Losing coaches don't merely run out of time. In the end, they also run out of hope.
The faith ebbs away slowly, game after game, loss after loss, silly decision after silly decision, until it is gone. The failures add up, every one of them like another rock in an avalanche. The season becomes a tangle of blown leads and unmet expectations and fourth-quarter field goals in lopsided losses and mysterious clock management and lost direction.
The program backslides until it is second-class, or worst. Eventually, not even the superiors who hired the coach, the ones who wanted him to succeed, can imagine him changing things.
Pretty much, that is why USF fired Skip Holtz on Sunday.
What other choice was there?
At the end of his third season, USF ran out of ways to believe in Holtz. The Bulls were last in the Big East last year, and last this year, and from the looks of things, it was destined for last next year. And so, in the year that the cheering stopped, USF fired Holtz.
Today, how can you argue? Even if you supported Holtz, even if you felt that 1,000 days on the job was not a full term, could you argue that he deserved more time?
Because of his onfield coaching? No, not that. Ask yourself this: Did the Bulls look like a well-coached team? Did they look disciplined? Creative? Did they look like overachievers? Did you see anyone getting better?
Because of his recruiting? No, not that, either. Holtz never seemed to be able to turn USF into a destination program. There has been a lot of great high school football played in the Tampa Bay area lately, and most of the players involved have one thing in common: They have driven right by the USF campus on their way to elsewhere.
Because of development? There hasn't been a lot of that lately, either. The Bulls were chocked full of seniors this year, and most of them were better as juniors. Which is why a team loses to Ball State and Temple, and why it gives up 94 points in its last three games.
By the end of the season, the Bulls no longer looked like a team that was underachieving. It looked like a team that was undertalented, undercoached and undermotivated. It seemed ready to cave at the first sign of trouble. It looked as bad as the bottom-feeder of any conference in America.
And Holtz? He didn't look good, either. I'll never understand the clock management against Miami and Louisville. I'll never agree with field goals when a team is getting clobbered. It doesn't look inspirational. It looks like surrender. It looks like a desperate plea to clean it up.
Put it this way: If Holtz had been here six years and had the exact same product, the only question about his firing would be what took athletic director Doug Woolard so long. Yes, there will probably be those who wonder if USF acted rashly. But when three years feels like forever, why wait? When a program is going nowhere, why hang on for the appearance of being patient?
Granted, a prospective new coach is going to ask about Holtz's three-and-out stopover. But it won't deter many from filling out an application. (Just for fun, wouldn't you love for the administration get one from Jim Leavitt?).
Who will it be? Aside from the guessing and the hoping, who knows? If I were Woolard, I would look for a relentless recruiter. I would look for energy. I would look for hunger. I would look for someone who thinks it would be silly not to dominate what is left of the Big East.
Yes, a lot of us thought Holtz was going to be better. At the start, he seemed confident enough, competitive enough, charismatic enough. He talked about national recognition. He talked about reaching the next level.
So why didn't it happen? Why is USF less of a program today than it was?
"Sometimes, it just doesn't work out," Woolard said. "I don't know why not."
Even now, Woolard believes. He talks about facilities and recruiting grounds and regained momentum.
Much of that, of course, depends on the next guy he hires.
You know, the guy with the new hope.
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