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Friday, October 23, 2009
Pac-10 Q&A: Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Washington's defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the Pac-10 blog had an interesting week. Both had unfortunate moments.

Holt and his defense surrendered a 50-yard pass with five seconds left that gave Arizona State a 24-17 victory last Saturday.

The Pac-10 blog incorrectly reported that Holt was flagged for a sideline penalty for the second time this season during the game.

The Pac-10 blog also took Holt to task for not showing up for post-game interviews.

It's been a source of frustration for all reporters who cover the Huskies that Holt hasn't shown up for post-game interviews after most games, even after the Huskies beat USC.

Holt, who was always a good interview when he was defensive coordinator at USC, told the Pac-10 blog on Monday that he'd never been told that he had been requested.

Turns out that reporters' interview requests weren't being relayed to Holt, a sports information official confirmed. The guess here is that will no longer be a problem.

Holt's highly animated sideline presence also has been an issue this season. After the Sun Devils big-play, Holt barked at a cameraman whom he thought had invaded a team area.

So there's been some miscommunication on a variety of fronts.

The best way to solve that is to talk.

Oh, and by the way, Holt and Washington have a big game against rival Oregon on Saturday in Husky Stadium.

First, I want to apologize for incorrectly writing that you had a sideline penalty called on you against Arizona State.

Nick Holt: No problem.

Know it's not your favorite subject, but what happened on Arizona State's long touchdown pass?

NH: There was 13 seconds left on the clock. I believe Arizona State had one more time out left. So they had an opportunity to hit a pass, a medium-sized pass, and get in field goal range and have a chance to win it that way. Obviously, they had the opportunity to throw a long pass. We were in a prevent defense. A defense that is very familiar to us. We were rushing three and dropping eight. It's a real safe and sound defense. We just didn't execute very well. At the time, I thought it was a good call. But when I saw No. 13 [Chris McGaha] run straight down the middle of the field -- he got jammed quickly at the line but then proceeded to run down the middle of the field. As I watched him do that, I go, 'Uh, oh, that wasn't a very good call.' So you live and learn. We've got to do a better job next time. Unfortunately, with kids, and with coaches and players, we've got to be constantly reminded of what we need to do and be on top of things. On that play, I needed to remind the kids of certain situations in the vertical game and the comebacks and the things that can really hurt you. I didn't do a very good job of making the kids aware of some things that could happen in that coverage that we needed to get done. I take it for the kids. I thought they played hard all night long. At times, there was some sloppiness. But especially in the second half, I was really proud of how hard they played. It was unfortunate it had to end that way. I was looking forward to getting that game into overtime.

You do hear that from other coaches: How hard Washington is playing now compared to last year. How have you gotten them to play with such great effort?

NH: It's a tribute to the assistant coaches. They are coaching every minute, every play, every day. And the kids are buying in. They are doing a great job by allowing themselves to be coachable. They believe in this stuff. Every day they come out to practice and work hard. They are getting better every day. I see the improvement. I know it's not showing up every Saturday in the win-loss. But you put on the film and show the guys and you see they are getting better on their fundamentals and their techniques. We've just got to keep them helping them. We've got five games left and a lot of football ahead of us. I think what it comes down to is the kids are believing, buying in, and they are feeling good about themselves. They see themselves getting better and they want to keep on going and keep doing more.

You're an emotional coach. It seems like the TV cameras seek you out to show you being emotional. Is that something that concerns you and that you need to be aware of?

NH: I am emotional and enthusiastic. I love to coach. Games are really fun for me. Obviously, they've been nailbiting this season. But I'm enjoying every moment. When the camera is on you 24-7, or as much as it is going to be, you need to understand that and act accordingly. What happened after the touchdown, with myself talking to one of our players about the play that happened, it's one of those thing that I felt at the time was just a coach and a player communicating that nobody else needed to be a part of. And obviously I'm frustrated at that moment and emotions got the most of me and I told the cameraman, 'Hey, you don't need to be right there, 24-7, on us.' Obviously, it was heat of the moment, heat of the battle, thing. It shouldn't happen, though. I apologize to that cameraman.

We've talked about guys playing hard, what needs to get better on this defense?

NH: It's funny. Sometimes just some of the routine plays. The long run that went for 75 yards [against Arizona State]. That should never happen. That run should maybe go, if you break down, for maybe 12 to 15 yards. The routine plays sometimes get out on us. We just need to be on the details every minute and every second and remind and coach our guys every play. Just keep them focused. Because when these guys are focused, they're pretty dang good. It goes back to that last play. When we went out there, there was a transition from the punt team, and half of our defense was on the punt team covering. We get out there kind of not assembled very well because Arizona State was on the ball. We get out there and I didn't get to remind them of certain things that I would usually remind them of. Like, 'OK, we've got to re-route here, and if we get four verticals here, you two guys got to carry the verticals or do a nice job on the seams.' Just some of those things that I sometimes take for granted. We've coached them for so much and you've got to continue to do that. I think that is the biggest thing. But that makes it fun. You've got to be on your toes.

Give me a scouting report on Oregon's offense?

NH: Excellent at running the football. I think they have a really nice system. They spread you out and the have the vertical passing games because there's always a presence of four receivers -- and four receivers running straight down the field --  so there's the concern of the vertical game on top of being able to run the ball with a running back and a quarterback. It's very similar to having 12 guys out there because you've got to account for the quarterback in the run game, plus you've got to account for all the spread offense. They get you in a lot of vulnerable positions. And they do a really good job of blocking; they have a lot of different blocking schemes to block what you show them. So you've got to rep, or teach your kids, 'OK, this is one scheme and this is how you have to play it.' And on top of that, they have a lot of no huddle. They get up to the line of scrimmage and run plays. You have to get lined up to all their formations. So you have to deploy correctly. You've got play the stuff correctly. And you've got to do it really fast because they are on the ball constantly, especially in the first part of the game.

You had success against that offense at USC. These guys you are coaching now, haven't had any success against Oregon's offense. What's the key to bringing that together so these guys can stop the Oregon offense?

NH: In the past, it was a different scheme, so it's hard to comment on that. We need to make our plays. We are going to be out in the open field quite a bit. That's one person out there in space, and they have to make their plays. They've got to win one-on-one battles, whether that's making a play on the quarterback, making a play on the dive, or making a play on a receiver on one of those quick-hit screens out there. The important things is to keep the ball in front of us and not give up the big play, whether that's in their hurry-up offense or in their trickery that they will do. We need to rally to the ball and make them go the length of the field. When we've done that, we've been pretty hard. Everybody talks about the red-zone defense [the Huskies have given up on 12 TDs in 34 red zone situations]. It's because we've been really solid. We've made people have to execute for longer periods of time and they don't get in. That's what we need to do. Kind of wait them out and do a nice job of tackling.