Donuts! Thoughts on lunch with Skip Holtz
It may have confused some people in the room, but I actually understood things when Skip Holtz, in the middle of a casual lunch in the conference room next to Doug Woolard's office on Tuesday, raised his arms above his head to form a big "O" and excitedly said "Donuts!"
"Donuts!" is one of the more amusing policies implemented by USF's new football coach: If a coach's cellphone goes off during a meeting, he needs to bring donuts or bagels the next day. In truth, it was my digital recorder that started talking in my shirt pocket, its play button inadvertently nudged as I wrote down a quick note. (My cellphone, a new one I'm still figuring out, would inexcusably chirp later -- twice! -- to my embarrassment.)
Holtz was nice enough to sit down for lunch with Times columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton, along with myself and Times deputy sports editor Mike Stephenson. It continues an impressive level of interviews and access as he works to generate more interest in the community about his first season this fall. A few quick notes after the lunch ...
-- Major change afoot in the caffeine department. Jim Leavitt was, of course, a prolific Pepsi man, and I can report that Holtz is a Diet Coke guy. Me, I made a deal with my sister where I haven't had any soda (or sugared drinks) since Jan. 1, but I think it's important to recognize the paradigm shift at work here.
-- Philosophy? Holtz is in favor of adding an early signing period for football, perhaps in December. He sees most of the big schools fill up their classes in the fall, then sees the annual poaching of commitments right before signing day and the domino effect that has on other recruits. An early signing period, he figures, would allow recruits to make it official much earlier and end some of those games. He doesn't have an answer yet for how he'd handle kids who sign with a school, then see a coaching change weeks later. Holtz also thinks if an early signing period is passed, the next step you'll see is official campus visits during spring of a recruit's junior year, moving that part of the calendar forward as well.
-- Leavitt was very private about his family, which is perfectly fine, but it's refreshing to hear Holtz regularly talk about his wife Jennifer and their three children. His oldest, 16-year-old Trey, is staying in Tampa with his dad and has started classes at Plant, where he'll be a quarterback on the football team. His younger two children, 13-year-old Chad and 11-year-old Hailey, are back in North Carolina with their mother until late March, when the family will reunite in Tampa. Holtz smartly wants his kids to have some time in school this spring so they have new friends this summer. Oh, and Chad, the basketball player in the family, broke his foot on Monday, missing his team's championship game.
-- Holtz is serious about building a wall around the Tampa area. He's identified 100 of the closest schools geographically and has divvied them up at 10 schools per coach, with each assistant also having a main recruiting area in the state outside the immediate area. He's committed to getting a coach on every campus in the state this year, but he also set up a social for coaches next week, a chance for them to come and meet his staff and talk about the new direction for USF football.
-- Recruiting the Class of 2011 is a major part of Holtz's focus right now -- his coaches are watching tape and evaluating and discussing rising high school seniors from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day right now, trying to identify their priorities for the upcoming class. Holtz is as cynical about the major recruiting sites as anyone -- "I don't recruit stars," he says of their ratings system. "Who offers a young man is how many stars he gets." USF will have its Junior Day on March 6 -- same day as the men's basketball game against Connecticut -- and I'd think the Bulls will pick up their first commitments for 2011 then.
-- Don't expect a ton of true freshmen to play. Wherein Leavitt was talking a year ago about having as many as 18 newcomers playing this fall, Holtz likes redshirting as much as possible for its benefits on the overall growth of a player and, in turn, the program. He didn't mention any names, but it makes sense that top recruits like cornerback Terrence Mitchell and defensive tackle Todd Chandler might play, but he said his preference is to redshirt whenever he can.
-- Holtz was frank about the program's strong starts and poor finishes in the last three years, saying he asked all 110 players individually why they thought the Bulls suffered their mid-season swoons, with 110 different answers. He doesn't have an answer yet, but Holtz said he understands that USF must get more consistent at winning in conference play, with no better than a 4-3 record in any of its five Big East seasons. The games against Florida and Miami are important, he said, but for USF to be taken seriously on a national level, they must have sustained conference success from year to year.
-- Oh, and just for full disclosure, the Times, being the ethical folks that we are, reimburses USF for our the food we ate Tuesday. Each year, we cut a check back to USF for the food I eat (and the columnists, too) year-round at USF events. And yes, I had only one cookie.
-- Holtz said the line of scrimmage is an area he wants to improve on both sides of the ball, and he's dedicating two coaches to the line on each side. That means that while Larry Scott's title is tight ends coach, he'll also help out line coach Steve Shankweiler by working with the offensive tackles. He's splitting up the ends (Vernon Hargreaves) and tackles (Kevin Patrick) on defensive line. Can't remember if it was our lunch or in his interview on 1010 AM the other day, but he specifically mentioned Ryne Giddins and Claude Davis as two ends that had impressed him in the first few agility workouts this spring.
-- One more date to circle on your calendar: Bulls report for preseason drills on Aug. 4.