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Originally published December 16, 2009 at 10:50 AM | Page modified January 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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New UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt calls Huskies job an awesome opportunity

Holt, former USC defensive coordinator, says he wanted to be part of coach Steve Sarkisian's rebuilding effort with Huskies.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says the Huskies just hired the best defensive coordinator in the country.

Nick Holt, who will take on the job of fixing the Huskies' defense, said today he just wanted to be part of Sarkisian's staff and have a chance to turn around the struggling UW program.

"The opportunity here is awesome," said Holt, who was also named assistant head coach.

Holt, who was defensive coordinator at USC, where he worked with Sarkisian, said after arriving in Seattle he had "forgotten how great a place this is and can become."

Holt said he was drawn by Sarkisian, calling him "the best offensive mind in college football. I wanted to be a part of that. He's a rising star and I wanted to be a part of that."

Sarkisian, who had been offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at USC before he was hired by UW, said of Holt, "He's the premier defensive coordinator in the country."

Holt said his parents have lived on Orcas Island since 1983, running a bed-and-breakfast, which was another draw.

Holt agreed to a three-year contract worth $600,000 in the first year and $650,000 in the second and third years. He also will receive a $200,000 retention bonus, payable to him up front, but would have to be returned all or in part, on a sliding scale, if he were to leave before the end of the contract.

So in total, it's a three-year deal worth $2.1 million. Holt was thought to make around $500,000 a year or so at USC — as a private school, USC is not required to release contract details so there are always only rough estimates of what the coaches of the Trojans earn.

That is by far the most UW has ever paid an assistant — Ed Donatell was the highest-paid member of the old staff with a two-year contract worth $334,000 per year but it decreased rapidly from there with Tim Lappano making just more than $200,000 per year and every other assistant below that.

New offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik has a three-year deal worth $350,000 a year, which had made him the highest-paid assistant in UW history for a few weeks.

This is a high salary by the standards of any assistant anywhere.

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp recently received a raise to $900,000 per year when he was named as coach-in-waiting.

"The top coordinators in the country are making big figures, so I had an idea that to get the best you are going to have to pay," Woodward said.

Holt's salary means he is making more than WSU coach Paul Wulff's reported $600,000.

Holt has been the defensive coordinator at USC the past three years. Sarkisian initially offered him a position at UW shortly after being hired as head coach on Dec. 6.

Holt turned it down, but the two began talking again last week as Sarkisian was finishing up duties as offensive coordinator with the Trojans, helping guide USC to a 38-24 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

Under Holt, who was Idaho's head coach in 2004-05, USC's defenses have been among the best in the nation the past three seasons.

USC led the nation this year in scoring defense (9.0 points per game) and was second in total defense (221.77 yards).

However, Trojans coach Pete Carroll is heavily involved in the defense, having been his own defensive coordinator for five years before ceding some duties when Holt came on board as coordinator in 2006.

Holt said running his own defense was "a great lure"' as Carroll called the plays on gamedays at USC.

"Now I feel really ready to just do it all myself," Holt said.

Holt said the defense will be similar to what was run at USC, which was a prostyle 4-3 attack.

"We are smart enough to understand that some kids can't do this or do that and adjust our scheme," Holt said. "But in terms of our style and how we go about our business and methodology and coaching, we are not going to change. We will get them to play hard and play with a passion and they will have fun here. No doubt in my mind they will start having fun here again."

Securing Holt means UW has hired both of the coordinators from a USC team that has won at least a share of seven straight Pac-10 titles. Sarkisian was USC's offensive coordinator the past four years and will call his own plays next season for the Huskies.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said in a release that adding Holt is a sign of the positive direction he thinks the program is heading under Sarkisian.

"Coach Sarkisian has been working tirelessly to recruit and to hire coaches," Woodward said. "This hire is a clear reinforcement of the confidence I have in him to put together a top-notch coaching staff."

Washington players said they were excited at the news of Holt's hiring and the vibe they are getting from the new staff.

"I'm already getting amped up," said cornerback Quinton Richardson. "Everybody is already working extra hard. Everyone has a glow about them, a new karma. I really feel something special is going on."

Holt, 46, was a linebacker at the University of the Pacific, where he first crossed paths with Carroll, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1983. Holt was a four-year letterman and a team captain as a senior.

After graduation, Holt got into coaching, first at UNLV, then moving to Idaho in 1990 as defensive-line coach for John L. Smith. He stayed in Moscow until 1997, eventually serving as defensive coordinator, including three years under Chris Tormey.

He spent three years at Louisville under Smith before moving to USC in 2001 when Carroll took over as head coach, working as linebackers coach.

He became head coach at Idaho in 2004, compiling a 5-18 record in two years — one of the losses coming against UW at Husky Stadium in 2005, 34-6, for what was Tyrone Willingham's first victory as Washington coach. In February 2006, Holt left Idaho to take a job as linebackers coach with the St. Louis Rams before changing course and ending up back at USC.

A profile on Holt in The Orange County Register in late December noted his emphasis on fundamentals, including daily tackling drills. Tackling has been an issue the last few years for a Huskies team that has had the two worst statistical defenses in school history the past two seasons.

"You better tackle every day if you want to be successful," Holt said. "Do the guys moan about it? It doesn't matter. We're going to do it. I firmly believe fundamentals are the reason we've done what we've done."

Holt is the fourth assistant hired by Sarkisian, following Michalczik, secondary coach Demetrice Martin and defensive-line coach Johnny Nansen, who will also coordinate special teams.

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