Life came at Matt Holly fast.
The longtime West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade assistant went from coaching Team USA’s 19U team in Italy to being named the newest head coach at Woodland Hills (Calif.) William Howard Taft High on May 5, in just one week’s time.
While his decade-long run at Chaminade has come to an end, Holly tells Scout he’s loving the title of head coach. He's embracing the challenge of resurrecting a once-proud Los Angeles-area program that not only fell to 2-8 last season, but has only produced two winning seasons in a six-year span.
“It’s an exciting time for me as a coach after putting in a decade worth of work,” Holly said. “I feel like I’m prepared and ready. It’s an exciting time for Taft because they’re getting a great coach and a great support system.”
Holly is well aware that turning around a charter school program with an enrollment of 2,500 -- a program that once produced former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr., free agent offensive tackle Darrion Weems and former NFL cornerback Justin Tryon -- won’t be done overnight.
Taft has not only had trouble with producing a consistent winning product in the last six years, but is also dealing with roster turnover, as Taft players have often drifted off to the nearby private schools in the San Fernando Valley.
Holly – who works in real estate when he's not coaching – wanted to go to a place where building something back up and influencing players to stay home came with the territory.
“I think it was the fact that I wanted to rebuild something,” Holly said when asked about what attracted him about the Taft opening. “Ego aside, I think every coach wants to leave a mark. Taft has a lot of potential to be great again. They’re a team a lot of people will go and underestimate. Plus, having been with Ed (Croson) at Chaminade, I have a pretty good implementation structure on how to build programs. I know what works to get the job done. That’s what we’re in right now. In phase one, it’s turn Taft around.”
The Toreadors not only endured their worst football season in over a decade last season, but lost six games by a margin of 20 points or more while going against the San Fernando Valley slate.
While the former University of San Diego wide receiver has the utmost belief that Taft can get back to its winning and producing legit college football talent ways once again, he already has one strong endorsement, from close friend and fellow Chaminade defensive assistant David Padilla.
“He’s kind of an organizational type of coach," Padilla said. "I think he’ll be good for Taft because he can delegate well and get a good staff. I think the administration is trying to get the program back on track. They have the players but they just need the direction. I think Holly can provide that.”
Holly's biggest vote of confidence happens to be his former Chaminade football boss and his ex-prep football coach – the longtime Eagles leader Croson.
“He’ll be as passionate as he needs to be, but he’s a smart guy,” Croson said. “That guides him a little bit more. He handles the intellectual part of the game. He’s a good guy who relates well with kids, is positive and has a good rapport with them.
“He’s not a bully, a mean guy or jump on the desk and yell type of guy.”
Croson coached Holly in the mid-1990s – and the latter eventually became drawn to coaching and decided to latch on with the Eagles’ head man.
“He always came back to coach the kids. It was his hobby in the beginning, but then it became his passion,” said Croson, who added Holly stood on the sidelines with him during his time at Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham before moving on to join Croson.
Holly becomes the 16th assistant from the Croson coaching tree to become a head coach at any level. Like Holly, Croson himself is aware that rehabilitating Taft won’t be a walk in the park.
“It’s a rebuilding thing with what he’s doing at Taft,” Croson said. “What Holly brings to the table will be an attention-to-detail in all aspects of a kid’s life. I think he’ll help kids focus more on education and the things that will take them farther in life.
“It’s going to take some time. For whatever reason, it’s been a steady decline at Taft. He’s got his work cut out for him. But he’s a great guy for it because he’s built for it.”
Holly hasn’t held his first practice in full pads yet at Taft, but already illustrated this description of Toreadors football under his guidance.
“Expect a team that plays extremely hard, fast, disciplined, smart and will play to win,” Holly said.
Plus, he’s reminding people that he’s been in the situation before with taking a program that fell on hard times and turned it into a state powerhouse again.
“We took a Chaminade program that was dead in the water and then we won a state title (in 2013),” Holly said. “Taft actually has great facilities and smart kids. I think we’ll have a lot of the same things that a lot of schools have. It’s in a great location. I think kids who still want a great education should go to Taft. They may be lacking in players in terms of size of roster and reputation, but I’ve been met with a lot of searing optimism from the staff and parents. They’re excited to step in, help and get things turned around. The players are going to buy in and they’re going to win games.”