Nick Holt, a former BCS conference defensive coordinator, head coach and a former national champion, serves as the defensive coordinator at WKU. Following the 2013 season, Holt added the title of Associate Head Coach.
After a season in which WKU's defense was littered with youth and inexperience, resulting in an opportunistic but still raw squad, Holt's defense responded with a defense that was, at times, suffocating in 2015. The Hilltoppers were one of the most improved defenses in the FBS this past season, improving their run defense by 60 yards per game, their pass defense by 50 yards per game, resulting in an overall per-game improvement of the defense by 104 total yards.
The results showed on the scoreboard as well as the Hilltoppers were the third-most improved scoring defense in the country, allowing two full touchdowns fewer per game in 2015 compared to 2014. In his position group, linebacker Nick Holt was a First Team All-Conference USA performer while sophomore TJ McCollum led WKU in tackles.
Even after seeing just four starters come back to begin the 2014 season, WKU finished No. 17 nationally in red zone defense and had one of the most opportunistic secondaries as they tallied five defensive touchdowns - including four of 80 yards or more, the most since 2007.
In 2013, Holt inherited one of the Sun Belt Conference's most suffocating defenses and improved them in nearly every statistical category even with the loss of every starter on the defensive line. At the conclusion of the regular season, Holt's defense ranked No. 14 overall in total defense while his pass defense was No. 10 in the nation.
Among conference members, the Hilltoppers finished with the top tackler in terms of tackles for loss and sacks in linebacker Xavius Boyd while defensive back Cam Thomas was the league's best ball hawk, leading the SBC with 15 passes defended. WKU allowed nearly 60 fewer yards per game than the next best defense in the league and finished at the top first down defense in the SBC and No. 13 nationally in that category.
Under Holt's tutelage, Boyd had a career season and was named the SBC's Defensive Player of the Year, giving WKU the award in consecutive seasons (Quanterus Smith in 2012). The Hilltoppers also had four players on the first team All-SBC defensive team as Boyd, Thomas, Jonathan Dowling and Bar'ee Boyd gave the Tops a conference-high for members on the squad.
Before spending one season at Arkansas, Holt was the defensive coordinator at the University of Washington from 2009-11. Before that he was defensive coordinator at the University of Southern California from 2006-08 and the head coach at Idaho from 2004-05. He worked with Coach Smith at Idaho from 1990-94, serving as the Vandals' defensive coordinator in 1994 and for three more seasons through 1997 before moving to Louisville to be Coach Smith's defensive line coach from 1998-2000. From 2001-03 he was the linebackers coach at USC and helped the Trojans win the 2003 national championship.
His first season in charge of Washington's defense he saw dramatic statistical improvement across the board. The Huskies gave up 12 fewer points per game and allowed 62 fewer yards per game than they did in 2008. In 2010, Holt's defense played a key role in the Huskies' late-season run to the Holiday Bowl. Continued improvement culminated in the bowl game, where the Washington defense held Nebraska to just seven points in a 19-7 victory, the last in a season-ending, four-game win streak. A big part of that success was predicated on a pass defense that ended the year ranked No. 2 in the Pac-10.
In his final season coordinating the USC defense, he helped lead the Trojans to their NCAA-record seventh straight 11-win season, a seventh consecutive Pac-10 title and seventh straight BCS bowl berth. USC ended the season by beating Penn State for an unprecedented third straight Rose Bowl victory. The 2008 Trojans led the NCAA in scoring defense at 9.00 points per game, holding eight opponents to seven points or less and posting three shutouts, pass defense with 134.38 yards per game allowed and in pass efficiency defense with a 85.75 rating while ranking second in the country by allowing 221.77 yards of total offense per game, the lowest total by a Pac-10 school since 1971.
In 2006, Holt's first season as the Trojans' defensive coordinator, they ranked 20th in the NCAA in total defense, 11th in scoring defense and tied for ninth in rushing defense after ranking 48th in the nation in total defense and 35th in scoring defense in 2005. In 2007, USC ranked second in the country in total and scoring defense and was fourth in the nation in rush defense and sixth in pass efficiency defense.
Holt's pupils, including linebacker Lofa Tatupu and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, have earned an impressive number of accolades. Tatupu was an All-American in 2004 and was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Tatupu played six seasons for the Seahawks, where he earned three Pro Bowl selections, one All-Pro selection and was named to Seattle's 35th Anniversary Team. Ellis was an All-American in 2006 and 2007, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, a two-time Morris Trophy Winner and the seventh overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. Ellis was the fourth player coached by Holt to earn their conference's Defensive Player of the Year award.
Holt began his coaching career in 1986 at St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., and moved to the UNLV in 1987 as a graduate assistant. He was promoted to linebackers coach for the 1988-89 seasons before moving to Idaho, where in 1994 the Vandals led NCAA Division I-AA in rushing defense. With Holt in charge of the defensive line at Louisville, the Cardinals ranked second in the NCAA in rushing defense and broke the UL record with 50 sacks, which ranked second in the NCAA, in 2000.
Holt was a four-year letterman at linebacker at the University of the Pacific and earned honorable-mention All-America honors in 1985, when he was the Tigers' MVP and team captain. Holt graduated from Pacific in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in political economics.
THE HOLT FILE
Born: Oct. 15, 1962
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Children: Nick and Ben
PLAYING CAREER (Linebacker)
College: Pacific (1981, 1983-85)
1986: St. Mary's HS (Defensive Coordinator)
1987: UNLV (Graduate Assistant)
1988-89: UNLV (Defensive Line)
1990-93: Idaho (Defensive Line)
1994: Idaho Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line)
1995-97: Idaho (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers)
1998-2000: Louisville (Defensive Line)
2001-03: USC (Linebackers)
2004-05: Idaho (Head Coach)
2006-08: USC Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line)
2009-11: Washington (Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach)
2012: Arkansas (Recruiting Coordinator)
2013: WKU (Defensive Coordinator)
2014: WKU (Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator)
HOLT BY THE NUMBERS
- Has coached in 11 bowl games, including five BCS bowl games
- Helped USC to a national championship as the linebackers coach
- Has 11 years of experience as a defensive coordinator (Idaho, USC, Washington, WKU)
- Has three years of experience as a head coach (Idaho)
- In three years as USC's defensive coordinator, the Trojans won three consecutive Rose Bowls
- Holt's 2007 USC defense ranked second in the nation in total and scoring defense