Well, yesterday was supposed to be a light day in terms of football coverage and that all changed with the 11 a.m. email we received from the University of Washington informing us of the firing of Nick Holt, Mike Cox and Jeff Mills.
From my story for today’s TNT.
After the Alamo Bowl loss, Sarkisian was adamant to the point of anger that he would evaluate the performance of his defensive staff along with all other facets of the team before making a decision.
Apparently, that evaluation period was less than 48 hours.
For three straight seasons, Sarkisian’s paid coaching staff had remained intact with no departures or dismissals. It was something he prided himself upon. However, that changed shortly before the Alamo Bowl when cornerbacks coach and top Los Angeles recruiter Demetrice Martin left for a similar position with UCLA. Now with the firings of Holt, Mills and Cox, it leaves just line coach Johnny Nansen from the defensive staff.
The three coaches were under contract for 2012, thanks to Sarkisian, who helped get them contract extensions and pay increases. As part of those contracts, all three will receive their 2012 salary in a lump sum within 30 days.
Holt, who was third-highest paid state employee behind Sarkisian and Lorenzo Romar, will receive $650,004. Cox will get $220,008 and Mills will receive $155,000.
The sum is more than $1 million, however the money Washington received from the recent Pacific-12 Conference television deal makes swallowing the deal easier. It also gives athletic director Scott Woodward the leverage to spend more on replacing the coaches.
When Sarkisian was hired in December 2008, he considered Holt one of his most important hires. The two worked together at USC, and it was considered a major coup to lure Holt away from a Trojans squad that was loaded with talent. Initially, Holt turned down the job, but Sarkisian got him to reconsider. Of course, making him the highest paid coordinator in the conference helped.
Holt arrived at Washington and wowed fans and alums with his close-shaved head, a professional wrestler’s mentality and a voice that sounded like he had gargled with sand and rocks. But the cartoonish figure and his animated antics on the sideline soon wore thin on Huskies fans as his defenses struggled on the field.
|Opponents vs. UW defense in 2011||Total||Rank in school history|
|Total touchdowns||58||2nd Highest|
|Passing touchdowns||22||2nd Highest|
|Passing yards per game||284.6||Highest|
|Completion percentage||62.8||3rd Highest|
|Average total offense per game||453.3||Highest|
|Passing first downs||167||Highest|
|Points per game||38.6||35.9|
|First downs allowed||268||297|
|Rushing yards allowed||2,887||2,193|
|Avg. rush yds per game||240.6||168.7|
|Rushing TDs allowed||33||32|
|Passing yards allowed||2,534||3,700|
|Avg. pass yds per game||211.2||284.6|
|Passing TDs allowed||24||22|
|Total offense allowed||5,421||5,893|
|Average yards per play||6.6||6.4|
|Third-down conversions||75 of 152||88 of 179|
|Third-down conversion pct.||49.3||49.2|
|Fourth-down conversions||9 of 17||12 of 20|
|Fourth-down conversion pct.||53.0||60.0|
TNT columnist John McGrath wrote that it was no question, Holt had to go. From his column ...
Look it at this way: Sarkisian and Holt share a friendship that goes back years. Loyalty isn’t the best business policy – it clouds judgments, and thus impedes logic – but there are worse reputations football coaches can own than maintaining a blind trust in their assistants.
If Sarkisian was disinclined to fire Holt, Mills and Cox, the candidates in line to replace them should note that the head coach always will have their back. Loyalty can be perceived as a weakness, but it also can be perceived as a strength – especially by those mulling the prospect of putting their homes on the market and moving their families to Seattle.
As for Woodward? If it turns out the call was his, he enhances his status as a tough-minded administrator. During his days as a competitive athlete, Woodward’s sport was tennis – another tough-minded administrator, Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott, also played tennis – but Woodward knows enough about football to realize an assistant coach responsible for coordinating a defense that gives up an average of 453.3 yards per game is unfit for a job that pays $6.50 an hour, much less $650,000 a year.
Holt’s dismissal was inevitable, but it also finds us asking: Why were Mills and Cox also shown the door? Simple. The new defensive coordinator will want a say in assembling his lieutenants, and with Mills and Cox gone – along with cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, who left to join Jim Mora at UCLA – the floor is open.
The UW press release that confirmed the coaching-staff shake-up Saturday noted that the Huskies will begin a “national search” for a defensive coordinator. The search might turn out to be national, but Holt’s replacement figures to have ties to the West Coast generally, and southern California specifically.
Timing is a problem: While Washington is approaching a critical stage of the recruiting season – the minds of impressionable 18-year-olds are changing as we speak – the Huskies must scour the land for four defensive coaches willing to commit to a team that just surrendered 777 yards and 67 points in a single night.
Who’d want to take on that challenge in exchange for the guarantee of a contract well into six figures?
Good question, and it leads to a better one.
As he often does, and what makes him a great columnist Art Thiel of SportsPressNW looks at the situation a little differently. From his column ...
Ultimately, the game is more about talent than coaching, and the Huskies don’t have very much experienced, Pac-12 talent. It is largely a legacy of the era of Tyrone Willingham, who was fired mid-2008, ruining an entire class that normally would be contributing heavily by now.
Most fans and media are reluctant to blame college players because most observers understand, now more than ever, that the college system is a rip-off for players. To criticize them harshly in public amounts to an unfair pile-on. I subscribe to that notion, but this is not blaming them individually for mistakes they already know they’ve made. It is simply a collective request for common sense when it comes to the compulsion for rolling heads after unpleasant entertainment outcomes.
In their third year, Sarkisian and his coaches simply haven’t — and were unlikely to have — fixed everything that was wrong with a program that was the first in NCAA history to have a 12-0 season and and 0-12 season. They gambled on emphasizing high-end offensive recruits to keep pace with the game. On that front, the coaches won more than they lost.
As a program, they have had dramatic wins, heartbreaking losses and a general uptick that has been commendable, without too much criminality or, so far, NCAA rule-breaking. Holt and his defensive assistants can be cited for a lack of attention to the fundamentals of tackling, as well as lapses in getting players assignment-correct, whether through overload or under-coaching.
Coachingsearch.com offers up a list of possible candidates ...