Nick Holt arrived at Washington with the fanfare, and salary, usually reserved for head coaches.
It set a level of expectations Holt never matched, and on Saturday he was fired after three years as the Huskies’ defensive coordinator.
The dismissal came two days after Washington gave up 777 total yards and 67 points against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. It was the most yards allowed in school history and second-most points surrendered. What’s more, the embarrassment came on a national stage, the defensive shortcomings exposed for all to see.
After the loss, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said all aspects of his team would be evaluated. It didn’t take long to determine an overhaul on defense was needed.
Along with Holt, the Huskies fired linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills.
”They were instrumental in the leadership and development of countless young men, and they have left our program in a better place,” Sarkisian said in a statement announcing the firings. ”I am grateful for their service to our program and to the University of Washington and I wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”
The school said Sarkisian would make no other comments about the decision.
The firings represent the first major changes since Sarkisian took over. He’ll be replacing his entire defensive staff – in addition to the three firings, secondary coach Demetrice Martin is joining Jim Mora’s new staff at UCLA.
Holt’s firing came almost three years to the day after he was introduced as the defensive answer to Washington’s woes. He was wooed from Southern California by a contract that trumped that of some other head coaches in the conference and the autonomy to run the defense as he wanted.
He used the phrase ”awesome” about a dozen times in his introductory news conference in January 2009, yet the defenses he produced at Washington would rarely be described that way.
Holt was a target for criticism in part because of his salary. He initially signed a $2.1 million, three-year deal in 2009 and his contract was extended through the 2012 season, as were those of the other defensive coaches. The university said the contracts of the three fired coaches, which run through next season, will be honored, with Holt making $650,000.
His best defense came in 2010 when Washington went to a bowl for the first time in eight years, capping that season with a 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The Cornhuskers were held to 189 yards after scoring 56 points on Washington earlier that season.
If last year’s bowl game was the high point for Holt, then the Alamo Bowl touched bottom. As a result of that game, the Huskies are likely to finish in the bottom quarter in the country in total defense.
But Baylor only highlighted what has been an ongoing problem. The Huskies gave up 65 points, 446 yards rushing and 615 total yards to Stanford this season, then another 40 points and 426 yards to Southern California. Even when the Huskies held Oregon to under 400 total yards, it came in a 34-17 defeat.
Only four times in 13 games this season did Washington hold an opponent under 400 total yards, and just 11 times in Holt’s 38 games in charge of the Huskies defense. Washington’s 2011 defense set school records for most points allowed, total touchdowns, yards passing allowed and total yards allowed.
While Washington did a decent job on Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl, the Huskies had no answers to stopping a Bears running game that finished with 482 yards rushing – including three backs topping 100 yards – and eight touchdowns rushing. Terrance Ganaway ran for five of Baylor’s eight TDs on the ground.
The shoddy defensive performance was amplified by what Washington did offensively. The 56 points were the most scored by Washington since a 1997 win over Arizona and tied for eighth most in school history. Quarterback Keith Price outplayed Griffin, throwing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and running for three more TDs.
”We just knew we needed to score,” Price said. ”We needed to score fast, just to give our defense a boost.”