Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or, in today’s world, vacationing on the beach with your phone turned off), you’re well aware that the lacrosse wheels are turning at the University of Utah in a move toward NCAA D-I. The biggest indicator is the hiring of a new coaching staff, led by Coach Brian Holman who is coming off a national championship as an assistant with the North Carolina Tarheels.
This is definitely the biggest lacrosse news in the University’s history — perhaps in the state’s history, as well. So, I sat down with Coach Holman with the hope of letting the Utah lacrosse community get to know him, asked him about a million questions, and he graciously took the time to answer.
The first thing you’ll notice when you meet Brian Holman is an understated confidence, and the first thing you’ll notice when you talk to him (at least about lacrosse) is an infectious energy — the man got this UVU alum and BYU fan excited about Ute Lacrosse, which is saying something.
Coach Holman grew up in Maryland, so it figures he would have found lacrosse, right? “There are still pockets of Maryland and New York [where lacrosse is small]. Everybody thinks that all these states are just saturated with lacrosse, and it isn’t.” Holman actually grew up as a small-town farm kid playing the big three: football, basketball, baseball, and didn’t get exposed to lacrosse until his older brother started playing in high school.
During his freshman year of high school, Holman finally decided to try lacrosse after his baseball coach told him that he wasn’t a good hitter and likely wouldn’t see the field. “I looked at the other end of the field and the guys were playing lacrosse and I was like…I’ll just go play lacrosse.”
A good family friend of the Holman’s, whom Coach Holman impressively described as “gregarious,” played goalie for the high school team and influenced Holman to do the same. After becoming one of the best keepers at the high school level, Holman had his sights set on Maryland. “In the mid-to-late seventies, Maryland was IT. That’s when they won their last championship, in ’75, I was at that game, actually stood on the sidelines, they played Navy — my brother was on the Navy team…growing up I just dreamed of playing at Maryland.”
But fate had a different path for Holman — he unexpectedly was accepted to Johns Hopkins University, which was the most dominant team of the decade and an academic powerhouse, and his brothers pushed him to accept the offer. The choice to play for the Blue Jays turned out to be the right one: Holman played in four straight national championship games, winning one, and was a three-time All-American between the pipes at Hopkins.
“We were blessed — I was blessed — we had great teams. I look back at it, Henry [Ciccarone] was the most competitive, fiery, toughest coach I’ve ever been around in my life. People say that in sports, teams sort of take on the personality of the head coach — at Hopkins we truly did. We competed so hard in practice and we recruited really good players, so there was no margin for error…On the field, we just went at it, and off the field we were a brotherhood because Hopkins is a little different…we sort of hand our own little band, and I think that was important to our success, too.”
It was also at Hopkins that Holman discovered an appreciation and passion for coaching. Assistant coach Fred Smith, whom Holman describes as his”mentor” and “hero,” had a profound impact on his players. “Freddie was Mr. Calm, had common sense, and was just an extremely wise man. So when I went to Carolina, as an assistant coach, I really wanted to pattern myself after Freddie — being there for the players, being tough when it’s time, but also being a guy that the players can come to and talk to and maybe get some direction in life.”
I got a good sense for how much Coach Holman loves lacrosse when I asked him if he could speak about some of his best lacrosse memories, having had a unique experience compared to those here in the Beehive State; he laughed and said “Really? We don’t have enough time for that. I’ve been doing this for thirty-one years — I could go on for days!”
So you don’t have to read for days, I’ll sum up that Coach Holman has coached at every level, from five-year-olds, to competitive clubs, to high school freshman, to high school varsity, and, of course, D-I lacrosse, and had great success at every level — including a couple NCAA national championships. Coach Holman is also extremely proud of his three children, who’ve all played lacrosse at North Carolina (son and new Ute assistant coach Marcus Holman also currently plays in the MLL).
After winning this year’s national title as an assistant with North Carolina, Holman was contacted about coaching for the University of Utah. “Initially I was like ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Then I…thought about it a little bit more and said ‘no thanks.'” But the Utes persisted, and the opportunity to “start something from scratch” appealed to Holman. He came out to Utah, saw the campus, and met the people, then made the wise decision to ask his wife what she wanted to do. After touring around Utah with their daughter, Mrs. Holman gave the affirmative: “Oh my gosh, they loved it. I think they loved it more than I did.”
Now at the helm of the Ute program, Coach Holman’s goal is twofold: meet the criteria to become a Division-I program and become a resource to the lacrosse community here in Utah. “The first part, I’m really excited about…It’s gonna be fun to challenge these guys to…practice at a higher level and a faster pace, to be a bit more competitive when the time comes…It’s gonna take everybody — it’s not just me. We need the community…we have to do it together.”
Holman also sees some unique advantages to recruiting at a school like Utah: big time football and basketball, outstanding academics, good admissions standards, and great geography. “West Coast kids want to stay on the West Coast. They think that everything revolves around the West Coast — they’re hip, they’re ahead of the East Coast…The East Coast kids want to go to the West Coast because they think the West Coast kids are hip; they like what’s going on on the West Coast.”
“Know that we are a resource to everybody out there in the lacrosse world for whatever we can do. We’re going to make ourselves available to the community; I’m not a savior — I don’t have all the answers to everything — but I do have experience…and we can help guide people to what they want. Support us, we’re going to support the community, and we’re going to do this together and we’re gonna have fun while we do it.”