The UND football program was quick to move to replace defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt, who has left for a job at Fresno State.
On Thursday, the Fighting Hawks announced position coach Brett Holinka would be promoted to defensive coordinator.
“We are excited about Coach Holinka’s leadership on the defensive side of the ball,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert. “I felt he has the leadership qualities and his previous experiences will continue to help us improve on defense as well as our football team as a whole. As a former player, Brett is passionate about the University of North Dakota and Fighting Hawks football.”
Holinka, an inside linebacker for UND from 2005-08, was hired in 2019 to serve as the team's outside linebackers coach.
UND continued its trend of hiring a former linebacker to fill its defensive coordinator position, following Schmidt (2014-19), Josh Kotelnicki (2012-13), Mike Mannausau (2006-12) and Tim Tibesar (2004-05) in that role.
In 2018, Holinka, a 34-year-old Dickinson, N.D., native, was a defensive coordinator at the University of Mary.
"It's something you want as you're coming through the profession," Holinka said. "You want to get to this level. To do it at the University of North Dakota -- that's been a goal of mine. To get this big opportunity from coach Schweigert, I'm looking forward to it."
Holinka said UND will continue to run a 3-4 defense.
"We're still base 3-4; I don't think that'll change at the University of North Dakota," Holinka said. "That's who we are. You're going to put your tweaks and changes to what you're more comfortable with, but it's not like we're tearing up the playbook and starting over. Coach Schmidt did a fantastic job the last six years. We'll emphasize different things, but UND Fighting Hawk defense is 3-4 defense. Will we line up differently? Yeah. Will we look like we have four down (linemen) sometimes? Yeah. But really, it's just whether one guy is standing up or in a stance. I think some people buy too much into whether you're 3 or 4 (down linemen)."
Prior to joining the staff at Mary, Holinka spent three seasons at Winona State as the special teams coordinator and linebackers coach, as the Warriors went 10-2 and advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2017.
During that season, Winona State led the NSIC in punt returns, kick returns and overall kick coverage as well as scoring defense, total defense, takeaways, third-down efficiency, red-zone efficiency and opponent pass efficiency.
The previous season, the Warriors ranked second nationally in punt returns and sixth in total blocked kicks.
Holinka made stops at Rutgers (2012-2014) and St. Thomas (2010-11) to begin his coaching career, helping the Tommies reach the quarterfinals (2010) and semifinals (2011) of the NCAA Division III playoffs during each of his two seasons.
A two-year starter at linebacker for the Fighting Sioux, Holinka helped UND to a pair of North Central Conference titles in 2005 and 2006 and was named to the All-NCC Honorable Mention team as a linebacker in 2007. Holinka concluded his career as a member of the inaugural Division I team in 2008, earning All-Great West Conference honors.
UND will now have both coordinators from the program's 2004 recruiting class, as Holinka came to Grand Forks the same time as offensive coordinator Danny Freund, who enters his second season calling plays.
"(The staff) is young, and there'll be a lot of energy," Holinka said. "I've learned a lot from Danny in the past year. It's two UND guys. I think that's important. Why do guys want to come back here? Because it's a special place. The defensive coordinator job has had a long history of guys who really care about the program."
With the promotion of Holinka, UND will now need to hire a defensive line coach. Schmidt coached the defensive line in 2019 after Jordan Gigli left the program to take a similar job at Northern Illinois.