Utah men's lacrosse coach Brian Holman talks to his team during practice in January. Holman is in his second season coaching the school's club team before the Utes transition to Division I next season.
Utah men's lacrosse coach Brian Holman talks to his team during practice in January. Holman is in his second season coaching the school's club team before the Utes transition to Division I next season. (twitter.com/UtahLacrosse)

There was probably a point during his first season in Salt Lake City nearly two years ago, when coach Brian Holman thought the lords of lacrosse were playing a mean trick on him.

He had heard winters in Utah were similar to those in Denver, where most of the snow accumulated in the mountains and what landed in the major cities didn’t last long.

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Apparently, he got some bad advice, or maybe this was an omen.

“That winter was the second coldest on record in Salt Lake,” said Holman, 57, an Anne Arundel County native. “It snowed every day and all I kept saying was, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ ”

It’s gotten better. According to Holman, Salt Lake is experiencing its second mildest winter ever, with daily temperatures near 50 degrees. The sun apparently has come out on Utah’s men’s lacrosse program as well, with the team beginning play in NCAA Division I next season.

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It’s all part of the sport’s national effort to expand coast to coast. Utah is the westernmost and first Pac-12 school to play men’s lacrosse, and there might not be better ambassadors than Denver coach Bill Tierney and Holman.

It’s only a matter of time before Holman and the Utes gain national recognition on the field. Holman has three professional players on his coaching staff: his son Marcus Holman, Adam Ghitelman and Will Manny.

“Brian has built an amazing staff, and with all of their experience in both playing and coaching at this level, I am sure they will do a great job,” Tierney said. “Hopefully, they will ignite enough interest to help other schools get the D-1 ball rolling.”

Holman didn’t want the Utah job at first, turning down several phone calls from friends and school officials, but David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways, pushed further and talked him into a visit.

Another visit by his wife, Laurie, soon afterwards helped finalize the agreement, even though a commitment from the school about a team didn’t come until a year later. Holman is in his second season coaching the school’s club team.

“When I first heard about Utah, I said no way. I didn’t even know where it was,” Holman said. “But then I met David out here for three days. We looked at the facilities, the environment and the atmosphere, and it was exciting. I have always been a person of strong faith.

“I believe that God leads me where he wants me to be, and he wanted me to be here. Right now, things couldn’t be better and it’s beyond belief. It’s tough to put it into words.”

It’s working because of Holman’s style and mannerisms. Even though he has spent the past 35 years as an assistant coach, he was also working full time as a mortgage executive.

He can talk that language, which is why the Utes already have 189 donors for lacrosse who will give anywhere from $5 to $10,000 per month.

Holman has coached on every level, from the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association to Severn, Gilman and Boys’ Latin high schools to Johns Hopkins and later North Carolina.

As a starting goalie at Hopkins or an assistant with the Blue Jays or North Carolina, Holman has participated in seven national championship games, winning three.

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“What many don’t know is Brian’s considerably significant background,” said Bob Shriver, Boys’ Latin’s former longtime lacrosse coach. “He was a quality goalie and coached at great places and been around so many great players as well.”

But what might make him special is his relationship with players. Holman spent eight years as a volunteer assistant under North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi before leaving for Utah.

Breschi called him the “life coach” who preached faith and family as life’s priority.

“Having tremendous experience as a goalie himself at JHU, Brian did a wonderful job with the goalies, building their confidence through drills and preparing them for ACC and NCAA competition,” Breschi said. “He connected with the players personally casting wisdom upon them from his years of playing and coaching the game of lacrosse.”

Recruiting will be a strong point for Holman because he knows all the national high school watering holes. He probably won’t get the blue-chip athletes yet, but he can sign solid players with strong work ethics.

“There are certain advantages to playing at Utah, like out-of-state students getting in-state tuition after one year at the university,” Holman said.

He will spend a lot of time on the West Coast and Canada this summer looking for players.

He has players on the roster from 15 states and wants to increase that to 18 by next season. He plans on having 75 to 80 players try out for the team and then cutting his roster to 45.

“I want 45 players, but if I only have 28 that will play hard, then we’ll go with 28,” Holman said. “”I want lunch pail guys, players who believe in working hard. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s just what you do.”

Tierney went through a similar building process at Denver when he became the Pioneers coach in 2010. But Denver had already been a Division I program for 10 years.

Holman is starting from scratch.

“Coming out west is unique to our traditionally East Coast sport, and the challenges are somewhat great when it comes to recruiting East Coast players, creating a viable schedule and gaining conference affiliation,” Tierney said.

The Utes are independents right now. But a lot of West Coast universities, such as Stanford, will be watching Utah. That’s why the Utes’ schedule during the next two seasons will include Denver, Duke, North Carolina and Hofstra.

“We’re picking up a lot of those expenses, but some of those teams have agreed to bite the bullets and make the trip,” Holman said. “They can kick our [butts] but also help us sell the game. Eventually, I’d like to get to the point where if you mention our names ,there are certain attributes or characteristics associated.

“Duke has that, so does Maryland, and if you say Syracuse, there are just things you think of. I want a team to have those direct attributions.”

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