"One of the attractions for me to come to BYU was the large Polynesian presence that's been at BYU for many years," said Coach Holliday. "Being half Samoan and half black, I was raised by my mom and really didn't spend a lot of time with my Samoan side."
Coach Holliday's father, who was Samoan, was killed during the Vietnam War.
"My Samoan side lived in California, so I never really got to know that side of the family, and my mom lived in Baltimore, Maryland," Coach Holliday said. "I know who my Samoan relatives are and have spent some time [with them], but growing up I never really had the chance to connect with my Polynesian side and didn't know much about it."
Because of the large LDS presence among the South Pacific islands, BYU's football program has had a huge Polynesian connection and influence dating back to the early 1950s. Even BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae's father Famika played football for BYU back in 1955.
Still to this day, BYU is flush with an abundance of Polynesian players and coaches, and they have helped Coach Holliday learn more about his South Pacific heritage.
"Being here at BYU has really helped me to reconnect with my Polynesian side to know more about what it means to be Polynesian," said Coach Holliday. "It really is a great aspect of being here at BYU because it's so prevalent on every level of BYU football. Being here and being surrounded by the culture has really helped me to grow."
Connecting with his Samoan side more and being able to relate to a large BYU recruiting demographic will further aid Coach Holliday as a recruiter. He already feels that because of the diversity found at BYU through its large Polynesian presence, African Americans should fit right in. It's a unique quality Coach Holliday looks to promote as a new BYU coach.
"Yeah, I am and I learn more about my dad's cultural side every day," Holliday said. "The thing is – and I always tell Robert this when I made the comment in a coaching staff meeting – don't ever think an African American kid won't come to BYU. African Americans gravitate towards Polynesians because there's some similarities there. I'm enjoying it every day here and learning more about my dad's culture and really who I am by being here. I'm enjoying it. I look forward to being expressive in my Polynesian culture as well as my African American culture."
Coach Holliday's three children, one of which is a wide receiver at UTEP, also want to learn more about their island heritage.
"Even my kids are excited and looking forward to it because it's a part of their culture as well," Coach Holliday said. "They're excited as much as I am and are looking forward to learning more about it."
Coach Holliday's father, whose last name was Toina, was from the village of Pango Pango on the island of Tutuila, which is part of American Samoa. The new Cougar coach has had the opportunity to meet his Samoan relatives and get to know them.
Now that he's at BYU, Holliday is continuing to gain an appreciation for his heritage.
"You know, I'm really grateful for this opportunity," said Holliday. "Coach Kaufusi, Coach Anae and [Coach] Atuaia have shown me so much hospitality. It's been really great for me to experience that because it connects me with my father's side. It's really what it's all about and just another reason why I really enjoy being here."