Holladay stepped down from his post four days after an on-the-field altercation with a Cullman High School assistant coach following Walker’s loss to the Bearcats on Friday night at Ki-Ro Gambrell Field.
The decision was announced after Tuesday’s meeting at the Alabama High School Athletic Association in Montgomery. Officials and coaches from Walker and Cullman high schools each met with AHSAA administrators about the brawl.
Friday night’s incident occurred after Cullman’s emotional 13-10 victory. The Bearcats scored the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds left in the game. Instead of the customary handshakes following the game, both head coaches tried to get their teams to their respective locker rooms before Holladay and Cullman defensive coordinator Matt Hopper clashed on the field. After punches were thrown, Holladay and Hopper went to the ground. Assistant coaches and police officers eventually separated the pair.
“The AHSAA is saddened by the incident that occurred during the Cullman vs. Walker varsity football game and disappointed by the actions of those involved,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said in a statement. “The AHSAA is always disappointed by any unsportsmanlike incident that involves players or coaches from our member schools. Our coaches are teachers first, and must demonstrate examples of good sportsmanship at all times. We truly understand the passions that are involved in competitive athletics, but we can never allow those passions to cross the line and become unsportsmanlike in nature.”
Jasper City Schools superintendent Robert Sparkman was among the Walker officials at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It was a productive meeting. We’re cooperating fully with them and telling them everything they want to know. It’s still an open investigation, and there’s still matters that they have to look into,” Sparkman said.
Sparkman said AHSAA officials did not make a ruling, but it could come as early as this week.
“This is something that we’re dealing with in a very forthright manner,” Sparkman said. “We’re addressing every issue, and we’re going to get through this and do the things we’ve got to do. Jasper City Schools is one of the greatest school systems in the state of Alabama, and nothing’s changed about that. We’re going to get better and improve from this. Walker High School is a great high school with a history of academic excellence and athletic excellence, and we’re going to take this and we’re going to get better. We’re going to take a negative and make a positive.”
Friday’s game at Moody will mark the first time in seven years that Holladay won’t be on the Walker sideline. Offensive coordinator Heath Brunner is serving as the Vikings’ interim head coach.
Brunner said the brawl after the Cullman game was out of character for Holladay.
“It’s not him. I can tell you this, John Holladay is a good man, a good father and a good coach. He’s been a good mentor to these kids and a great mentor to me. I think the world of him and nothing he could do is ever going to change the way I feel about him,” Brunner said.
“I think that’s what makes it so tough. Him being gone and me trying to step in is just hard. I’m trying to do things the way he would do things. We’ve got a great group of kids and a great group of coaches. I’m trying to keep them focused.”
Though Holladay has resigned, Walker still doesn’t know its fate concerning the playoffs this season.
Regardless, Brunner said the players are looking forward to getting back on the field and putting the off-the-field distractions behind them.
“This team is resilient. They are ready to get back to football. The senior leadership on this team is unbelievable. We talked to them on Sunday and the consensus was to get back to football,” Brunner said. “Right now we are focused on Moody, that’s our next opponent. I told the guys that Friday night is very important, but the way we handle this week is even more important. It’s a great opportunity for us to show a positive front and move on. We aren’t letting this incident define who we are. This is a difficult situation for me. I love John Holladay. He’s been good to me. At the same time, I have to do this for the kids.”