New coach Holtz must move fast on recruiting
TAMPA -- New USF football coach Skip Holtz will hit the ground running today, as his first day on the job is also the first day of a key recruiting weekend, with 10 recruits scheduled to come to campus for official visits with national signing day less than three weeks away
The visits come one week after Bulls coach Jim Leavitt was fired after 14 years, but USF kept the visits as scheduled, hoping a new coach would be in place by the time the recruits got to campus.
"They made the hire pretty quickly, within a week, which is pretty remarkable," said Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, whose star cornerback, Terrence Mitchell, is considering the Bulls and said he would wait for a new coach before making a decision. "So many things are in the air making a hire like that, the money and everything. It’s not like hiring a high school coach. You know everyone is on board with this."
Two of the recruits coming to campus are from Bradenton Manatee, where quarterback Brion Carnes had previously been committed to the Bulls before Leavitt's firing, and undecided receiver Ace Sanders remains one of USF's targets. Manatee coach Joe Kinnan was with both players when they learned of Holtz's hiring Thursday, and said having Holtz on board gives the Bulls a chance.
"I know he did a marvelous job at East Carolina," Kinnan said. "It's our local team, and I think he's a pretty good choice."
Both Garcia and Kinnan said interim coach Carl Franks, who is also USF's recruiting coordinator, did a good job of staying in communication with recruits and keeping them committed to making scheduled visits. Holtz is taking over a program that has recruited almost exclusively in the state of Florida, and the coaches said recruiters who are well-known in the state would be an important part of his new staff.
"He’s got a tough job. I think the key to it is keeping Carl Franks as the recruiting coordinator," Garcia said. "That way there’s a familiar face handing the recruiting. He’s got to keep him, otherwise it would be very tough to touch base with everyone. Honestly, Carl might have more name recognition among USF recruits than Holtz does."
USF already has much of its recruiting class in place, with four players joining the program with the start of spring classes this week and 10 others committed to sign next month. The Bulls remain in contention for several highly touted recruits, and Holtz must quickly decide which ones, in addition to potential new prospects, will be a priority for him.
For recruits already committed to USF, Holtz's hiring was welcome news after a week of uncertainty, not knowing who the new coach might be and wondering if they would still be part of the Bulls' recruiting class. New coaches typically honor scholarship offers made by the previous coaching staff, though it will be up to Holtz and USF athletic director Doug Woolard.
"I'm really excited now. It'll be his first year and my first year," said Chris Veron, a punter from Ocala who has been a USF commitment. "I also liked Coach Leavitt a lot, but no matter what, whoever the coach would be, I'd still be going to USF."
Times writer Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this report.