Huskies fire defensive coordinator Nick Holt, two other defensive assistant coaches
After firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt, linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills, the Huskies have just one returning defensive coach, line coach Johnny Nansen. Cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin already had left to take a job at UCLA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A year and a day after his greatest moment as Washington's defensive coordinator, Nick Holt was fired Saturday.
Holt was let go along with linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills as the Huskies decided to remake the coaching staff of a defense that ranked as the worst in school history, capped by a disastrous showing in a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday.
With cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin having already left to take a similar job at UCLA, UW is now searching for four new defensive assistants. The only one remaining is defensive line coach Johnny Nansen, who also serves as recruiting coordinator and special teams coach.
The school made the announcement in a news release early Saturday.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said in the release the fired coaches "were instrumental in the leadership and development of countless young men, and they have left our program in a better place. 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 have no further comment until an end-of-season news conference in a few weeks. The statement said a national search for replacements for all the coaches would begin immediately.
The key hire will be finding a successor for Holt, who came to UW amid much fanfare in 2009 after having been the defensive coordinator at USC under Pete Carroll, now the Seahawks coach. Holt worked with Sarkisian on Carroll's staff.
Sarkisian was the offensive coordinator at USC and works primarily with the offense at UW and hired Holt to oversee the defense, luring him with a hefty contract that paid him $650,004 this season as well as the additional title of assistant head coach.
Holt's intense demeanor — accentuated by his bald head and seemingly ever-present snarl on the practice field — made him an initial hit with fans.
And the UW defense showed signs of promise in Holt's first two seasons, highlighted by a 19-7 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30, 2010, a game in which the Huskies held the Cornhuskers to 189 yards.
But such performances were an anomaly, and Holt could not build on the Holiday Bowl success this season. Washington's 2011 defense was the worst in school history in yards allowed per game (453.3), passing yards allowed per game (284.6) and total points (467).
Washington also allowed the second-most points in a game in its history (67 against Baylor) and the most yards (777 against Baylor), and was torched for 65 points and 615 yards by Stanford.
The Huskies' defense ranked No. 94 nationally before bowl games.
Holt and Sarkisian often pointed to the youth of this year's defense, which generally started just four seniors, as an explanation. In particular, the defense couldn't replace the playmaking abilities of linebackers Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, stalwarts of the 2010 team
But after the Alamo Bowl, Sarkisian said every aspect of the program would be re-evaluated.
"It's obvious we need to improve," Sarkisian said. "We need to get better on the defensive side of the ball, and it'll be addressed and addressed as quickly as possible."
There were rumors on Friday that Holt would be fired, including a report by FootballScoop.com.
Holt, in a brief interview with The Seattle Times on Friday, said he expected to be back.
But the Huskies made the announcement of his firing, and that of Mills and Cox, on Saturday morning.
Holt did not respond to messages left by The Times, but told Dave Mahler of KJR-AM that "obviously the whole year was kind of a tough year" and that he would now begin trying to get a new job.
Sarkisian has long touted the value of continuity in his coaching staff. Martin's departure was the first for the nine-man assistant staff that was put together before the 2009 season.
Sarkisian had helped facilitate new contracts for all of his assistants following the success of the 2010 season and each had a deal through at least the 2012 season.
Holt's salary at UW was $650,004, Cox's was $220,008 and Mills' was $155,004, and under the terms of their original contracts, each is scheduled to receive that salary in a lump-sum payment within 30 days of termination.
Washington felt it a necessary price to pay to shore up its defense.
Led by an explosive offense powered by sophomore quarterback Keith Price — a surprise in the quick transition he made replacing Jake Locker — UW began the season 6-2. But the Huskies lost four of their final five, giving up 34 or more points in each loss, the offense unable to keep up with the rapid pace of scoring by opponents.
The Alamo Bowl loss left Sarkisian's record at 19-19 entering his fourth year at UW, which will be a transitional year for the program as the Huskies will play at CenturyLink Field while Husky Stadium undergoes a $250 million renovation.
Roughly $200 million of that will be paid off in revenues generated by the new stadium, so the Huskies will need to reignite the enthusiasm of the fan base in 2012 before they head into the new stadium, and will need to do so against another tough schedule that includes a nonconference game at LSU, and five road conference games, including a trip to Pac-12 champ Oregon, as well as home contests against USC and Stanford.
Mills is a former quarterback and outside linebacker at Western Washington who was a graduate assistant at Washington in 1990-91.
Like Holt and Mills, Cox also worked at Idaho, among several other stops, before coming to UW.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.