(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. We’ve wrapped up the defense, also profiling the defensive linemen and linebackers. Now, we switch to the offense and start with the offensive linemen.)
No. 3 offensive lineman – Sonny Holland, Butte
A former Butte Bulldog and the all-time greatest Bobcat, Sonny Holland experienced unprecedented success at Montana State, both as a player and as a coach.
Sonny Holland stat sheet
Holland was a three-sport athlete at Butte in the 1950s, playing basketball and running track in addition to lining up on the football field. He started at center for the Bulldogs in 1954 and 1955 before attending Montana State, where he would ultimately become an all-time great Bobcat.
As a freshman captain in 1956, Holland helped lead the Bobcats to the NAIA national championship as the starting center and linebacker. During his time as a player, MSU lost just six games in four seasons, and Holland became a three-time all-American at center. He played in the 1959 East-West Game and ultimately had his No. 52 retired.
After his playing career, Holland immediately joined the coaching ranks. He was an assistant under Tom LeProwse at Bozeman for one season before he was hired on the staff at MSU, where he coached under Herb Agocs for one season and Jim Sweeney for two. Holland then coached at Great Falls CMR, Washington State and what-is-now Montana Western before returning to Montana State in 1970. He spent one season as an assistant under Tom Parac and was elevated to head coach in 1971.
While serving as the Bobcats’ head coach, Holland suffered one losing season – his first when they went 2-7-1. He then guided the team to six consecutive winning seasons, including the 1976 national championship, before stepping down after the 1977 season. The Bobcats posted a 12-1 record in 1976, defeating Akron, 24-13, for the Division II championship. Holland is the second-winningest coach in MSU history, compiling a record of 47 wins, 27 losses and one tie.
Holland was inducted into the Montana State Hall of Fame in 1986, the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Montana Football Hall of Fame in 2016. MSU also unveiled a bronze statue of Holland in front of Bobcat Stadium in 2016.
… on Holland:
Sonny Holland: “I always wanted to be a Bobcat. That was a big part of my upbringing and it was something really important to me. I felt like I was going to be a Bobcat from the beginning. There was never a doubt in my mind, and it turned out that’s the way it was.
“(1956) was just a glorious year, actually. We ended up playing in the national championship, something that was way out there as far as something I thought I’d ever be a part of. It developed, we had a great year, things came together and we just responded to each other. It was an exciting time for us, for sure.
“I think the records will back me up on this, we kind of came from behind (in a lot of games during the 1976 season). I don’t know how many games there in one stretch, but there were a number of games where we were behind and came out the victor. You do that by kids working hard every day in practice and realizing that practice isn’t over when you hang it up and go in the locker room. You just constantly preach togetherness and team and being No. 1. That has to be on the table every day. It’s something we made extremely important to the kids and they picked up on it and carried the ball.”
Former Montana State wide receiver Dan Davies: “He instantly had credibility when you met him and when he was out recruiting. He’s a good storyteller, a believable guy, a guy that had a different way of motivating than some other coaches – not that he wouldn’t yell and scream and get excited a lot of times, but a lot of times he didn’t have to raise his voice. He could get the players ready to go. He was a man of few words from the standpoint, he didn’t really ramble and ramble and ramble on, but what he said was on point. He had the unique ability to say the right things at the right time with the right inflection. You better open the door, because it’s time to go play.
“There’s a lot of names in the athletic history of Montana State that are iconic, so to speak. There’s not very many of them, but he’s certainly one of those guys. Max Worthington, Sonny Holland, Brick Breeden, those types of guys, he’s in that group. That group’s not very big. From a player to an assistant coach to a head coach, director the alumni association, just a great ambassador for Montana State, not just the athletic department. He’s so well respected, not only in Bozeman but throughout MSU and the whole state of Montana.”