Declining records in two of his three seasons as head coach led to Skip Holtz’s firing at USF, ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy reported Sunday.
The Bulls ended 2012 on Saturday in a 27-3 loss to Pitt. Raymond James Stadium was a veritable ghost town; announced attendance was 15,000, though photos tweeted from the venue suggest a total much lower.
Waning interest in the program didn’t help Holtz’s case for a fourth season, nor did the worst record in program history. USF launched football in 1997, and had never won fewer than five games in any season since. Consecutive losing seasons in 2011 and 2012 also marked the first time the Bulls had been below .500 in back-to-back campaigns.
Holtz inherited a program on the rise from Jim Leavitt. Leavitt was the only coach the program had known when he was fired after the 2009 season for assaulting a player. He coached the Bulls to four straight bowl appearances from 2006 through 2009, a pair of nine-win seasons, and in 2007, peaked as the No. 2 team in the nation.
The Holtz hire wasn’t a bad one on the surface. His East Carolina teams flourished in Conference USA, and the program improved every season he was there. The Pirates played a defensively aggressive style similar to Leavitt’s USF teams. Holtz could seemingly continue the success of the Leavitt era, but with a positive attitude that would scrub clean the muck of his predecessor’s departure.
What USF got instead was a steady decline into the doldrums of football. After matching the 8-5 mark of Leavitt’s final two teams, USF went 5-7 in 2011. The Bulls started the season promisingly enough, with a win over a program synonymous with the Holtz name, Notre Dame. That as the first of a four-win streak to open the campaign.
But after a Thursday night debacle at Pitt, which the Bulls lost 44-17, USF skidded to losses in seven of its final eight. This season’s team suffered a similar Thursday night setback, which began a devastating losing streak.
The 2-0 Bulls had life with Rutgers coming to town. Senior quarterback BJ Daniels seemed to have advanced beyond the perplexing mistakes that plagued his career to that point. But instead, USF struggled to mount any offense in a 23-13 loss, and so began a six-game skid.
Four of those losses were by single digits, including a heart breaker to eventual Big East champion Louisville. Another came when Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib found Alec Lemon for a touchdown and one-point Orange win with three seconds left.
USF snapped the losing skid the next week with a win over Connecticut, and faced the season’s final stretch with an improbable shot at bowl eligibility. More so than the six-game losing streak, it was probably the final three-game skid that sealed Holtz’s fate. After suffering close losses initially, the Bulls were blasted by Miami, Cincinnati and finally Pitt. The flag flying over the mock pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium looked an awful lot like a white one.
The USF job has high potential for the next head coach. Located in the heart of a deep recruiting talent pool, Leavitt’s tenure proved one can find success there. That it’s now a full rebuilding job does make it less attractive, however. Furthermore, USF’s future is a mystery. The Big East continues to dissolve from BCS conference, to mid-major. The Bulls have yet to surface in any serious realignment discussion.