Nick Holt, the raspy-voiced, shaven-headed, high-energy coach who certainly looked the part, was fired by head coach Steve Sarkisian, along with two other defensive assistants Saturday, after the Huskies returned from the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where the defense turned in the worst performance in team history.
According to a team statement released Saturday morning, fired along with him were linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills following Washington’s 67-56 loss to Baylor Thursday. Earlier in the month, cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin became the first coach to leave Sarkisian’s Washington staff since its 2009 assemblage when he accepted a similar post at UCLA under new coach Jim Mora, the ex-Husky player and former Seahawks coach.
Upon returning from Texas, Holt told the Seattle Times Friday that he expected to continue coaching. But the points surrendered, second-worst in the program’s 121 years, plus 777 yards in total offense to the Bears — the most ever — in a game for which the Huskies had a almost a month to prepare, made the Huskies defense an instant national joke.
The release said a national search will begin immediately for their replacements, but the pressure built through the season that made the firings almost a foregone conclusion. Immediately after the game Sarkisian told team broadcaster Bob Rondeau “changes are inevitable,” but backed off that directness in the post-game press conference.
The Huskies finished 7-6, same as a year earlier, following a 5-7 initial campaign in 2009, when expectations grew because of the value Sarkisian put on pulling Holt away from USC, where the two coached together. Holt’s $650,000 annual salary put him among the highest paid assistants in college football, as well as a target for critics who said he wasn’t worth it.
I want to thank Nick Holt, Mike Cox, and Jeff Mills for their hard work and dedication throughout the last three years, Sarkisian said in the statement. They were instrumental in the leadership and development of countless young men, and they have left our program in a better place.”
Many would disagree, at least in terms of football numbers. Including the bowl game, the Huskies surrendered a record-worst 453.3 yards per game. In facing the quarterbacks who were 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy voting, Robert Griffin III of Baylor and Andrew Luck of Stanford, the Huskies gave up 67 and 65 points.
In Holt’s partial defense, the fourth- and fifth-year seniors on the team were recruited by the previous coaching staff under Tyrone Willingham, who was fired halfway through an 0-12 season in 2008. But over three years there was little improvement in obvious teaching points such as wrap-up tackling and assignment correctness.