Can Holtz, USF challenge Florida’s Big Three in recruiting?

 Tampa—The billboard along Interstate-275 is huge, proclaiming a “Holtz New Era” for football at the University of South Florida (USF). The oversized photo of Louis Leo (Skip) Holtz, Jr., son of Lou and Beth, has a big smile.

“Don’t think you’re going to sell a lot of season tickets with that face,” said Holtz, just moments before practice.

But here is what Skip Holtz can sell. He can sell the belief that tomorrow is going to be better than today. He can sell his knowledge that there are four BCS schools in the state of Florida (Florida, Florida State, Miami, and USF) and that he is at one of them. He can sell the fact that he knows how to build programs and win games because he did at Connecticut, a program he built from scratch that is now a member of the Big East, and at East Carolina, where he took the Pirates to consecutive Conference USA championships (2008-2009). He posted seven winning seasons in 10 as a head coach before he left Greenville, N.C. to take the South Florida job last January.

“We weren’t looking to move but when this opportunity came along we had to take it,” said Holtz. “Look at what we have here. There is simply no ceiling on this program and what we can do here.”

The circumstances that made the South Florida job become available for Holtz are regrettable. Jim Leavitt came here from Kansas State in 1995 when the entire football program consisted of a mobile home in an open field. It started from less than scratch. Before Leavitt would leave he had taken USF football from Division I-AA to Division I-A and from Conference USA to a member of the Big East Conference. In September of 2007 USF upset No. 5 West Virginia at home in Raymond James Stadium. Later that year the Bulls rose to No. 2 in the BCS standings. Once USF joined the Big East in 2005, Leavitt guided the Bulls to five straight bowl games.

“I have been signing Jim’s praises since I got here because he and his staff did a remarkable job,” Holtz said. “I hate the history of the situation and the way it ended for him. But that does not negate what he did here.”

Leavitt was fired on January 8, 2010 amid accusations that he had struck a player during halftime of a game. He was also charged with misleading investigators in an attempt to cover up the action. Leavitt has denied the charge but school officials determined that he was not being truthful and let him go. Leavitt has filed a lawsuit claiming that he was falsely terminated and seeks a $7 million settlement for the years remaining on his contract.

So Holtz walks into a program that has had some success on a national scale but has never been able to get over the hump to win a Big East championship. After rising to No. 2 in 2007, the Bulls lost their next three games and fell completely out of the BCS Standings.

“We’ve had our moments here and that is something to build on. But our goal is to win the Big East championship and go to a BCS bowl,” said Holtz. “There is no reason we can’t do that here. We have everything we need.”

USF plays in a first class NFL Stadium. There are over 46,000 students on a campus that is located in prime recruiting territory. Now, said Holtz, “we have to go out and convince great players that everything they want is right here. They don’t have to leave home.”

To do that, said Holtz, USF must have some success on the field against the Big Three—Florida, Florida State, and Miami. The Bulls won at Florida State last season in a major shocker. They will go to Florida (Sept. 11) and Miami (Nov. 27) this season.

“I want to play those guys because that is the level where we want to compete,” said Holtz. “And until we have some success against them, it’s going to be tough to win the head to head recruiting battles particularly in other parts of the state.”

Holtz won one of those early recruiting battles with a Big Three school when Tampa cornerback Terrence Mitchell, one of the best in the state, had verbally committed to Florida State but decided to sign with USF last February.

“That was big,” said Holtz. “Really big.”

Holtz is going to have to build his first USF team without five defensive players who were invited to the NFL combine. Defensive ends George Selvie, a two-time All-America, and Jason Pierre-Paul could play for anybody.

But he does have a quarterback. When senior Matt Grothe, a four-year starter and the Big East’s all-time leader in total offense, was lost last September to a knee injury, redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels stepped in. In his first college start Daniels had 341 of USF’s 348 yards of total offense in a stunning 17-7 victory over Florida State. Daniels, we might add, is a native of Tallahassee.

Like most coaches, Holtz has moved around in his career. The played his high school football in Fayetteville, Ark., where Lou was the head coach of the Razorbacks. He graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business management. Between two coaching stints with Lou at Notre Dame (1990-93) and South Carolina (1999-2003), Holtz built the program at Connecticut.

But Holtz could be at South Florida a while. His parents’ primary residence is in Orlando. His wife is from Port Charlotte, about an hour away. He has a brother in Daytona Beach.

“It seemed like every Christmas, every summer, every spring break we would come down here,” said Holtz. “This feels like home.”

USF officials believe that Holtz will take what has been a moderately successful program and at least make the Big Three have to work a little harder in recruiting. “I’m not saying that we could go into Tallahassee and take their best player, but I am saying that we want to make it very difficult for one of those schools to come here and taken one of our best players,” said Holtz. “If we can do that, we’ll be headed in the right direction.”

It should be fun to watch.


 Please follow me on Twitter:

77 comments Add your comment


April 13th, 2010
2:52 pm

USF continues to rise. They will be another obstacle in UF’s quest to continue dominating recruiting in the state of Florida. At least that is the hope of all of UF’s SEC opponents. Holtz is definitely a step in the right direction.


April 13th, 2010
3:48 pm

For the guy that said 45k enrollment doesn’t count if you are a commuter school: that makes no sense. If the students are taking classes on the campus, what difference does it make if they can live at home close by or not? But even if it did make some magical difference, it’s not even true. USF has more students living on campus than FSU.


April 13th, 2010
4:17 pm

USF will be the georgia of the state of florida they will get the occasional 4 star recruit that doesn’t want to leave home and wants playing time right away , but just like georgia they will not be able to compete for the real players they will all go to Florida, Fla st, miami, and Ga tech and alabama , but they will be a good second rate program just like the pups 7 or 8 wins a year is ok for the these type of programs

help, I live in Ga

April 13th, 2010
4:31 pm

I think the commuter school arguement has some merit when you use Kennesaw State as an example. I think there enrollment is north of 30k.
But I will say this. It’s good to hear from what appear to be intelligent fans from a rising program. It gets kind of old hearing the same trash-talk jibberish from fans that think their school is “entitled to greatness” because they won a championship in 1981. You guys should join the ACC and maybe get a basketball program or something.

help, I live in Ga

April 13th, 2010
4:33 pm

Let me add 1991 to 1981 now that I’ve seen Meller Yeller’s comment 4:17. Obviously not a grad.


April 13th, 2010
4:46 pm

USF should have played us last year when almost their entire starting lineup were Seniors. I believe it was 10 of 11 on D and 6 of 11 on offense.

Gen Neyland

April 13th, 2010
5:04 pm

Gatorzone : I stand corrected on Gators dodging USF till 2015. But USF OOC 2011-2017 states the following:

Fast Eddie : Yes, Tennessee is gonna have some struggles. But if you’re a wise football follower, you’ll never count a W till the game is played…Ole MS ring a bell..?

Atlanta Bull

April 13th, 2010
5:07 pm

Great story Tony. Holtz Jr. is the right HC at the right time. I think he can take this program a long way in a few years. Hope to be playing the Dawgs in a BCS game at some point.

Gen Neyland

April 13th, 2010
5:32 pm

Gator Growl : Er, would you not embrace the coach of your team, no matter (just about, huh ?) who it might be..? After all, are you a team guy or a coach guy..?


April 13th, 2010
8:04 pm

Having homes in both Atlanta and Tampa and spending most weekends in Tampa, I can tell you that there is a lot of excitment about Holtz. There is enough talent in Florida for Florida, FSU, Miami, and Florida to be successful if all schools also recruit outside the state successfully. Meyer is doing that the best at the moment. He is getting the top talent in both Florida and across the country, and that is why Florida is currently better than the other top schools in Florida. If Holtz can recruit well in the Tampa and Orlando areas and get a few good recruits in SC and the NE…and probably Georgia…he will do very well. USF’s problem is that they do not have an on-campus stadium in which to compete with Florida and FSU, especially. I think that will become an increasing issue for Miami in the future as well. Question: if you can get into Florida or FSU (not problem for most athletes for that lower Alabama school), where would you rather play on Saturdays: The Swamp or Bowden statium before 90,000 fanantical fans or in Dolphin Stadium that is sometimes less than half full…or in in the Bucs stadium? No brainer for most of the top athletes. Miami will always get “Miami” type players because of their private school deal. Finally, I think USF will play Florida very tough next year. That game is no gimmie because USF has a lot to prove and Florida has a lot to lose. If Florida comes out flat (see Auburn a couple of years ago), USF will battle Florida tough…but still lose in a close game. It will not be close if Florida comes out fired up. It is in the Swamp, so I think they will. Too much to lose not to do so.


April 13th, 2010
8:14 pm

Gen Neyland…you speak from ignorance, my boy. USF backed out on playing Florida until this year….not the other way around. That is THIS YEAR, not 2015 or whatever. They would have played them last year if USF had not backed out. That decision left Florida almost without a 12 game and had to schedule Charleston, which everyone gave them grief about. Florida had not choice but to schedule Charleston because of USF backing out. But they come to the SWAMP this year….and Holtz, I believe, will not back down from a fight this year or in years to come. That is a good deal for the Bulls.

Tide Rising

April 13th, 2010
8:46 pm


I don’t even think USF has to win against UF. UF is the flagship and will always get the upper tier players over USF except in very few cases. If USF plays anything like they did in games against Auburn, FSU last year, or West Virginia they will at least play competitively against UF. Just the idea that they are even playing is a major victory for USF simply due to exposure. More importantly it is also a recognition by the state’s flagship program that they recognize USF on equal footing.

If you look at Mississippi the 2 sec schools Ole Miss and MSU will not play Southern Miss because they don’t want to give Southern Miss equal billing. Same with Alabama refusing to play Troy or UAB. If we played them it would sorta be like giving them equal billing and we don’t want to do that. Neither does AU although AU did do UAB the courtesy of playing them one time in their early startup years. The mere fact that UF is playing USF is giving them equal footing and is a major coup for USF regardless of the outcome of the game.

USF’s only disadvantage from here is that they don’t have an on campus stadium. I must be the only person though that likes pro stadiums. In a pro stadium you have seats instead of bleachers and you can buy beer in pro stadiums regardless if its a college game being played there so to me its no disadvantage but I can certainly see why it would be to the students and alumni.


April 13th, 2010
9:15 pm

USF has made huge strides in a short amount of time. Levitt did a really good job there and really he turned it around after being able to bring in some good players.

I can see why there is excitement there. USF has alot of pluses: BCS conference, big city, great weather and a fertile recruiting area.

I’ve seen alot of fans at their home games and the fans seem to be very vocal. I’m not sure how they travel to away games as I am curious to know, if a Bulls fan will chime in.

Geaux Tigers


April 14th, 2010
12:23 am

TampaGator, your name makes me sad.

Anyway, both teams have “backed out” of the UF-USF game more than 1 time. They have had different reasons for it, but it’s not just USF that changed the schedule.

Before Holtz was hired, UF, Notre Dame,


April 14th, 2010
12:24 am

sorry, had an issue with the site.

UF, Notre Dame, FSU, and Miami were all on the future schedules. UF twice, Miami 4 more years in a row Thanksgiving weekend.

Florida Shine

April 14th, 2010
7:46 am

miami and fsu are way down—USF can challenge them in recruiting. But they don’t have a chance against florida–meyer’s built a machine there and uses every recruiting trick in the book to get most of the 5 star talent in the state.

Charlie Bama

April 14th, 2010
7:56 am

The old ‘Don’tYouRecognizeMyLastName?’ coaching career ladder routine is a toughy to pull off, usually because career promotions are premature at best, and sometimes undeserved. I’m sure Pick’a'Bowden, Mike Shula, and the Spurrierkidnobodyknows can explain this. Let’s hope Dooley AND Holtz both break the template for this scenario. For what it’s worth, Skippy Holtz does seem to leave credible footprints wherever he leaves. Dooley’s problem is the more significant –the Orange Killbillies may even have heavenly saints lined up against them, and for good reason, if you know what I mean and I think you almost certainly do.


April 14th, 2010
9:05 am

Dear Gen Neyland,

What is this lion mouse crap? Also get your facts straight, USF plays Florida on 9/11 this year. I’m not saying we are going to win but being an early game in the season, anything can happen. Here is a tip: Know what you speak of before you flap your lips and when they do flap, make sense. Better yet, just shut your mouth.

Elliot Garcia

April 14th, 2010
9:58 am

USF will always be Florida’s red-headed step-child….it’s a commuter school for goodness sake!


April 14th, 2010
11:28 am

I don’t know where the myth started that Skip Holtz built UConn football but I’m a UConn season ticket holder and the BEST thing that ever happened was lil Skippy leaving. He’s a mediocre coach at best. Randy Edsall built UConn and Randy Edsall is going to school lil Skippy for as long as he wants.

Good job USF…you’re still the same 7-5 team you always were.

Atlanta Bull

April 14th, 2010
11:49 am

There are long-term plans for an on campus stadium but right now they are building a new baseball stadium, softball stadium and football practice fields. Here’s a link for more info. on the stadium plans:

Atlanta Bull

April 14th, 2010
11:51 am

Hey Sean I hope you feel the same way after the beatdown the Huskies are going to get in Tampa this year.


April 14th, 2010
8:39 pm

“FSU and Miami are way down?” All I’ll say is UF better bring their A game when they stroll on into Doak this Thanksgiving! Christian Ponder might have something to say when he welcomes you all to the new FSU. We were down, but we were never out. College football is cyclical, programs rise and fall, USF is just getting into the cycle. There are many question marks in many football programs in the state of Florida.
I guess the people who criticize the relevance of an article about USF don’t realize how many people from Florida live in the metro Atlanta area…?


April 14th, 2010
9:15 pm

I don’t understand what the “commuter school” argument even means. Because a lot of students don’t live on campus (even though as someone stated before there are more living on campus than at FSU) they can’t’ have a successful football program? It doesn’t hold water. USF is on the rise in the state and I think 5IML might be the most right. The issue for USF shouldn’t be competing with UF, FSU, and UM head to head on every recruit but if they can keep the FL talent that leaves every year to WVU, UGA, Alabama, LSU, and even Louisville this year with Strong coming in then we can be very successful. That being said there are times every year when USF has had major wins over other schools, this year it was Terrence Mitchell and Todd Chandler.

Also, to the person that said we really need an on campus stadium in the past Leavitt has said that playing in a pro stadium, one of the nicest stadiums in the country, has been his biggest recruiting tool. It may not have the atmosphere and history of Ben Hill and Doak but it certainly rivals them in quality. Oh, and we can buy beer at the games.

The Big Four

April 15th, 2010
3:16 pm

I love the USF bashing. USF will come in and beat UF on September 11. USF over UF by 9. I love how they hang on the jock of a coach who runs up the score against I-AA teams. Meanwhile, they feel the need to bash USF after it’s been IN EXISTANCE for 13 years. Cool.

Trivia: How long did it take for UF to win its first championship? Awesome stat. Fail.


April 22nd, 2010
4:01 pm

I love USF, they punched Bobby’s ticket and got us out of the dark ages. You couldn’t pay me to go to school there but they’ve served a quality purpose for those less fortunate both on the field and off.

Thanks for your time, and as always, peace and love my brothers.

Mr. Troof

Go Noles

April 26th, 2010
2:09 am

I see a lot of people referencing UF dominating recruiting in Florida. While Florida did put together arguably one of the best classes in recent memory, FSU probably did the best inside the state of Florida. Three of UF’s top four recruits were from California, New York and Pennsylvania. Cleaned up might be too strong a term, but FSU did very well signing 3 of the top 5 and 4 of the top 7 (Luc, Jones, Joyner and Green) along with some other well regarded Florida guys (Cummings, Shaw, Johnson).

As for USF, I am not sure how high their ceiling is. I still think they are at a huge disadvantage as far as competing financially goes. If all this conference realignment goes down how some think it may, USF could be in a lot of trouble. Granted I have no real love for USF, but that would be sad if they ended up in some cobbled together Conference USA/Big East monstrosity. I do believe FSU and many other schools were interested in Pierre-Paul but he couldn’t get in so he had to go to USF. They struck gold. I think the commuter school thing hurts them and I am really not convinced playing in an NFL stadium is an advantage. That is one reason I question Miami’s ability to reach the pinnacle of their success again. The Tampa area does put out some good players, but it seems not as many as Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami (obviously) or the panhandle.

LOL at Troof. Sad but true. I kinda view that game the same way as Wake 2006. Means to an end. We should send them a fruit basket or something.