The University of Washington has indeed made a major shakeup on its defensive coaching staff, announcing this morning that coordinator Nick Holt, linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills have all been fired.
A UW press release said that UW coach Steve Sarkisian would begin a national search for their replacement.
All three assistants had been with the Huskies since Sarkisian’s arrival prior to the 2009 season.
In a statement, Sarkisian said that he “wished to thank them for their hard work and dedication” for the last three years and that they had left the program “in a better place.”
The school said Sarkisian would hold an end-of-season press conference “within the next few weeks.” Until then, he is not expected to have any comment. No timetable was given for naming replacements but with the recruiting season about to hit hot and heavy again in early January, it could happen in the next few weeks.
This means that four of UW’s defensive assistants off this year’s team will be new in 2012 — already gone is cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, who left for a job at UCLA earlier this month.
The only one who will be retained is defensive line and special teams coach Johnny Nansen.
Sarkisian’s staff had remained intact throughout his first three seasons.
UW’s defense this year ranked as the worst in school history in yards allowed per game (453.3), passing yards allowed per game (284.6) and total points (467), all capped by a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday night.
All had contracts that run through the 2012 season.
Holt made $650,000 a year, the highest-paid assistant on the staff, coming to UW in a much-celebrated arrival in January of 2009, having worked with Sarkisian at USC.
Sarkisian, who was the offensive coordinator at USC and handles the offensive play-calling for the Huskies, hired Holt and essentially put him in charge of every aspect of the defense.
But after initial improvement from the 0-12 2008 season, the defense regressed each year under Holt and hit bottom this season. UW twice allowed 60 or more points — 65 at Stanford and 67 to Baylor — and finished near the bottom of the NCAA and Pac-12 stats in most key defensive categories. The points allowed against Baylor was the second-most in school history, and the 777 yards the most.
Now having openings for four of the five assistant spots on defense will allow for Sarkisian to attempt to remake the entire defense as he enters his fourth season at UW in 2012 with a 19-19 overall record.
Holt had said in a brief interview with the Times on Friday afternoon that he expected to be back in 2012.
But the changes were apparently officially made later that night, and the announcement made in a press release sent to all media on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Holt 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.
One possible successor to Holt is another former USC assistant, Rocky Seto, who is now defensive backs coach with the Seahawks. Seto also worked with Sarkisian at USC and was offered the coordinator’s job at UW in a period when Holt initially turned it down before later accepting. Seto last year was offered the defensive coordinator’s job at UCLA.
Another name that has been mentioned is that of Chuck Heater, a former UW assistant under Rick Neuheisel and Keith Gilbertson who is now the defensive coordinator at Temple.
Another name that has been in the rumor mill is that of another former USC assistant now with the Seahawks, Ken Norton Jr., now coaching linebackers with the Sehawks.
And one more to add is that of Jim Heacock, a former UW assistant under Don James who is now at Ohio State who is not being retained by new coach Urban Meyer (here’s a story with details). Heacock worked under James at UW from 1983-87.
Like Holt, Mills and Cox came to UW along with Sarkisian.
Mills is a former quarterback and outside linebacker at Western Washington who was a graduate assistant at Washington in 1990-91. He spent much of his career working under Chris Tormey at Nevada and Idaho and was at Youngstown State directly before coming to UW.
Like Holt and Mills, Cox also worked at Idaho and spent much of his career assisting John L. Smith before coming to UW.
UPDATE ON CONTRACTS: If you recall, about a year ago this time UW gave new two-year contacts to every assistant on the staff, and also extended the coordinators (here are details from last spring).
Holt’s official salary at UW was $650,004, Cox’s was 220,008 and Mills’ was $155,004.
Under the terms of their original contracts, each would receive one year’s salary if terminated “without cause” which would be the case here. So my understanding is each would receive the amount listed above — and under the terms of their original deals it would come in a lump sum within 30 days of the date of termination.
However, I do not know if any recent changes were made to any of contracts and will not be able to get that info until after the school reopens business after the holiday on Tuesday. But if the details of their original contracts are correct, then UW would be writing checks for roughly $1.025 million to the three coaches let go today.