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Fourth Time's the Charm for Skip Holtz in Big East


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Fourth Time's the Charm for Skip Holtz in Big East

8/03/2010 4:30 PM ET By Brett McMurphy

Brett McMurphy

Senior NCAA Writer

NEWPORT, R.I. -- On the evening of Jan. 2, 2008, Skip and Jennifer Holtz anxiously sat down in front of their television to watch the Fiesta Bowl, knowing their lives could drastically change during the next few hours.

Just 17 days earlier, Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia and now the Mountaineers, under interim coach Bill Stewart, were playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The situation was fairly simple: a lackluster performance by West Virginia and Holtz would be leaving East Carolina to coach the Mountaineers.

"I'll be very truthful: this was a very spiritual thing," Jennifer Holtz told FanHouse. "I will tell you that was one of the neatest experiences I've ever had was watching that game unfold knowing the prospects that might have happened and seeing that team rally behind a great man [like Stewart] that was West Virginia.

"I looked at Skip and Skip looked at me [during WVU's 48-28 win] and we said, 'They found their coach,' and they did. It was beautiful. Bill Stewart is a good man. That was a situation we had faith that that door shut, and it was right for someone else and it wasn't right for us at the time."

Former West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong said Skip Holtz "was a very serious candidate" and admitted after Stewart was hired, Holtz was the first person Pastilong called. "It was about three in the morning," Holtz said.

Less than a year later, Holtz was sought after by another Big East school when Syracuse coach Greg Robinson was fired. However, Syracuse "wasn't the right fit," Jennifer Holtz said.

"We adored that administration," Jennifer said. "But it wasn't the right fit. Being a person of faith, I was joyful that he [new Syracuse coach Doug Marrone] had played there and was the right fit."

He also interviewed for the Cincinnati job after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame.

A month later, the Holtz family was involved with yet another Big East head coaching vacancy, this time at South Florida. Former coach Jim Leavitt was fired following a school investigation into a FanHouse report that uncovered that Leavitt hit a player at halftime of a game in November and subsequently lied to investigators and tampered with witnesses during the investigation.

"We truly have the faith that doors will open and doors will shut," Jennifer said. "And this one flew wide open."

Finally for Holtz, his fourth Big East opportunity was the charm, as he was named South Florida's coach.

It would probably be quicker to name the Big East schools where Holtz wasn't a leading candidate than where he was. At Tuesday's Big East Media Day, Holtz said it wasn't necessarily destiny that brought him back to the Big East, but his past success as a UConn and East Carolina head coach.

"Because we won," Holtz said. "With the reputation of building Connecticut and where it was, to where we took it and the same thing at East Carolina. We brought some national exposure to [East Carolina]. What we did at Connecticut, in helping build the program, certainly helped make us attractive because of success we had."

Holtz was head coach at UConn from 1994-98 before the Huskies became Big East football members.

"The first year, we were 5-6," Holtz said. "I said to [then athletic director] Lew Perkins, 'As many mistakes as I made, if I were you I would fire me,'" Holtz said. "He said, 'I knew you would make them when I hired you, but I knew you wouldn't make them twice and you would work to get better.' I am a better coach today than I was on that day -- because of experiences I had having the chance to work with my father [Lou]."

When Holtz's mother, Beth, was diagnosed with Stage Four throat cancer in 1998, Holtz left UConn to become an assistant on his father's staff at South Carolina to be closer to his parents. It was considered professional suicide, but Holtz never hesitated in making the move

UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway said Holtz did "an incredible job selling and building" the Huskies' program, which was then in Division I-AA.

"Skip coming in here as a 29-year-old offensive coordinator from Notre Dame, he was full of energy, understanding the charge we had selling this dream and sharing the vision," Hathaway said. "He did an incredible job."

Hathaway and UConn coach Randy Edsall gave Holtz a plaque thanking him for laying the foundation at UConn. "That was a touch of class," Holtz said. "That was meaningful to me." Holtz had the plaque in his old office at East Carolina and said he'll display it in his USF office -- as soon as he finds time to unpack all his boxes.

"He is a very genuine human being," said Frank Morsani, one of USF's most prominent boosters. "I think he'll be so good for our community."

No matter how good of a guy Holtz is -- and, make no mistake, he is a good guy -- he knows he'll ultimately be judged by wins and losses.

"I've got to make sure we're training in the summer and making sure we don't have a heavy-legged football team," said Holtz, about USF's historic second half of the season collapses. "You've got to understand when to push and understand when to pull back. I want us to peak for the fall. I don't want us to peak for the summer."

Even though Holtz hasn't even coached his first game at USF -- his debut is Sept. 4 against Stony Brook -- there are those in coaching circles who already are predicting Holtz's next move. The popular theory is Holtz wants to return to his alma mater at Notre Dame, where he also was an assistant under his father, Lou.

Jennifer Holtz said the Notre Dame speculation when -- or if -- Brian Kelly ever moves on is not true.

"I can honestly tell you there's no ultimate goal," she said. "I think it's an unfair assessment. I would answer that by saying those were four beautiful years of his life [at Notre Dame] and to aspire to want to rekindle those wonderful feelings would be something he would listen to. Not only did he play there, but he coached there for several years. But I would in no way say that my husband has an ultimate goal.

"He has none of that in him to say ... there are great jobs, jeez if I could ... look at those people in orange singing Rocky Top. That's pretty cool, but do we desire to be the next coach at Tennessee? No.

"Ours is about going somewhere and having a group of young men that say we'll do anything to have the same goal as you and our ultimate goal is to win somewhere. That's not disrespecting to East Carolina. We won there, but we were limited unfortunately by the BCS to do any better than go back to the Liberty Bowl."

"This," Jennifer said, "was the right move to USF."

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No matter how good of a guy Holtz is -- and, make no mistake, he is a good guy -- he knows he'll ultimately be judged by wins and losses.

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Great to see the Bowel Movement can make such accurate judgments about who's a good guy and who isn't!  What a clown.  He can't even resist a jab that Skip is already looking ahead to getting out of Tampa.  Kudos to Jennifer for being such a class act.

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BM could not help himself and had to take a another shot at CJL in the article.

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My mom use to say BM was what you did in the bathroom.  Hey got schooled by CJL, and went to bring him down.

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i think any logical person would know that USF would never be able to pay 1/3 of what Notre Dame could pay Holtz if he has success at USF.

the namesake alone would get the ND boosters to pony up an extra 20%

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I'm just surprised this hasn't been moved to the leavitt board  :D

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I'm just surprised this hasn't been moved to the leavitt board  :D

The mods are too busy arguing in there to check this board.  >:D

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i think any logical person would know that USF would never be able to pay 1/3 of what Notre Dame could pay Holtz if he has success at USF.

the namesake alone would get the ND boosters to pony up an extra 20%

Yeah but Kelly either has to fail at ND or be so good the NFL comes calling for that to even be a possibility.  I think many people are selling Kelly short by connecting Holtz with ND. 

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Kelly should do well at ND.  There's absolutely no reason to believe he will fail.  Charlie Wise was a good idea, but he ultimately had no college experience.  Kelly knows how to get things done.  I'm not saying ND will be a power again, but I'd say Kelly should be ther eevery bit of 6-7 years if he choses.

As for Brett's article, I thought it was pretty good.  A great interview and some dynamic questions.  I'll have to give him props on this one.

It's a fact that people are thinking Skip to ND.  He's not making it up.  Ask the gator fans about the Urbz to ND rumors...  If anything bothers me in the article is that he manages in a Leavitt was fired "brought to you by Fan House" in every article.

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Gee, Skip was anxious to get out of ECU apparently. I hope he doesn't do the same with us.

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