Hugh Freeze retained Ty Holder on Auburn football staff and recruiting benefits have shown

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AUBURN — Auburn football needed a running back, and Ty Holder had a plan.

The 29-year-old defensive coaching and recruiting assistant approached Carnell "Cadillac" Williams with an idea: A running back from South Florida, Holder's hometown university, had just entered the transfer portal. The back was small, listed at 5-foot-8, but Holder took his shot.

He showed Williams some film and the running backs coach liked what he saw.

"You think you could get him?" Williams asked.

"Yeah, for sure," Holder replied.

A phone call, a visit and, a few days later, Brian Battie committed to Auburn. He spent just three days in the portal after Holder's interest, even electing to forego a visit he had planned with Deion Sanders at Colorado.

It was a big win for Holder, who two months prior wasn't even sure if he'd have a job.

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Adding value

Holder wasn't looking to leave his role as a defensive graduate assistant at North Carolina in February 2021, but when Auburn secondary coach Zac Etheridge messaged him on Twitter, he had to see it through.

Etheridge inquired to see if Holder was interested in a similar position on the Plains. They spoke on the phone and set up an interview that night with Jeff Schmedding, then the defensive coordinator under former coach Bryan Harsin.

The interview led to a 30-minute call with Harsin the following day. Soon, Etheridge let Holder know the job was his if he wanted it.

"(Etheridge first messaged me on) like a Wednesday," Holder recalled. "Thursday they offered me the job and then I was moving up here on Saturday, so it was a quick turnaround.”

Holder was a graduate assistant at Auburn until August. He then moved into the off-field role of defensive coaching and recruiting assistant because of a surgery he had done related to an issue that dated back to high school.

About eight months after he was originally hired, though, Harsin was fired and the future of every staff member was in question.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous because you just never know. ... I just tried to see where I added value and tried to be myself and let them see me work," Holder said. "Here I am, I guess now still trying to add value.”

Ty Holder
Ty Holder

New coach Hugh Freeze was hired in November, and with him came a host of new assistants. Freeze, as every coach does upon arriving at a new job, purged the staff. Of the on-field positions, only two − Etheridge and Williams − were retained, and there weren't many behind-the-scenes assistants kept on board, either.

But Holder stayed.

“If you know me, I’ve got a very vibrant personality," Holder said of what may have led to his retention. "I just know how to connect well with people from all walks of life. I always say I’m a chameleon because I can fit in with anyone whether you’re white, black, rich, poor.

"I’m just a people person, and for some reason, I don’t know why, it’s like God blessed me with this nature to just be able to talk to anybody."

Student turned teacher

Holder played high school football at Tampa Catholic from 2010-12, winning rookie of the year honors as a sophomore and growing into the team's defensive MVP as a senior. He was rated a two-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite and ultimately signed with Ball State.

After redshirting his freshman year with the Cardinals, Holder appeared in 37 games as a defensive back from 2013-16, racking up 73 total tackles, 17 pass deflections and five interceptions. His redshirt senior season was limited to three games, however, due to a torn triceps.

With his college career over and the NFL Draft passed, it took roughly two years for Holder to return to the field in a competitive setting, joining the Alliance of American Football in September 2018 and the XFL in October 2019. Once the pandemic struck and halted the XFL's operations, though, Holder was ready to make a change.

He reached out to former coach, Jay Bateman, who is now at Florida, to discuss getting into coaching. His father, Bobbie, was also a coach, leading Armwood High School in Florida to back-to-back state championships from 2003-04 and nearly secured a third, but ran into Tim Tebow and Nease High School in 2005.

The conversation with Bateman helped Holder land the job at UNC, where he would stay for 17 months.

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"It wasn’t really a difficult transition (from playing to coaching) because I prayed about it," Holder said. "I just told God, ‘If you let me get this coaching job, I’ll hang it up for good.’ ... Since then, things have happened that’ve let me know I’m on the right track and this is the career I should be in and the path I should be on.”

Being under 30, Holder said he's young enough to relate to players, but also old enough to have made mistakes in which he can base his teachings. He recalled a moment at UNC when a player told him, "You’re one of the guys, but yet you’re still an OG."

"When I’m sitting there and we’re installing, in my head I’m like, ‘When I was a player, was this easy enough for me to grasp? Or do I understand the concept?’ The best teachers are the best simplifiers," Holder said. "... As a coach, it’s your job to make it where everyone can understand it."

Holder likes both aspects of his job − recruiting and coaching − but the allure of getting to know guys and letting his personality shine when convincing them to visit Auburn is where the passion lies, and it's what helped the Tigers land someone like Battie.

And if Holder gets his way, it's what'll allow him to be a head coach one day.

Richard Silva is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at or on Twitter @rich_silva18.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Hugh Freeze: Auburn football coach's staff decision helps recruiting