Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson opened Tuesday’s news conference at Gossett Team House with a story. He was just a boy, growing up in the Bay Area, with a living room television that crackled from the bad reception. Whenever his parents wanted to watch, they would prop young Kevin behind the television set and instruct him to fiddle the rabbit ears until the picture came into focus. That’s how he learned about Johnny Holliday, from behind the television set, listening to the broadcaster’s sultry voice boom through the speakers.
“I never got to see him, because I was behind the TV being told where I should be positioned with the bunny ears,” Anderson said, sitting next to Holliday on Tuesday afternoon. “But I’m here to thank Johnny from the bottom of my heart for what he means to Maryland athletics and what he’s done for this program. There’s no question that he’s a Hall of Famer in everything that he does. … You should be in the National Collegiate Hall of Fame for football and basketball as well.”
Anderson, football coach Randy Edsall and men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon gathered to honor Holliday for his 35 years of service at Maryland, even though he has no intentions of retiring anytime soon. They spoke of arriving in College Park as new coaches only several years ago, and feeling welcomed by Holliday’s vast knowledge of the school and its sports programs.
“Johnny reached out, invited me to dinner to come meet the family,” said Turgeon, who attends the same church as Holliday. “As Randy said for football, Johnny was our guy for basketball. I could look on the wall and see all these names, but I really didn’t know them personally. He could tell all these stories. Like randy said, he makes it easy. For our first two years, it didn’t go exactly as we wanted to. Randy’s got it rolling now, which is fantastic. Johnny made it easy for us with those radio shows, TV shows, I don’t like cameras, but he’s made my coaches show a lot better too. Johnny you look great at 85, maybe you can make it to 100.”
Holliday turns 76 in mid-October, but Turgeon had the broadcaster cracking up with his age jokes. “Well, Kevin said that it was his parents who listened to Johnny,” Turgeon said. “I think it was my great-great-great-great granddad. I tell Johnny all the time, he’s the best-looking 85-year-old I know. He said it was cold today, I said that’s what happens when you turn 85.”
Edsall went a more sentimental route.
“Well, it’s just been an honor and privilege to be able to work alongside Johnny for three years now,” he said. “The thing that’s interesting, he’s one of those guys that makes everything easy for you as a coach, in terms of how he conducts his business, how he talks to you, how he sets up the questions, the radio show that we do, just a true professional, somebody who really made it easy for me with all the history and tradition he had, being a part of the football program.
“He really helped me and guided me when I first got here, and he still does it today. I enjoy Thursday nights doing the radio show. We have a lot of laughs together, a lot of good times. When you think of Maryland football, the one guy who’s really synonymous with what it’s all about is Johnny. He’s seen all the great players, he’s been around all the great coaches, he’s seen all the great memories that are here. To have that wealthy of knowledge sitting next to you and talking to you and being able to pick his brain, it’s something that’s made me a better person.
“You don’t get to see it, but just the interaction that he has with our players. To see the players go up and talk to him and how they interact. I know they get more out of it than I think Johnny does. Being around him, him sharing stories with them. He’s a true legend, somebody’s who’s got a lot more years left in the tank.”
Then Holliday took his turn. And in true humble Holliday fashion, quickly diverted the conversation away from himself.
“I’ve only been here 35 years, nothing like Vin Scully with the Dodgers, 55 years with one team,” he said. “It’s hard to believe I started in 1979, Villanova was the first football game, Jerry Claiborne was the coach, and the first basketball game, Lefty [Driesell], I think we played Maryland-Eastern Shore. I think we won both those games. In no way did I never think it would go 35 years. It’s been mainly because of people I work with. It’s not a one-man show, as those of you in the business know, you’re only as good as the people around you.
“A lot of guys would love to be in the situation I’m in, to work with these kinds of people. As Mark just said, with what Randy Edsall’s got going here, this is really what it’s all about as far as Maryland bouncing back, coming back to be consistent in not only basketball but consistent in football. As you know, we’re off to a great start this year, go down to Florida State, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this team comes away with a win against a team like Florida State, down there, because they’re that focused and committed.”
Then they presented him with a No. 35 jersey, half-basketball and half-football, with his name written at the top.
“Isn’t it one L?” Holliday asked, as everyone posed for a picture and laughed.