Robert Jay Holliday could control a room without even saying a word. All the longtime football and lacrosse coach had to do was set foot inside a room and the assembled crowd would stop and wait. They knew what was coming, and it would always leave them in stitches.
“Everybody would just start laughing because you just knew something was going to happen,” Pete Blieberg, the assistant executive director for Section XI, Suffolk County’s high school sports executive body, said. “There was something coming up, a story, or he was going to do something. He was just such a wacky, kooky guy that people just laughed when they saw him.”
Holliday, who lived in Lake Grove and was known to almost everyone as ‘Doc,’ died of pancreatic cancer Jan. 3 at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. He was 70.
Born on Jan. 9, 1947 in Butte, Montana, Holliday moved around the country with his coal mining father. He lived in Montana, Maine, Maryland and Cuba. After marrying his girlfriend Sharon in 1969 he moved to Long Island.
Holliday was the assistant football coach at East Islip High School from 1969-1979, where he worked under Sal Ciampi, the legendary Long Island high school football coach who, at that time, was just getting his start.
“I really enjoyed the years that he was with me,” Ciampi said. “He contributed tremendously and we had a lot of success together . . . He was a great person and I was lucky to have him on my staff.”
Holliday was the head football coach at Kings Park High School from 1981-1984 and returned to East Islip, where he succeeded Ciampi, to coach the 1985 and 1986 season. During those two seasons with East Islip, he went 17-2 and won the League III championship both seasons.
While at Kings Park, he coached baseball Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio, who in 1983 won the Hansen Award, given to the most outstanding high school football player in Suffolk County.
“He was more of a players coach, which was probably rare at that time,” said John Biskup, 48 of Manorville, who played for Holliday at East Islip High School and later played for Syracuse University. “He let you play. He didn’t really micromanage your skills on the field. He coached where he had to, but he let you play for the most part and let your athleticism take over.”
Fun was, in many ways, what Holliday was about. He enjoyed a fulfilling retirement after leaving his post as the Islip Schools Athletic Director in 2002, playing racquetball, golf, doing puzzles, and reading about one of his favorite subjects — the Civil War.
“There was no one else like him,” son-in-law Darrell Buonomo, 43, of Setauket, said. “I never saw him complain. I never saw him unhappy. He was very kind. If he met you, you’ll remember him. Whomever he met, he made them feel like he was their best friend, and it was genuine. He was just a nice soul.”
Holliday is survived by his wife Sharon, sons Matthew and Michael, daughter Katie, and seven grandchildren. Visitation will be held at Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown, Sunday 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. A service will be held at the funeral home Monday morning. Holliday will be cremated.