College Lacrosse

Utah adds men's lacrosse as a varsity sport

Ten years ago, when Brian Holman was one of the most successful mortgage brokers in Baltimore, he would never have envisioned this.

 On Friday morning, Holman was formally named head coach of the nation's newest Division I men's lacrosse program. Utah announced in a press conference this morning that it is establishing men's lacrosse as a varsity sport.

 Holman, who was hired as head coach in July, 2016, played a prominent role in getting the Utah program elevated from club status. The Anne Arundel County native now faces the challenge of getting the Utes ready for Division I competition beginning with the 2019 season.

 "It's just a great day for lacrosse in Utah and in the West in general. A lot of media outlets are going to pick this up and be very excited about it," said Tim Haslam, spokesman for the Utah program. "Lacrosse, for a long time, has been dominated by the East Coast. So to see lacrosse come out West is huge."

 Utah will become the western-most school to field a Division I program, a distinction currently held by Air Force and Denver. Holman is hopeful the Pac-12 Conference member will spur other Division I schools on the West Coast to add men's lacrosse as a varsity sport.

 "We are praying this decision will change the game. We'd love to see a Pac-12 Conference for men's lacrosse one day," Holman said. "It is absolutely huge for the sport to have a major university like Utah to join the Division I ranks. We are hoping four or five other schools follow suit."

 Holman noted there will be a Pac-12 Conference for women's lacrosse beginning in 2018 as six schools (Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, USC and Stanford) field varsity programs.

 Utah athletic director Chris Hill officially announced the addition of men's lacrosse in a 10 a.m. press conference on Friday. It becomes the school's first completely new NCAA sport since women's soccer was added back in 1995.

 With the addition of men's lacrosse, Utah will support 20 total NCAA sports — eight men's and 12 women's.

 "A lot of research and effort went into our decision to add men's lacrosse," Hill said in a statement.

 "With several great club sports expressing an interest in achieving NCAA status, a working committee was formed to determine the parameters for adding a new sport. Among the factors considered were the potential impact on our other teams, financial self sustainability, compliance with Title IX and popularity in our community. Men's lacrosse met those criteria."

 David Neeleman, who has founded four commercial airlines (JetBlue, Westjet, Morris Air, Azul Brazilian), is a major finanacial backer of the men's lacrosse program. The Utah graduate, whose son is a currently a member of the club team, created a "Founder's Club to endow key components of the fledgling Division I program.

 "It is the first endowed program for University of Utah athletics," Hill said. "Nowadays, adding sports at the college level almost always requires an endowment, which resonated with the university-appointed committee."

 Other college coaches welcomed the Utah announcment as the number of Division I varsity programs has not nearly kept pace with the exponential number of youngsters playing the sport across the United States. Michigan was the last Power Five conference school to add men's lacrosse as a varsity sport, doing so in 2012.

 "This is a great step for the sport of men's lacrosse. Utah joining the ranks of Division I is a testament to the growth of our sport and its popularity," Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala said.

 Holman led Utah's club program to a 10-7 record in 2017, its first winning season since 2010. The Utes captured the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference championship for the first time to earn an automatic berth into the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Tournament, ending a 12-year drought.

 Holman and his staff, which includes his son Marcus, has been hustling to put together recruiting classes for the next two years. Utah has 25 players in its 2017 recruiting class and already has 15 more committed for 2018.

 "There are 16 different states represented among the 40 kids we have coming in the next two years," Holman said. "I think there is a huge advantage to being on the West Coast. I envision being able to recruit very successfully here in our state as well as Colorado, California and Texas. We've also got a kid coming from British Columbia so I plan to recruit the western part of Canada as well."

 Holman said Utah men's lacrosse will be fully-funded, which means it will have 12.6 scholarships per year to distribute.

 Lacrosse has exploded in Utah and Holman said research shows there are 10,000 boys playing the sport within a 50-mile radius of the school's Salt Lake City campus. Holman said there are half a dozen current Division I players from the state with Maryland-bound attackman Bubba Fairman is one of the highest-rated recruits in the class of 2017.


 Holman grew up in Shady Side and attended Southern High for three years, starring in football and lacrosse. Dick Keck, the boys' lacrosse coach at Southern in those days, thought his goalkeeper had immense talent and recommended he transfer to Severn School to gain more exposure.

 Holman spent two years at Severn School, playing football for Pete Dewalt and lacrosse for Kurt Kimball and Eddie Mullen. The 1979 Severn graduate earned a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University and became a three-time All-American goalie. Hopkins, which was led by Hall of Fame head coach Henry Ciccarone at the time, was the NCAA runner-up three times during Holman's career.

 "I didn't have the greatest relationship with Coach Ciccarone when I was a player, but looking back I realize what an incredible influence he had on me," Holman said. "Chick's passion, work ethic, competitiveness and attention to detail were second to none."

 Holman initially got into coaching as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater under head coach Don Zimmerman and was part of the staff that led Johns Hopkins to three national championships from 1984 through 1987.

 "Zimm taught me an awful lot about coaching. He brought such tremendous professionalism and preached that all the small things matter," said Holman, who also counts longtime Hopkins assistant Fred Smith as an important mentor.

 Holman, who spent a total of seven seasons at Hopkins, later served as an assistant at Boys' Latin and as head coach of the Breakers Club Lacrosse program.

 Holman made a fortune as founder and co-owner of Central Money Mortgage, a Baltimore-based mortgage banking company. However, he sustained significant losses as a result of the real estate collapse and subsequent stock market devaluations. He was also involved in a lengthy lawsuit with IMC Mortgage Company, which purchased the assets of CMM.

 Somewhat disillusioned and looking for a new career opportunity, Holman says he received some sage advice from his wife Laurie.

 "My wife pointed out that I seemed to be at my best and happiest when I was coaching," Holman recalled. "So we jumped off a cliff and moved to North Carolina on a wing and a prayer."

 Holman was hired as a volunteer assistant at North Carolina by head coach Joe Breschi in 2009. It was not a paid position and Holman was humbled by having to wash uniforms and clean out lockers.

 Laurie Holman joined her husband in Chapel Hill and got a job as Director of Operations for the North Carolina women's program. Their three children — Matt, Marcus and Sydney — all played lacrosse for the Tar Heels.

 Breschi eventually promoted Holman to full-time assistant coach and he served as co-defensive coordinator while working with the goalkeepers and running the substitution box. He also organized North Carolina's camps and clinics program.

 "I'm really proud of what our entire family was able to accomplish at North Carolina," Holman said. "I was blessed to be able to coach my two sons and watch my daughter play. It was a life-changing opportunity and I will be forever indebted to Joe Breschi for what he did for me and my family."

 After helping North Carolina capture the 2016 NCAA Division I national championship, the program's first since 1996, Holman felt the urge to become a head coach. He received a few feelers from various schools, but none felt right.

 "I wanted to be able to build something special and ultimate compete for a national championship," he said.

 Holman never dreamed those goals could be achieved at Utah, which has fielded a club program since the late 1980s. He was recruited for the head coaching job primarily by Neeleman, whose passion for both Utah and lacrosse came through loud and clear.

 "I took three trips to Salt Lake City and turned down the job twice, but David eventually convinced me that this could be something powerful," Holman said. "So Laurie and I jumped off the cliff again."

 Now Holman is more convinced than ever that he can build a strong Division I program at Utah, which will officially become a varsity program on July 1, 2018. The Utes will play one more season in the MCLA while preparing for the monumental move.

 "This plan has been really well thought out and extremely well executed," Holman said. "I believe we can build a quality schedule for year one and I don't think we'll have any trouble attracting quality players."

 Making this opportunity more special is the fact Holman will work side-by-side with his son. Marcus Holman was a two-time All-American at North Carolina and is now a high-scoring attackman with the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse.

 "It's like a dream come true to be able to coach with my son. I get emotional just talking about it," the elder Holman said. "I'm so proud of Marcus as both a lacrosse player as a person. Marcus made himself into a great lacrosse player and he has brought that some grinder mentality to coaching."

 Former Virginia goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman (Atlanta Blaze) and former Massachusetts attackman Will Manny are the other Utah assistants.

 "I've got an incredible coaching staff that knows how to teach and recruit," Holman said. "Our teams are going to play really, really fast and really, really free."