Sunday, December 02, 2012

Coachpocalypse 2012: The unhappy Holtz

Skip Holtz got a weeklong reprieve at South Florida only because the Big East schedule lasted a week longer than almost everybody else's; he's still gone, though, with USF announcing his firing Sunday at the end of an amazingly bad 3-9 season.

I say "amazingly bad" because South Florida returned a crapload of starters from last year (including a senior fourth-year starter at quarterback) and thus was picked second in the Big East's preseason poll despite going 5-7 overall and 1-7 in conference play a year ago. Going 3-9 with a team expected to pretty easily make a bowl game often results in bad things, especially when that 3-9 season follows a 5-7 season that followed an 8-5 season.

There was an almost-linear trend of regression under Holtz, who took over after the Jim Leavitt weirdness and inherited a team that had gone to five straight bowls and had finished with at least eight wins in each of the previous four seasons. So he got a good-ish program and went 16-21 in three years, won a total of five conference games and took a seemingly decent team straight to the bottom of the crappy Big East this year, which is to say he pretty much massively underachieved.

The Big East thing was really what mattered. I mean, there are some obvious inherent disadvantages at a not-exactly-tradition-laden school like USF, but those mean little in the Big East, where everybody is comparably mediocre and UConn can go to the Orange Bowl. Losing to Florida State? Whatever. Being not even vaguely competitive against Temple and Pitt? Not whatever. Over the last two years, South Florida went 2-14 (!) in the Big East, which ... I mean ... wow. 2-14! In the Big East! That was by far the worst record of anybody in the conference in that time, with only UConn at 5-11 being close-ish.

So the Holtz era wasn't so good. It wasn't good because, for the most part, USF didn't have an offense. Here are some numbers: 105th in total offense and 84th in scoring offense in 2010, 30th and 48th in 2011 and 90th and 104th in 2012. It's probably worth mentioning that the 2011 numbers were somewhat skewed by a three-game nonconference stretch against Florida A&M, Ball State and UTEP in which South Florida put up 159 points and approximately a billion yards. It's also probably worth noting that Holtz's background before getting the East Carolina coaching job was as an offensive coordinator (under his daddy, of course), although his offenses haven't been particularly good anywhere. And while the offense was being generally pretty crappy, the defense went from very good in the first year to pretty good in the second year to below average this year, hence 3-9. It seems reasonable to assume that the regression there had a lot to do with Leavitt's defensive awesomeness becoming less and less relevant further into Holtz's tenure.

Back in the day, I wrote something on the original version of my site about how Holtz seemed to be lacking any particular thing that explained his not-that-overwhelming success. He finished about 10 games over .500 at both UConn (when it was a I-AA program) and East Carolina, both of which had been pretty bad prior to his hiring, but didn't do anything overwhelming or definitely indicative of long-term awesomeness considering his teams' general offensive mediocrity and his lack of super-amazing/super-brilliant coordinator hires. Really, his success seemed to be more of a product of generating decency on both sides of the ball and winning a lot of close games, which might have been an indicator of mad game-management skillz but also might have been an indicator of just general good fortune that wouldn't be applicable on a macro level; based on what transpired at South Florida, it was probably the latter.

But that's mostly irrelevant now; what's relevant is that South Florida is still the same program everybody was talking about as The Next Big Thing three years ago. This is mostly sales-pitch stuff from USF athletic director Doug Woolard but is also mostly correct:
"This program is going to attract folks from all across the country. I think people all across America know what kind of job this is, what kind of facilities we have. We just put $100 million into our facilities. We probably have some of the best football practice facilities in America. Our locker room is probably better than some pro locker rooms. We play in probably the best stadium in the NFL. We're in the 14th-largest media market in the country. We've got this weather, and we're in such a rich talent (place) for football players in Florida."
A school in Tampa that plays its games in a new-ish NFL stadium and exists in something resembling a major conference has a lot of things the rest of the Big East doesn't. I mean, looking at the teams that are gonna be in the Big East two years from now, there are almost none that will likely be able to bring in comparable talent based on locale, facilities, etc. So the USF job is a pretty good one by everything-below-the-five-major-conferences standards.

Which kind of explains this:
I'm told former Ole Miss/Arkansas coach Houston Nutt "very interested" in USF job
-- Brett McMurphy ‏@McMurphyESPN
All things considered, they could do a lot worse than a guy with a 135-96 career record and two SEC West title. There's also another former Arkansas coach out there, although I doubt USF would be interested given the likelihood that he'd be gone in a year or two. A couple undoubtedly-more-likely names, these from Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, who was reportedly on the short list for the Kentucky job, and Arizona offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, who started his coaching career at USF and actually interviewed for the job three years ago when he was at Michigan.

Beyond that, all I can find is a report of debatable credibility from a Tampa news station indicating that the short list is comprised of Temple coach Steve Adazzio, Chargers assistant (and former SEC/ACC assistant) Rich Bassacia, Derek Dooley and Joker Phillips. That's an uninspiring short list (Dooley potentially notwithstanding), so much so that I can't believe the actual short list looks substantially like that one. If it does, all that stuff I just wrote about USF being a seemingly desirable job with a Jay Bilas-sized load of upside will mean little, because the results going forward will probably be a lot closer to those of the last two years than those of the previous five.

And considering that South Florida presumably wants to be closer to Florida State/Miami than Florida Atlantic/Florida International, that would be ... like ... not progress. Progress (or at least a reversion to Leavitt-era success-type stuff) would be good.


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