Watts named UTEP head coach
Leaves Florida State associate role for first stint at helm
EL PASO, Texas -– Holly Watts, who served as associate head coach for a Florida State team that averaged 26 wins the last five seasons, has been named UTEP’s new head volleyball coach.
Watts brings 19 years of Division I coaching experience to the Miners, including lengthy stints at Arkansas (1996-2008) and with the Seminoles (2008-13), where she worked with head coach Chris Poole. Together Poole and Watts were instrumental in producing thirteen 20-win seasons in 17 years, with 13 NCAA tournament appearances during that span.
“Holly will be a tremendous addition to an exceptional group of UTEP head coaches,” said director of athletics Bob Stull. “She was an outstanding player at the University of Texas and has enjoyed a phenomenal collegiate coaching career under the tutelage of Chris Poole, one of the nation’s top volleyball minds. She has extensive knowledge of the game and is well connected in recruiting. First and foremost, Holly is a quality person. We welcome Holly and her family to UTEP and look forward to the future of Miner volleyball under her leadership.”
“I am thrilled to be a part of the UTEP family,” Watts said. “Under the leadership of Bob Stull and Dr. Diana Natalicio, UTEP is making great strides to achieve Tier 1 status, and I am proud to be part of the growth. The team appears ready to undertake the tasks ahead, and I am also pleased to retain Julie Allen on our staff.
“I'm so thankful for the experiences I have had thus far and appreciate coach Chris Poole and his guidance these many years. I only hope to run as high of a quality program as he has displayed before me, with integrity and character. I want to thank Florida State University for the support they have given our staff and the well wishes they have sent with me.”
“Holly and I had an exceptional relationship as head and assistant coach,” said Poole. “She worked every day to make my job easier. Together we accomplished a top-15 ranking and won conference titles at two different schools. Every year I had schools interested in her and she kept staying. It is rare these days to have an assistant coach stay so long. I am very proud of Holly and without a doubt, she will make an outstanding head coach. However, just as important is that El Paso just added a first-class family person and role model to their community.”
A native of Devine, Texas, Watts returns to the Lone Star State for the first time since 1996, when she was an assistant coach at the University of Texas at Arlington. She played at Texas from 1989-93 and was elected the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1993. The Longhorns were consistently ranked in the nation’s top-20 during the course of Watts’ collegiate career, including No. 1 her senior season, and won five conference titles, including during her redshirt year of 1989. The team advanced to the NCAA Championship Regional Finals three times and was a regional semifinalist twice. A two-time team captain, Watts garnered All-Southwest Conference honors and was a member of the All-South Region Team her senior year. She won a silver medal as a member of the West Team at the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1990. Watts also played one season for the Texas basketball team (1993-94), helping the Longhorns to an SWC title and top-25 ranking.
She began her coaching career at UTA (1994-96), while also coaching the Texas Impact Volleyball Club team during that time. Watts moved on to Arkansas in 1996. The next 12 years (1996-2007) saw the Lady Razorbacks fashion a 272-129 mark, including 138-56 in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas made NCAA tournament appearances in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The Lady Razorbacks were SEC tournament champions in 1997, tournament runner-up in 2002 and 2003, and claimed nine SEC Western Division titles.
Watts’ specific responsibilities at Arkansas included coaching the middle blockers, an assignment that produced the first two All-Americans (Jessica Field, Kim Storey) in program history as well as an honorable mention All-American (Sara Kincaid).
She also founded the Ozark Juniors Volleyball Club team while in Fayetteville.
Since accompanying coach Poole to Florida State in 2008, Watts has been a part of a staff that compiled a 130-34 record, including 80-20 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In Poole’s first season (2008), Florida State registered its first 20-win campaign (21-9) in six years. A year later, the Seminoles captured their first ACC regular season title. They were also ACC champs in 2011 and 2012. The 2009 campaign resulted in 31 victories, including a near-perfect (19-1) league mark. Florida State played in the NCAA tournament each of the last four seasons (2009-12), reaching the semifinals in 2011.
Florida State’s other accomplishments during the last five years included a no. 7 final national ranking (2011), a 27-match home winning streak, a second team All-American (Jekaterina Stepanova) in 2011, a third team All-American and ACC Player of the Year (Ashley Neff) in 2012, and numerous victories against top-25 opponents. Florida State, USC and Western Kentucky are the only programs in the country to compile 28 wins or more in each of the last two seasons.
As the Seminoles’ middle blockers coach, Watts groomed a second team All-American (Brianna Barry), a third team All-American (Neff) and two honorable mention All-Americans (Jordana Price and Sareea Freeman). Barry was the 2009 ACC Player of the Year, and Freeman ranked second nationally in hitting percentage (.438) in 2012. In 2011, Watts was named the AVCA Assistant Coach of the Year after Florida State rated first in the ACC and seventh in the country in blocks per set (2.98). Neff was the national leader in total blocks (197) that year.
Watts was invited to assist with the U.S. National Team for several weeks in the summer of 1998, working with the country’s elite volleyball players and then-head coach Mick Haley.
She earned her degree in Kinesiology from Texas in 1994. She graduated in the top-five percent of her class at Devine High School (1989) and served as National Honor Society president as a senior. Her prep athletic accomplishments included being tabbed the 1988 San Antonio Express News Sportswoman of the Year. A three-sport star, Watts (formerly Holly Graham) was selected to numerous All-State volleyball and basketball teams and also won a silver medal in the shot put at the state track and field meet.
She and her husband, John Watts, have two sons, Jeremiah and Jared.