Holtz feeling at home at South Florida

Skip Holtz is used to facing high expectations. After all, he is in the same profession as his father, Lou Holtz — the last Notre Dame head coach to deliver the Fighting Irish a national championship.

So as the new leader at the University of South Florida, Holtz should have no problem stepping onto the campus of a burgeoning Big East program in a state ripe with great football talent.

When South Florida was looking for a new face of the program in January following the dismissal of former head coach Jim Leavitt, bringing Holtz aboard seemed like a no-brainer. Not only does he and his wife have family nearby, but the Bulls play in the Big East conference — a step up from Conference USA, where Holtz coached at East Carolina. In five years in Greenville, N.C., Holtz turned a program that didn’t register on the national radar into an annual bowl participant, making postseason appearances in four of his five seasons — including consecutive C-USA championships the last two seasons. The Pirates administration knew they had a winner in Holtz after his successful first head-coaching stint at Connecticut.

Surely, the South Florida brass knows it has a winner, as well.

Holtz is stepping into the shoes left behind by Leavitt, who was fired for allegedly striking a player during halftime of a game last fall. Leavitt built the Bulls into a very respectable major-conference program over the last decade, posting six eight-win seasons and just one losing season — 2004 — since his debut 5-6 campaign in 1997. Not bad for a program that did not enter the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) until 2001.

In addition to taking over a program that now expects to win annually, Holtz will inherit a position that will be under a microscope, fair or not, because of the allegation against Leavitt. However, the South Florida players have embraced Holtz since he arrived on campus. Perhaps they are well aware of his successful resume.

Career head coaching record


1994: 4-7 (4-4)
1995: 8-3 (5-3)
1996: 5-6 (3-5)
1997: 7-4 (4-4)
1998: 10-3 (6-2)

Total: 34-23 (22-18)

East Carolina

2005: 5-6 (4-4)
2006: 7-6 (5-3) Lost PapaJohns.com Bowl
2007: 8-5 (6-2) Won Hawai’i Bowl
2008: 9-5 (6-2) Lost Liberty Bowl
2009: 9-5 (7-1) Lost Liberty Bowl

Total: 38-27 (28-12)

In quarterback B.J. Daniels, Holtz and the Bulls have perhaps the league’s best and most versatile offensive player. After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Daniels had a great performance in the spring game and is expected to be fully ready for the start of fall camp. He threw for 1,983 yards and 14 touchdowns while adding 772 yards on the ground in 2009 after replacing Matt Grothe when he was lost for the season. Despite struggling with his accuracy (53.7 percent) and tossing nine picks, the 6-1, 210-pound Daniels is a dynamic runner who can make plays with his feet — a valuable trait for an offense that may ask him to carry the team at times. The Bulls are looking for help at receiver after losing Carlton Mitchell to the NFL and senior A.J. Love to a torn ACL in the team's spring game. In the backfield, new starting tailback Mo Plancher had just 581 yards last season and backup Demetris Murray has just 14 career carries. Both, however, will have the opportunity to run the ball more often than in the previous scheme.

The Bulls are still a work in progress defensively, which could ultimately prove to be their downfall in 2010. Only four starters return to a unit that lost four standouts to the NFL — defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy. Holtz’s unit at East Carolina last season was very experienced, thus very stingy. How good can coordinator Mark Snyder’s unit be?

Another potential problem? Nonconference road dates with Florida and Miami. However, games against the Gators and Hurricanes are just what Holtz loves about his new gig. He believes he can land the talent needed — in his backyard and across the country — to compete against the best teams in the nation.

And why can’t they? Holtz inherits a better location to recruit than at East Carolina, upgraded facilities, and better overall competition to help push the program to new heights.

The hire of Holtz at USF shouldn’t be judged after one season, however. While the Bulls have plenty of talent to go bowling in 2010, the impact of his hire won’t be felt until a few years down the road — possibly when the program is enjoying its very first bid to the Orange Bowl as Big East champions.

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