehlen and former Marshall head coach Bob Pruett have an interesting state-wide talk show on MetroNews.