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Nov 12, 2023

Lawson Holland | The Last Word

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Georgia Tech football gameday program.

One of the common denominators on the coaching staffs of the Tigers’ three national championship teams has been the influence of Clemson graduates. Each of the 1981, 2016 and 2018 staffs have had at least three former Clemson graduates.

One of the most popular coaches with the players and staff on the 1981 team was 29-year-old Wide Receivers Coach Lawson Holland. He was the second-youngest member of Danny Ford’s staff (Willie Anderson was the youngest) that averaged 35 years of age. That included the 33-year-old Ford, still the youngest head coach to win a national title.

I was in my second year at Clemson in Bob Bradley’s sports information office in 1979 when Holland came to Clemson for his first full-time job in college football. I was just 23 at the time, and we became good friends.

Clemson has a history of young coaches at the wide receiver position who are outstanding recruiters, and Holland certainly filled that identity. Holland had the respect of his players, because he cared about them off the field as much as he did when it came to their performance on Saturdays.

I reflected on Holland and his contributions to the Tiger program this summer when he passed away at his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C. after a long bout with heart disease.

In reading his obituary, I came across a post from one his former players, All-ACC wideout Terrance Roulhac.

“My deepest sympathy to Coach Holland’s family, especially his wife, Cathy, and children. He encouraged me, challenged me and was always good to me. I am so appreciative of what I learned from him even after our football relationship was over. I don’t just call him ‘coach,’ I call him, ‘my friend.’ Love you, God bless you and take your rest.”

Perry Tuttle is another of his former players who gives great testimony to Holland’s impact on his players’ maturity. Tuttle was the most decorated player Holland coached in his seven years (1979-85) at Clemson and perhaps during his entire coaching career that lasted until 2003, when he coached in the NFL under Steve Spurrier with Washington.

“I remember when he first came to Clemson, and he and Cathy moved into Mauldin Hall,” said Tuttle.

In addition to his job as wide receivers coach, he supervised the football dorm.

“I spent nearly every night in their apartment talking.”

How close were Tuttle and Holland? When the couple had a son, they named him Jake Warren Holland. The middle name was in honor of Perry Warren Tuttle.

“To have Lawson and Cathy name a son after me was about as high an honor as I have had.”

Tuttle was a first-team All-American in 1981 under Holland’s tutelage, and he became a first-round draft pick, the 19th overall selection by the Buffalo Bills.

“I was under a lot of pressure my senior year, and he was someone I could turn to. I remember my Senior Day game against Maryland in 1981. My father had a problem with alcohol and had never seen me play in person. My mom told me the Wednesday before the game he was coming to the game, and I was struggling with it.

“I went to Coach Holland, and he talked me through it. He was always there for me.”

Tuttle went on to have one of the best games of his career with 10 receptions for 151 yards, and he broke Jerry Butler’s Clemson career reception record that afternoon.

“When I was at my lowest as a rookie with the Bills, it was Coach Holland who would call. I told him, ‘Coach, this is not college…I miss Clemson.’

“He helped me so much that first year. Lawson didn’t play at the highest level, but he had a great perspective about the game and what it was like to play in the NFL.”

Holland was a quarterback at Clemson, but lettered only in 1974. He threw only five passes in his career, but he could let it rip as a young coach during practice.

“When we went through practice, sometimes I would kid Homer (Jordan) that I would rather have Coach Holland throw passes to me than him,” said Tuttle with a laugh. “He threw a nice spiral.”

At the end of our recent talk, Tuttle told me the following.

“Lawson Holland was a good man. You look back on your life and think of people you would want to thank. Lawson Holland would be in my top 10 to say ‘thank you’.”