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.


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77 comments Add your comment


April 13th, 2010
6:27 am


April 13th, 2010
6:39 am

I do believe USF will make the big three work harder as it relates to recruiting; however, it will be hard for them to get the blue chippers.


April 13th, 2010
6:45 am

That will be a big job but he has a history of making teams relevant. I wonder if USF’s rise in the state of Florida had something to do with Miami and FSU’s fall the last few years. If Fisher gets the ball rolling in Tallahassee again, they could be trouble. This is a make or break year for Shannon in Miami. If they don’t win atleast 9, he’s GONE!


April 13th, 2010
7:49 am

Can’t wait to see how all the work Fisher has put in this off season pays off come Fall. USF is a formidable team, but they benefited from FSU being in a horrible position this past season, kudos to them but I don’t believe it would happen again any time soon.

Reality Bites

April 13th, 2010
7:53 am

Holtz = fail.

Gen Neyland

April 13th, 2010
7:56 am

USF is a mouse program in a state of lions. The in-state lions fear the mouse for in a game of one on one, the mouse may embarrass the lions and ruin a perfectly good season. The lions are on the mouses schedule in the coming years, even going into their house. Exception being Florida who has put them off until 2015 and will play them in The Bog. By then, Urbie may be gone. USF reminds me of UAB. Smaller program on a national scale but big enough to sour a season.


April 13th, 2010
8:00 am

you can recruit in a taxi cab down there. He will do well.

CT Fan

April 13th, 2010
8:01 am

Stop saying Holtz built Connecticut’s program from scratch. He succeeded with a Division 1-AA team that was top-loaded with seniors. Those seniors graduated and he left. Coach Edsall came in with a depleted roster, took the team from 1-AA to 1-A to the Big East where HE built the team from scratch!!! Not taking anything away from Coach Holtz’ recent successes, just get it right about who exactly built the team in Connecticut – Head Football Coach Randy Edsall!


April 13th, 2010
8:04 am

Skip’s a good coach. If Lou had listened to Skip more at USC, things would’ve been much better.

Hopefully, USF will steal a few recruits from Urban the Terrible and the Lizards. Skip’s genuine persona is a stark contrast to the slick, don’t pick up the soap, feel of The Crier.


April 13th, 2010
8:07 am

I think Holtz should consider non-Florida BCS teams as his main competition in recruiting. The Big Three are gonna get theirs. If he can get a few of the ones UGA and others would have gotten, USF can contend for the Big East title.


April 13th, 2010
8:11 am

He will do fine if USF lets him take the academically marginal kids in FL.


April 13th, 2010
8:11 am

I have been watching the USF program with interest for several years, and it is definitely a program on the rise. The state of Florida is sick with high school football talent, and there’s no reason USF can’t snag enough great players to compete with the big boys.


April 13th, 2010
8:16 am

Dear Mr. CF–I like the variety you show in your inter-paragraph spacing from blog to blog. Sometimes regular old double spacing, sometimes two, three, or four spaces in the same blog. That kind of thing. What I’d like to see is how it would look if you went to an occasional seven or eight spaces between paragraphs. If that were to work, you could then try ten or twelve. I do think there is a limit, however. It’s hard to see how you could use, say, twenty spaces between paragraphs and retain any coherence. Know what I mean?

Your pal, Leland

Not Bad

April 13th, 2010
8:27 am

Easy answer: NO!!!


April 13th, 2010
8:37 am

living in Tampa, i can tell you there is definatly alot of excitement about Coach Holtz can bring to USF. should be an exiting year for the Bulls.


April 13th, 2010
8:41 am

Vote out the incumbents and start over

Fast Eddie

April 13th, 2010
8:48 am

Gen. Neyland, you must get your jollies from badmouthing other teams, especially the Gators who kick your butt regularly. Instead of trying to think of something to disparage their stadium and their coach, concentrate on your own team. General consensus appears to be that your Vols are going to struggle not just this year but for years to come. Bloodlines don’t necessarily produce the same level of competence in a coach.


April 13th, 2010
8:49 am

USF will live very well off the state high schoolers that UF, FSU, and UM aren’t targeting. They might sneak up on FSU and UM once or twice, but not on the Gators as long as Meyer remains the head coach.


April 13th, 2010
8:52 am

I don’t what kind of recruiter Holtz is, but if he is as annoying as his dad, I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with him, much less on his team.

Gator Growl

April 13th, 2010
8:55 am

USF is a remarkable story of success in a relatively short period of time. They have won some recruiting battles against the Big 3 and have won at FSU against a very medoicre Seminole team. Their win at Auburn a couple of years ago was huge for their program, but until they start beating the states big boys with any kind of frequency it will be tough. This year they go to the Swamp in only the second game of the post-Tebow era and I believe they will put up a good fight…for about a half. But ultimately, I think they succumb to the atmosphere and superior talent and lose by 3 TDs or more…


April 13th, 2010
8:58 am

Jeez. With pals like you, I’d hate to see Mr CF’s detractors . . .

HardTruth Soldier....

April 13th, 2010
8:59 am

Here’s the CFB world’s reality, Skip shoud be in Knoxville now while Dooley(Derek) should be in USF Town or LTU town. This guy wins wherever he goes, and putting him in Florida to recruit is like putting a soldier in a room full of sexy woman after he just got back from war!

Denver Dawg

April 13th, 2010
9:07 am

Everyone cheats accept for UGA!

Herschel bestest ever.

I am retarded.

Gator Growl

April 13th, 2010
9:09 am

Gen Neyland…”Urbie”, as you call him, might be gone but I’ll put my money on it that he’ll be here long after your 3rd coach in three years will. If I was a Vol fan today, I would be very hesitant to make any knid of disparaging remarks or even snide comments about other teams seeing how you guys sold your collective football souls to a snake oil salesman and then got left high and dry. I will never forget how your fan base embraced that loudmouth fool, even as he was telling lies and breaking rules. Yep, that Lane train went right off the mountain and you guys didn’t even see it coming, although everyone else did. And now you will be paying the price for a few years to come…


April 13th, 2010
9:22 am

Poor, poor UCF. How did this happen?? Culpepper provided a springboard that gave them their own on-campus stadium and George O’Leary. No pro team in Orlando to compete with like in Tampa.

How did UCF end up on the outside looking in? Proof positive that being in a BCS conference has meant everything to USF, and other marginal programs like Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn. USF owes the ACC a lot of money for felling the dominoes that are allowing it to compete at the highest level.


April 13th, 2010
9:23 am

I hate that Leavitt went out on that note..he should be commended for the work he did to build that program. That said, if the accusations are true, he had to go…no way around that… best of luck to Skip.


April 13th, 2010
9:30 am

General, you are incorrect on several counts. First, UF had USF scheduled for last year but Leavitt pulled them out before the start of the 08 season and UF was forced to plug in Charleston Southern. Secondly, UF is playing USF this year in the Swamp, not 2015. Third, USF is sending lots of players to the pros and gets lots of media exposure. It is a large school that encompasses many parts of Southwest Florida and is gaining a large following. the will take the marginal guys that cant cut it academically, or for some reason are not recruited by the big 3. These guys are still better than 80% of other college players out there and are all out of Florida. I would not be surprised at all to see them win the Big East within 6 years. They have as large of an impact on Florida recruiting as most SEC schools outside of UF and UGA.

Bo Williams

April 13th, 2010
9:40 am

I live near Greenville (ECU) and kept a close eye on Skip. I think he is a terrific coach and leader. I would not be surprised if he brings USF to be very, very competitive w/the big 3. I think he is a player’s coach.


April 13th, 2010
10:17 am

I think USF has the resources to compete with the big 3( did ya’ll know that their enrollment is around 45,000?). I think they can outrecruit FSU since the Seminoles are in a rebuilding stage for the next few years, but it will be tough for them to outrecruit Florida and Miami. Recruits choose Miami because of the city of Miami. And recruits choose Florida because they have a dominant program right now and they play on a National stage in the SEC. The fact that USF doesn’t get that National exposure hurts them. With that being said, I think USF can sell themselves as a new program on the rise, which is accurate. They have sent players to the NFL, and that number is on the rise. And they have a great fanbase. If the USF coaches can sell recruits on all of these things, and encourage players to be a part of building a great program, it’s not impossible to think that USF can be a major player.


April 13th, 2010
10:24 am

One thing I learned thru the years: dad is important! from Holtz to Shula to Dooley to Kiffin to Bush. If your dad is somebody, you have a head start way ahead of others. That’s especially true in the southern “conservative” states.


April 13th, 2010
10:25 am

There is plenty of players in the state of FL. to field four good teams. Skip should do well.


April 13th, 2010
10:29 am

Skip and USF will do well. They have easy programs of study and too many player to go around. I wish Tech had an easier course of study to take advantage of the players in Georgia that go to bad Ga. public schools. For Kids in Ga. to play Big time football the choice for most is UGA or out of state to easier schools. When the Ga Public School System steps up in the math and sciences and the kids actually want to learn more than PE in college Tech will have to work hard to find Student Athletes. Keyword STUDENT. Not every kid can be an Aerospace Engineer but they can try to pass algebra in High School.


April 13th, 2010
10:35 am

Sorry, USF will perhaps have a good year (as in not going below 6-6?) but they will not steal from the other big three. 45,000 student enrollment doesn’t count when you’re a commuter school. Can’t wait to spank the Bulls this fall in the Swamp.


April 13th, 2010
10:51 am

UGA2004, they WILL be a major player, it is only a matter of time. They have satellite campuses in St. Pete and further south in Sarasota and Bradenton, not to mention their major campus in Tampa. All of these areas are hot spots for recruiting and they are getting a larger following every year. We all pull for USF unless they are playing the Gators. Eventually, they will be right up there.


April 13th, 2010
10:51 am

Skip will get his players. I believe he would be wise to attack the UM territory. They of the big 3 are the most vunerable. If done right UM will be looking to crack the big 3 not the other way around. They throw alot of hype around down there in Miami, but is it really working???? I think there is a crack in their bullworks, go after it, you could be rewarded.

help, I live in Ga

April 13th, 2010
11:06 am

Good column Tony. Banking on bloodlines can be tricky. I for one was a Lou fan until I read his book. Now I respect him even more. The guy is a disciplinarian. He was contemplating a run for senate and I think he would have won and shook up the hill. How does that translate to his son’s success? Well I think being raised in an environment where discipline and faith rule is big. Learning from a father who had unbelievable success and survived tough situations like a civil rights suit at Arkansas after suspending 3 black players. Having Bill Clinton volunteer to defend him and then pulling a huge upset in the Orange Bowl in the midst of the whole mess. I know I digress, but imagine being raised by this guy. He was invited to the White House 3 times and even invited to meet the Pope.

Ok, so we know he was raised to be a strong man and he has had pretty good success and has continued to grow as a HC. Now he’s got the talent to go after and a good pitch to sell his program.

I’d say give it 3 or 4 years and we will be calling it the big 4.

georgia george

April 13th, 2010
11:06 am

who cares about South Florida, this is a Georgia Blog, not a Florida blog, hello.

come on Tony, your last 2 posts have BOTH been about Florida on the Georgia blog.


April 13th, 2010
11:12 am

George, Georgia blog? Since when. I must have missed a memo.


April 13th, 2010
11:32 am

It’s not a Georgia blog, but still who cares about South Florida?


April 13th, 2010
11:42 am

Unfortuately for you Dawg fans USF has been more relevant than UGA over the last few years. Maybe that’s way TB writes about them.


April 13th, 2010
11:45 am

USF will in time, those who follow recruiting in FLA understand that going to Miami, UF or FSU is a lifetime dream of high school players in the state. USF doesn’t have the success, longevity or noteriety of the Big 3.


April 13th, 2010
11:51 am

So Skip is gonna have sex with his recruits? That’s discusting!


April 13th, 2010
11:58 am

Thanks for the history lesson, “help, I live in Ga.” Now that I know Lunatic Lou is a FOB, I really can’t stand him.

Lou Holtz

April 13th, 2010
12:05 pm

Thuffering thucotash! Leave my shon alone. He’s thrying hard to be better at Sssouth Florida. He’s not in the A She She.


April 13th, 2010
12:37 pm

USF already has taken recruits from The Big Three. Jason Pierre-Paul, who according to all the NFL experts is going in the top 10 of the draft being one. Another, Ryne Giddens. Even this recruiting year they had a DB change from FSU to USF. They have had players such as Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor either transfer or switch from Alabama.

They have dumped a ton of money into the facilities and have had former D1 head coaches as assistants. They probably have one of the best strength coaches in college football. All this has gone on pretty much unnoticed except for the occasional huge win, like against Auburn a few years back, because of living in the shadow of The Big Three.

There is a DVD out on the program. There was a lot of anxiety of going to a state board of regents loaded with UF and FSU administrators, asking for a football program. The pitch was good enough to make it happen. Lee Roy Selmon on board, the Bucs only Hall of Famer probably had much to do with it.

Anyway, expect USF to only rise in the ranks. They have been consistently in the top 1/3 of programs the past few years. Many comparisons and comments here by posters are inaccurate probably due to lack of education on what the program is and has done. Especially comparison to UAB, a non-BCS school or not knowing about USF’s prior success in recruiting either hidden talent (George Selvie was not offered a 1A scholarship by any program) or beating SEC and ACC schools such as with Jason Pierre-Paul. But, I imagine, in the next 5 years, many more are going to know who USF is, being a consistent top 25 team.

Tide Rising

April 13th, 2010
12:50 pm

Florida State was a dormant program until the very late 70s, early 80s. Same with Miami. If someone had told you in the 60s or 70s that FSU or Miami would one day become national football powers you would have laughed at both, especially Miami which has an enrollement of only 15,000 students as a private institution. I’ve been to Miami games and they can only fill that stadium if Florida or FSU comes. Otherwise the typical crowd is only around 50k.

With an enrollment of 46k there is not a single reason why USF can’t one day be successful along the same lines as the other programs in the state. As long as they stay in a bcs conference it will happen and is only a matter of time.


April 13th, 2010
1:00 pm

BTW, for those bemoaning this not being an article on Georgia football, check out that figure he listed on USF enrollment. USF is the 9th largest university in the US and has had that large a student body for going into 4 decades. Many USF alumni live in Georgia. And as a USF alumni, I want to say thanks for the article!


April 13th, 2010
1:02 pm

I think he was writing about them because he swung through there on a tour. As for USF-I would say they have arrived. Beating FSU was nice but last year not that big a deal. Being able to go toe to toe with most programs in the country the last 2-3 years without a doubt has put them on the map. Now-will they stay there?? who knows. All Miami has to do is recruit Dade county and some Broward-and then they get the northern boys with the lure of South beach-I don’t see USF intruding there. FSU has never recruited Tampa well though and needs to go back to grabbing the Southern GA (Charlie Ward), Southern Alabama, Jax and Panhandle boys that is their prime market. plenty of talent there. USF could significantly hurt UF in the Tampa/West Coast market. Florida’s soutwest coast-Sarasota/Bradenton south to Ft. Myers/Naples has plenty of good/great players. Not to mention the schools in Orlando. But the bottom line is tradition/etc. takes over. Schools in the SEC like BAMa/UGA/UF/UT/LSU/etc. have the tradition and the alumni that only time can build. Look at FSU and that program. Even after all the successful years of Bobby they had issues selling tix the last few years when they were mediocre. Also in Florida, right now, UF is “the school” where players want to go. Miami was “the school” late 80’s early 90’s then FSU for a long time after that. Even after UF beat FSU in the 96-97 Champ game FSU was still “the school”. If USF can go beat the big boys and/or pull a couple of nice big bowl wins and become “the school” then anything goes.


April 13th, 2010
1:15 pm

So while I admit it’s a long shot, if USF beats UF in the swamp, does that make this year’s UF team “mediocre”?

I love how some folks love to downplay a win. FSU went into last year’s game vs USF after a complete beat down of BYU and a great game against Miami. Most Noles fans probably marked a “W” when they saw USF on the schedule, UF fans are doing the same. Nobody plays the underdog role better than USF. See wins over Auburn, WVU, FSU.

I’ll be the first to admit we’re a long way from the “Big 3″ but if Holtz can bring consistency to the USF program and put a recruiting fence around the Tampa Bay area, USF will get there and get there quick.


April 13th, 2010
1:54 pm

As a USF Alumni living in Atlanta, I appreciate the article. There are more of us here than you’d probably expect, and it is nice to see more than just GA & Tech news now and then. At least we can watch the games on the web nowadays.

It’s been both fun and frustrating to watch the program grow over the last 15 years (even longer if you count all the years we worked to get a program in the early 90’s). We’ve had some great wins, and spectacular collapses … but my hope is that a more even-keeled coach will bring us a more balanced team.

Each year brings us more players in the NFL, a few good wins, and a little more respect … though it is slow going. Playing UF in the swamp this year gives us another stage to showcase our talents. I’m hoping for a good game like what we had against FSU, and not a painful one as against UM … and maybe then we can finally break down the Big 3 wall.

I agree though, if we somehow pulled out the win in the swamp, it will be all about how bad this year’s UF is without Tebow vs how far USF has come. Hard to beat that spin at this early stage of the program and our history.