Nick Holt brings jolt of energy to Huskies
Washington's new defensive coordinator wants to remold the Huskies in his more aggressive image
Seattle Times staff reporter
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A news conference in which Nick Holt said thousands of words describing his career, his move to Washington and his hopes for reviving the Huskies defense will be remembered for just one — awesome.
"Way too many," Holt, UW's first-year defensive coordinator, says now, laughing at his use of the word that day — an unofficial count showed 13. "I get reminded by my folks about that all the time. We use that word quite a bit in our household. I probably used it too much. But that's how I felt at the time."
And while some might have wondered if Holt's hyper-caffeinated performance at the January news conference was just an act designed to revive a sleepy Husky Nation, his players say that's pretty much how he is.
"No one ever falls asleep in meetings anymore," said defensive tackle Cameron Elisara. "We've never had that problem this year because he's always doing something to keep you awake. He has a lot of energy."
Elisara recalled a day Holt began putting tape on his face during a meeting, apparently to make sure everyone was staying alert. "He keeps your attention," Elisara said.
The fact that Holt's introductory news conference was even on TV — a first for an announcement of a UW coordinator — spoke to his importance to coach Steve Sarkisian's efforts to rebuild the Huskies.
Sarkisian's entire coaching and playing history is on offense and he plans to call the plays for the Huskies. That meant he needed a dependable hand to guide the defense, especially one that has allowed school records in yards per game and points allowed each of the past two seasons.
"Obviously my background is as an offensive football coach and I've wanted to keep my hand in the offense, and I wanted someone on defense that I could trust and believe in and I knew could take care of that side of the ball," Sarkisian said.
Holt, 46, and Sarkisian worked together as assistants at USC for six seasons, and shortly after Sarkisian was hired at UW on Dec. 6, he approached Holt about following him to UW. Holt initially declined but then, says Sarkisian, "he kind of came back and said, 'Well, I'm not completely ruling it out,' and I just kind of felt like there was a crack in the door and I was going to try to kick it open and see what would happen."
Holt says when he first turned the job down he was caught up in USC's preparation for the Rose Bowl and recruiting and "you don't really maybe take the time to think about it." After USC won the Rose Bowl, however, he pondered anew Sarkisian's proposition — as well as a three-year contract worth $2.1 million — and decided to take the leap.
"I thought it was a great opportunity to come back in on the ground floor and start something really neat, and I wanted to be a part of that," Holt said.
Some have wondered if Holt wanted to escape the lengthy shadow of USC coach Pete Carroll. While Holt held the title of defensive coordinator at USC, Carroll — whose forte is defense — had the final say. While Holt's USC defenses were annually among the best in the nation, questions figured to always linger about how much of that was Holt and how much Carroll and USC's talent.
"A lot of people said that," Holt says. "I never really thought like that. ... What intrigued me about Washington was starting something new."
Holt's official titles at UW are assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, and with Sarkisian spending most of his time with the offense, Holt is essentially the head coach of the defense.
He's been a head coach before, a two-year stint at Idaho in 2004-05. That seemed the culmination of a career that began immediately after his playing days ended in 1985 at Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where he was a four-year lettermen as a linebacker. Sports are in his genes — he is a grandson of gold-medal swimmer turned actor Buster Crabbe.
A year coaching high school led to a graduate assistant's job at UNLV and then a full-time job there, and then a move to Idaho in 1990, where he worked under John L. Smith and Chris Tormey. He later followed Smith to Louisville, then in 2001 was lured to USC by Carroll as linebackers coach — Carroll had been an assistant at Pacific when Holt played there.
After USC won a share of a national title in 2003, Holt returned to Idaho as head coach. But after going 5-18 in two years, Holt left abruptly following signing day in 2006, first for an assistant's job with the St. Louis Rams, and then a day or two later back to USC and Carroll as defensive coordinator.
Holt is diplomatic about his early departure from Idaho, calling his time there "a fantastic experience" and that he wishes now he would have gotten to see his first recruiting class through to the end.
Some have surmised his high-profile move to UW was made in part to enhance his chances at being a head coach again.
Holt refutes that.
"I've been a head coach and it was fun," he said. "However, you need to have a chance to be successful as a head coach, so if that opportunity arises again that would be something in the future that I would think about. But right now I'm truly focused on being the defensive coordinator at Washington."
Sarkisian points to the big contract given to Holt — the most ever for a UW assistant — and says it shows that "we plan on being here quite a while and building something special."
And while Holt is optimistic, he doesn't dispute that it could take a little time to get UW back on track. At UW's fall kickoff news conference, Holt was asked whether it was an advantage to have so many starters back from a team that struggled the way the Huskies did last season and replied that "really, 0-12, quite honestly means that they were terrible." Later in camp, he called his job "very challenging. Daunting if you want to use that word, but challenging. And yet it kind of stimulates you and makes it worthwhile and fun to go to work."
His high-energy persona — accentuated by his bald head, a look he first revealed while at Idaho in 2005 when he had his head shaved as part of a fundraiser — has been notable at UW's practices since the first day of spring. It probably wouldn't be a surprise to learn that about the only thing Holt says he doesn't like in life is golf.
"He is going to keep it honest and upfront with us," said UW cornerback Quinton Richardson. "He's going to tell us what we are doing wrong so we can get it right. It's nothing personal, but he gets after it. He really pushes us."
And in words that many UW fans have been waiting to hear for years, Holt says he plans to install a defense that matches his image, one he hopes will be more aggressive than those of the past few years. Not only will it likely feature more man-to-man play in the secondary but also a more attacking style upfront as opposed to a read-and-react scheme favored last season.
"It's just my personality to get after the offense and attack all angles and get the ball back from the offense," Holt said. "We need to be aggressive, and I think the kids will have a little more fun playing that style of defense. That is our personality on defense, starting from the top with coach Sark. He wants to attack on offense and defense he wants to get the ball back. So to do that, you need to get after the offense, so that's what we'll do."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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