Q&A With 1st Year Head Coach
SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD – After getting a front-row seat for various high school football program rebuilds across Central Jersey as an assistant coach, Austin Holman has now earned the chance to engineer his own revitalization.
Last week, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education officially approved Holman as the school’s new head varsity football coach. It is Holman’s first head coaching job after spending over a decade as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator for numerous prominent programs in the immediate area, such as Union, Elizabeth, and Colonia. He is Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s third head coach in the last four years, taking over for veteran Mark Ciccotelli.
Holman – whose brother, Tarig, has taken on a similar and successful rebuild at Neptune – inherits a team that has not won a regular season game since 2014. However, take one look at his resume, and it’s clear that Holman’s experience in helping rebuild programs makes him the right man for the job.
“I’ve been a part of a couple rebuilds,” Holman, who played wide receiver for Bowling Green in college, told TAPintoSPF. “From every single program I’ve been a part of, we were successful because we concentrated on the little things and building that camaraderie with the kids and coaches and all that altogether. Those were a couple things that prepared me.”
His coaching career began as an assistant at New Brunswick from 2004 to 2007 under John Quinn, who took the Zebras from rock bottom to a Group 3 state champion in 2006. It was under Quinn where Holman attributes learning the small intricacies that are key to a successful rebuild (the two will actually coach against each other in October, when the Raiders play Quinn’s Plainfield).
Holman then went to South Brunswick in 2008 and 2009, where he helped the Vikings win their first playoff game ever and transformed them into a power under head coaches Rick Mantz in ‘08 and then Tarig Holman in ‘09. Austin then took a position at Elizabeth in 2010, where he still teaches and is the head boys’ track coach. Also under Quinn, he helped revitalize the once-dominant Minutemen from a 1-9 season in 2009 into an undefeated state champion and New Jersey’s No. 1-ranked team in 2012. Holman then assisted at Union in 2016 and 2017, before serving as Colonia’s offensive coordinator last fall.
It was from all those coaching stops where Holman says he learned the value of hard work, dedication, and getting kids to buy in, which will be key in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood rebuild.
TAPintoSPF sat down for an exclusive interview with Holman Tuesday morning after the Raiders’ fourth non-contact practice of the summer, discussing the current state of the program and what the future outlook is in Q and A format.
Q: What attracted you to coming here to this job?
A: The first thing is, I knew that Scotch Plains always had some talent here. I knew they were a little bit down, but I knew that there was talent because [the other athletic programs] are good. I took a coach from each of those teams to build my staff here. Somebody working in this program is a part of each one of those programs. My thing was, let’s get the best athletes and best players in every sport to play football. I feel that we’re all teachers, and we’ve got to teach the game better. If we teach the game with the talent that we have here, success will come.
But my main thing that I’ve been harping on with the parents and the players from Day One when I first met them last Monday is trust. You’ve gotta trust that we’re going to do things differently and correctly. We’re gonna teach all the right things and techniques correctly, and we’re gonna be a service to you and your kids to better the program. It’s not like we’re hammering down on kids that ‘you need to get better’, or, ‘you need to get tougher’. We’re gonna teach how you get better and tougher, and why we do things.
Q: Do you have a short-term and long-term goal in rebuilding here?
A: My short-term is improvement and just competing at a higher level on all three facets of the games. SPF has been awesome on offense the last four years. But with the lack of concentration on special teams and on defense, you can’t win games like that. There’s a way that you have to build from all three. You can’t just say, ‘Alright, I’m working with this group, and the other groups are gonna suffer’. In the long run, on the scoreboard, everyone suffers if you don’t concentrate. My goal is that we’re gonna concentrate on all three facets and we’ll be proficient in all them. If we take care of the little things, that can become big things, and that can become wins. My short-term goal is just concentrating on the little things right now. I’ve seen the scores and I’ve watched the films. When I watched their film last year, I said to myself, ‘Why haven’t they won?’ I’m watching them on offense, then when they come out on defense, they don’t tackle. They don’t line up well. That’s lack of concentration, because on offense, it’s boom boom boom, scoring 40 or 50 points. But they’re giving up 45 or 50 points. We’ve just gotta level out and be consistent all the way around. That’s the short-term.
Long-term is just like anybody else. We want to be a staple of consistency here in Union County and here in this division; getting back to where we are respectable and winning games, possibly having a chance to play for a championship.
Q: What will you do to get numbers up and generate more interest in the program?
A: The first thing is that I reached out to every head coach. I reached out to the basketball and lacrosse coaches; I know the track coaches well; the wrestling coach is on my staff. I talked to them about how we can build a bridge. They’ve been excellent and very receptive to that. They’ve said, “Coach, whatever you need. I’m gonna put the best guys that I think can help the program out. I’ll push them to play for you’. That’s what it is – it’s not like I’m dangling $100 bills over kids’ heads. I had to go through the same spiel with the coaches – things are different now. Trust my process. This is what I’m planning on doing.
Being a head track coach, track is not the most glamorous sport in the world, but I needed other programs to help me. Clarence Wilkins was the anchor man on our state champion 4x400 team. Clarence is a two way starter in football, and guess what he does in the winter and spring? He runs track. Then kids say, ‘I’ll come out for track’. That correlation worked in Elizabeth. I’m trying to build the same thing here.
Q: Over the years, there have been many players in town that left to play at other powerhouses. Is it a goal of yours to work with the feeder program and keep kids in Scotch Plains?
A: Absolutely. I’ve been in constant contact with the PAL guys – Bruce Moran and Shawn Johnson. Eventually, I’m gonna run camps in the summertime just like all these other programs run camps for the little kids, and talk to parents about it. If you’re a good player, good players get found. Rashan Gary was going to Michigan if he stayed in Scotch Plains. He didn’t go to Paramus Catholic to go to Michigan and become a first round draft pick. He had that in him. If there’s talent, they’re [colleges] going to find talent – that’s they’re job. This whole thing where kids say, ‘I’m going to play on a bigger stage in Jersey’? Well, 20 years ago, the biggest stage was Union County Watchung Conference football.
Q: What is the perception of Scotch Plains from the teams around here?
A: Everybody is shocked as to why Scotch Plains is not successful. Everybody says that they’ve got players here; there are players walking around the hallway. I talked to Dr. Heisey, and he says it too. We’ve got kids here, but we can’t get them out. That’s my job – I’m going to get them out. I’m going to talk to the kids or I’ll call their parents, and say that this will be the best experience for them in the fall. This is something that can be a life-changer. I coached a lot of kids in track that didn’t come out until their senior years because they were ‘a football player’ or ‘a basketball player’, and then they come out and want to run track in college, and got money to do that. You don’t know what someone else is looking for.
I’m not gonna be a guy that will harp on being in the weight room in January. No, go wrestle or play hoops in January. Do something and compete. The one thing with teams that have not been successful is that there competitive edge is low, because they’re not used to winning. Find something that makes you successful, get good at it, and bring it to somewhere else.
Q: Scotch Plains was in a state championship at Giants Stadium in 2003. Will they get back there in the future?
A: Absolutely. Why not us? A lot of different place I’ve been, they didn’t think it was possible either. They never thought New Brunswick would win a state championship. Never thought South Brunswick would win a state championship. Never thought Elizabeth would be back to that level. All those things happened and I was a part of it. It’s been since 1990s since we’ve won here. It’s close to 30 years, but it can happen.