Friday, September 23, 2005


Holt is happy and
busy in Idaho

The Vandals’ coach left bigger
programs behind to build
a winner in Moscow

MOSCOW, Idaho » It's Thursday afternoon and the Kibbie Dome rocks.

Hawaii at Idaho

Where: Kibbie Dome, Moscow, Idaho

When: 4 p.m. tomorrow, Hawaii time

TV: Live, Oceanic Cable, pay-per-view (Ch. 256). Call 625-8100 on Oahu or (808) 643-2337 statewide. Delay at 9:30 p.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday on KFVE (Ch. 5).

Radio: KKEA-1420

Internet: sportsradio1420.com

The 16,000 gold-painted seats are all empty, but piped in AC/DC supposedly simulates crowd noise that's expected from the full-house crowd when the Idaho Vandals host the Hawaii Warriors tomorrow. What it really does is provide the perfect soundtrack for a Nick Holt-coached practice.

Holt, the second-year Vandals head man, works hard and works late. The former USC linebackers coach has a hand in everything. He stays after to oversee kick blockers.

Then he's out in front of the weight room as the sun slides under the rolling mountains, instructing players on the fine art of the post-practice bench press.

It's obvious he doesn't have much time for an out-of-town reporter, especially 48 hours before kickoff. But it's not a complete blow-off; Holt looks at the sunset, then turns back to the visitor.

"What'd I tell you about this place?" the bald-headed Holt barks, "It's beautiful!"

It certainly is.

But is a pretty horizon worth viewing from nearly the bottom of Division I? Instead of here, where the most famous athletic alumnus of the past 25 years is decathlete Dan O'Brien, Holt could still be a part of perhaps the best college football program in history at USC with Pete Carroll. Or he could be at Louisville, where he was from 1998 to 2000, or maybe with Michigan State's John L. Smith, whom he worked under before at Idaho and Louisville.

Holt, who turns 45 next month, had gotten to the point where he didn't want his name attached to someone else's. Idaho is the perfect opportunity for that.

"This is what I've been working for for 17 years," he said when he took the job last year. "You get in this profession and you say, 'Someday I'm going to run my own program and be my own guy and have my own philosophy.' "

The Vandals are 3-12 so far under Holt, but athletic director Rob Spear knows it will take time for Idaho to get back to and exceed the level it was at when it won Big Sky championships under Dennis Erickson, Keith Gilbertson and Smith in the '80s and '90s -- the days when the Vandals beat up on Boise State.

"His high level of energy is infectious. I'm so confident we have the right guy," Spear said yesterday in his office.

Fans are willing to be patient with Holt, too.

"So far he's done a pretty good job. He's on the right track," said Alex Schoeffler, a 25-year-old Moscow bartender and Idaho student. The last game went a little sour, but they started off right."

Tomorrow's game is as important for Idaho as it is for Hawaii, which hasn't won on the road since 2003. This is the Vandals' debut in the Western Athletic Conference, and Spear hopes to build on the momentum of stepping up from the Sun Belt with victories.

"No question joining the WAC's been very positive for us. Ticket sales are up 15 percent. The most important thing is we've been able to hire good coaches and retain good coaches," Spear said.

Idaho's current athletic budget is $10.5 million per year. Spear said his goal is to bump that up 8 percent a year with a target of $14 million or $15 million to meet the WAC's strategic plan. Idaho officials also must decide whether to renovate the 30-year-old Kibbie Dome or build a new facility.

He said it will help to have a 12th football game each year, as the NCAA has mandated starting with next season.

It's questionable if the area will ever be able to provide enough financial resources to move the Vandals past their neighbors and rivals 8 miles to the east, the Washington State Cougars of the Pac-10.

Around 21,000 people live in Moscow and even fewer in Pullman, Wash., where WSU is located. The two towns share an airport where the same guy who processes your rental car refuels airplanes. Idaho freshman safety Zach Santos, a Saint Louis school graduate, said he likes it here because "everything's within a 10-minute walk." That almost includes the WSU campus.

Arguably, Idaho, which has retired the numbers of Wayne Walker and Jerry Kramer, has football tradition to rival Washington State. But the Cougars compete with the big boys, and it was just a few years ago that Saint Louis grad Jason Gesser led them to the Rose Bowl.

Spear said there are "a lot of positives" to being in the shadow of a BCS school.

"The rivalry helps our recruiting. We're very competitive with them in most programs," Spear said. "With the exception of football."

Idaho has beaten Washington State only twice in his lifetime, but Schoeffler said that doesn't matter. The Cougars can have their periodic visits to the Top 25 and the national spotlight as far as he is concerned.

"I was born and raised here in Moscow," he said. "If you're a U of I fan, you're going to stay a U of I fan."

E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com