Who Is Chris Holtmann?
If you don't know who Chris Holtmann is, you may find out all about him really soon because he's considered one of the top young coaches in the country.
Holtmann grew up in Nicholasville, Kentucky, where he rooted for the Wildcats, and he parlayed a strong prep career into a chance to play guard for Taylor University, a NAIA school in Upland, Indiana. He went on to earn NAIA All-American honors in 1994 playing alongside current Illinois head coach John Groce.
He knew right away that coaching was what he wanted to do for his profession, and in 1997 he accepted an assistant coaching job at his alma mater. A year later he headed to Geneva College before returning to Taylor for another stint in 1999 where he continued to impress head coach Paul Patterson, who is in the NAIA Hall of Fame.
"Chris is a bright, energetic, tireless worker who has been a high achiever his entire career," said Patterson.
In Holtmann's final two seasons at Taylor, the Trojans posted a 50-16 record, won back-to-back conference titles, and ranked in the Top 15 of the NAIA national poll. That led to him getting the opportunity to work at Gardner-Webb University, located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He spent five years as an assistant, the final four as associate head coach, before teaming back up with college teammate Groce at Ohio University.
Holtmann played a critical role in Ohio University's success under Groce. From 2008-2010, he helped build back-to-back top classes as recruiting coordinator for Ohio, and he helped lead the Bobcats to the 2010 Mid-American Conference Tournament title and an upset of No. 3 seed Georgetown in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Later that year he received his big break. Gardner-Webb's head coaching job opened up, and the Bulldogs came calling. Holtmann returned to the school, looking to build a program that won just eight total games the season before his arrival.
"I think Gardner-Webb caught Chris on the way up," local prep talent evaluator Dave Telep said of Holtmann at the time of the hiring. "He's a grinder who knows his way around our state and has always done a good job with his evaluations. They don't get after it much harder than Chris Holtmann."
"Chris Holtmann is one of the rising young coaches in the game today," analyst Jeff Goodman added. "He's a guy who just flat-out gets it. He has a tremendous work ethic, connects with his players, can recruit and also knows the game. There just aren't a lot of guys in the business who have that type of versatility. Just look at the success Gardner-Webb had when he was on staff - and then check out what Ohio University did this past season. It's no coincidence that Chris has been an integral part of both situations."
He won 11 and 12 games respectively his first two seasons at the school, and heading into his third campaign the Bulldogs were projected to finish fifth among the six schools of the Big South's South Division. However, Holtmann led his team to a school record 21 wins, including wins in 10 of their last 11 regular season games. The team finished second in the Big South and after losing in the tournament semifinals the Bulldogs accepted a bid to play in the CIT, the first Division I postseason appearance in the school's history.
Holtmann won Big South Coach of the Year honors, and was named the NABC District 3 Coach of the Year.
Later that summer he accepted a position to join Brandon Miller's staff at Butler as an assistant coach, where he spent one year before taking over as head man after Miller took a leave of absence.
In his first two seasons, Holtmann won 45 games at Butler. His teams were an impressive 22-14 in Big East play. He is one of only two coaches in Butler history to lead the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons, joining Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Holtmann’s teams have not only made the NCAA Tournament in each season, the Bulldogs advanced to the Second Round in both 2015 and 2016.
Butler already has over 20 wins this season and Holtmann has his team in contention to compete for the Big East Tournament title. After being picked to finish sixth or seventh heading into the year, the Bulldogs finished second.
He is receiving heavy consideration for National Coach of the Year and has already been named Big East Coach of the Year.
What Makes Him A Viable Candidate?
Holtmann is emerging as one of the top mid-major coaches in the country, and that certainly has to appeal to NC State.
First of all, look at what he's done just at Butler. Sure, there is a perception that everyone wins at Butler, and it all started with Barry Collier, who built the program in the Horizon League into a perennial power. Starting in 1997, the Bulldogs won 17 regular season and/or tournament titles over the next 15 years. It didn't matter the coach... Collier, Lickliter, Matta, Stevens... they just kept winning. It was the premier program in what many considered a low-major league.
However, when conference expansion began, Butler was one of the few programs that made multiple moves. First the Bulldogs jumped to the A-10, where they finished third under Brad Stevens. After back-to-back third place finishes (one the final year in the Horizon), Stevens jumped to the NBA, just in time for Butler to make the HUGE jump up to the Big East.
Former Butler point guard Brandon Miller took over, and the Bulldogs finished ninth in a ten-team league, going 14-17 overall and 4-14 in league play. One of the moves Miller made was to hire Holtmann away from Gardner-Webb, and it was Holtmann who stepped up to relieve Miller after the season when he took a medical leave of absence. Initially an interim move, Holtmann was quickly tabbed permanent head coach and faced the daunting task of rebuilding Butler in a league that featured programs such as Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, and Marquette
Holtmann instantly started to win big. He led the Bulldogs to a second-place finish his first year, despite losing four players to transfer prior to the season. His first signature win came over No. 5 North Carolina in the Battle for Atlantis. He followed up that season with a fourth-place finish and the Bulldogs came in second this year. Three top-four league finishes his first three years in the Big East at Butler... a program low on resources, budget, and funding relative to the other programs in the league.
It is that type of a rebuilding job that catches the eye of athletic directors. Yes, Butler has won a lot recently with different head coaches, but they hadn't done it in a high-major conference.
When you watch his teams, they play extremely hard and rely on aggressive intensity on both ends of the court. The Bulldogs are currently 19th nationally in offensive efficiency and are outscoring teams by 8.3 points per game, 40th-best in the country. His first team at Butler was Top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency which shows that he is capable of winning with an offensive or defensive-minded approach.
Also, Holtmann's squad has proven to be able to compete with the big boys, as they already have wins over Villanova (twice), Cincinnati, Arizona, and Indiana among others. Those types of wins against proven coaches are eye-catching because in the ACC it's a guarantee that you'll face quality coaching every single night. One of his biggest reported strengths is the ability to put his teams in the best possible position to win and that is pivotal.
As previously stated, he's built multiple programs in Butler and Gardner-Webb... another trait that Debbie Yow is looking for in NC State's next coach. What's really impressive is he's done it at non-elite programs relative to their league. It's one thing to rebuild or win at Dayton or Wichita State for instance, two schools with major resources relative to their league, but to do so in the Big East at Butler or the Big South at tiny Gardner-Webb. Strong.
Another reason Holtmann can be viewed as a legitimate candidate is he has ties to the region as a recruiter and is strong as a recruiter. He spent eight years in North Carolina recruiting the state while at Gardner-Webb and continued to do so at Butler, where he played a role in Tyler Lewis spurning multiple high-major offers to transfer from NC State to Butler.
Because of the mass defections Butler has used the transfer route to quickly re-tool the roster that suffered mass defections after the Stevens departure but that hasn't stopped them from landing strong prep classes as well. The 2016 class included talented center Joey Brunk, who picked the Bulldogs over Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Purdue among others, and guard Kamar Baldwin who had offers from Clemson and Ole Miss.
Butler's 2017 class is led by four-star combo forward Kyle Young, an AAU teammate of NC State freshman guard Markell Johnson. One of the best players to ever sign with Butler, Young spurned teams like NC State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida, and Wisconsin among others. Young headlined a four-man class ranked in the Top 25 nationally and as high as 11th by one publication. It also included signee Christian David, who had offers from Baylor, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Florida among others.
Holtmann and his staff are flat-out getting it done on the recruiting trail, and he has ties in the midwest, northeast, and southeast. Debbie Yow will certainly want a proven recruiter heading up the men's basketball program, and Holtmann is proving he can do just that.
Another plus is his age. At 45, Holtmann is still "young" for a college basketball coach but not too young. He has experience as an assistant and head coach, and his age would give him a chance to continue growing as a coach and into the position.
Finally, Holtmann makes sense financially. Exact terms of his salary are undisclosed because Butler is a private school, but it is believed that he's making around one million per year. NC State can more than double, maybe triple his current salary, which could go a long way to potentially luring him away from the Bulldogs.
Holtmann is a young program builder who can recruit nationally against Power Five programs and is probably underpaid relative to his resume/success. There's a lot of reasons why he'd certainly appeal to NC State.
What Makes Him A Longshot?
Really it probably comes down to if he would want to take on the challenge of re-building NC State or just continuing to win at Butler. As with most coaches, that's normally the case.
Holtmann is in a solid situation at Butler, a program that has recent tradition and there isn't a lot of pressure to win. Maybe he would choose to continue to stay at the school and wait on other opportunities, like Indiana for instance?
Also, there is some belief that he may not fit what NC State needs from a personality standpoint. Holtmann is known for having a calm demeanor, laid-back personality. Some believe NC State needs a fiery coach to handle the Wolfpack job and live up to expectations from the fanbase. While that's certainly not a requirement, it does seem like NC State fans gravitate to coaches who coach with emotion.
Finally, maybe Holtmann doesn't want to leave the Midwest. Sure, he's spent eight years in North Carolina at Gardner-Webb, but he grew up in Kentucky and attended college in Indiana, where he met his wife. He left his head coaching position at Gardner-Webb to take an assistant job at Butler. Did he do that to get back in the Hoosier state?
Honestly, while these are some reasons, there's really not a lot that would definitively make Holtmann a longshot for NC State. It's our expectation that he would seriously consider the Wolfpack if they approached him about the head coaching position.
Pack Pride's Take
Chris Holtmann is an impressive, impressive guy the more you learn about him and his accomplishments.
Debbie Yow used the term "grinder" when asked about what she's looking for in the next head coach. Well, Holtmann is the definition of grinder, and he's proving to be a quality head coach who could be interested in coaching in arguably the best conference in the country.
For more of our take on Chris Holtmann, click here.