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Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Losses make these dark days for USF's Holtz

TAMPA - Skip Holtz will probably keep his job as South Florida head football coach — as long as he doesn't lose these last six games. If USF was big time, there would be heavy-hitter boosters plotting at a steakhouse tonight on how to take it to the athletic director, how to fix all this losing. Flames would be licking at Holtz. They just lost to Ball State and Temple. USF isn't that big-time or high-pressure.
But make no mistake: There is serious noise in the system. There is murmuring, bewilderment, even anger, plus the odd Skip Holtz Must Go website. True, Holtz's $2.5 million buyout is big money to this school. USF athletic director Doug Woolard wants to be patient, wants Holtz back if he has a choice, partly out of fear. What would be next? Face it: Jim Leavitt would still be coaching USF if he hadn't turned into The Beast with Five Fingers. But there is definite noise in the system. This isn't about never taking that next step under Leavitt. This is about taking steps back under Skip Holtz. The losing streak is four games. The Bulls are 2-4 and have lost 10 of their past 11 Big East games. It's embarrassing. It's appalling. It's unacceptable. Halfway through his third season, for the first time, Skip Holtz has a losing record at South Florida, 15-16. Those are steps back. "From a win-loss standpoint, it would be hard to argue that we haven't," Holtz said. They just lost to Ball State and Temple. That's a killer, perception-wise. There's Ball State, a team that hasn't won a game since beating USF. And Temple, which once was kicked out of the Big East for not being competitive at football. In its return, first game back, it knocks off Skip Holtz's team. These are deep, dark days. USF has become irrelevant. "I can't sit here and argue statistics," Holtz said Sunday night. "That's why I said I can certainly understand why people would be upset, losing 10 of 11 Big East games and where we are right now. I understand it. I think these players continue to compete. Everybody is embarrassed about where we are right now, nobody more than myself. That responsibility falls on my shoulders." "I know Skip, his staff and the players are working their tails off to get that next win and to find sustained success,"  Woolard said. "Certainly the results, in terms of wins and losses to date, are disappointing to everyone involved with our program — the coaches, players, athletic administration and our passionate fans. "Our expectations for this program are very high. I also know this team has a lot of football left to play and great opportunities in front of it.  We're only six games into a 12-game regular season." Skip Holtz didn't get the USF job because of his last name. I thought he was a good hire. He did some good work at Connecticut and East Carolina, with a reputation for doing it the right way. Holtz is a good and friendly face for the program. Woolard and a lot of people at USF are dying for him to get this done. They just lost to Ball State and Temple. In Holtz's defense, he has had only two full cracks at recruiting. And there have always been unrealistic expectations for USF. I've never thought this program was as close to greatness as alums and fans thought. But they were a lot closer than: They just lost to Ball State and Temple. These Bulls aren't playing well and aren't being coached well. This was a team with 24 returning seniors, 15 starters back, a senior quarterback — and it hasn't mattered. And Skip Holtz is making $2 million this season. Sunday night, Holtz stood in a hall at the USF athletics building. He said he can take the heat: "I understand the expectations put on me. I grew up around this profession. I get it. I completely get it." That contract extension through 2017 that Holtz received, after a 5-7 season, seems a bit mystifying, though as late as last offseason other BCS schools had interest. Not so much at the moment. Holtz was asked about his future. "I think a lot of that is going to be predicated on which direction we go from here," he said. "Do I think I'll see 2017? I'm planning on it." He had better plan on winning some games — soon. Forget a bowl. But Holtz needs to win a few. Even four might do. USF absolutely doesn't want to fire this guy. But he can't make it impossible for the school to keep him another season. If the bottom falls out, if his team loses its final 10 games, the ax would have to swing. By the way, if you think 10 straight losses is far-fetched: They just lost to Ball State and Temple.
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